Opinion: Is Indie Really Dead?

By Carey Roach, Feature Photo via MTV

The mantra of this decade, “Indie is dead,” seems to be consistently exited the mouths of hipsters and music snobs. Although we all seem to bemoan the loss of true indie music, what really constitutes indie? Is indie an industry, an alternative genre, a subculture, or something else entirely?

Traditionally, indie music referred to music released independently from a major record label. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, record labels were perhaps the single most important component of the music business — they were the only real way to get one’s music out to the masses. At this time, indie music was incredibly underground, and it required a lot of effort and many afternoons spent in obscure record stores to be a true and knowledgeable indie fan.

There’s no denying how much the internet has changed the music industry. These days, it is completely possible — and increasingly common — to forego the major record label route to fame and success. It’s as simple as downloading songs to Soundcloud and Bandcamp, or posting videos to YouTube. Further, social media sites give new bands a way to connect with fans all over the world, and songs can even be recorded at home using simple computer software — just look at successful bands like MGMT, whose first EP was made in its entirety on Garageband, or Alt-J, who starting recording their music in their Leeds University dorm room. Clearly, major record labels are no longer the sole path to mainstream success.

Now, indie music is just as accessible and well-known as mainstream pop. Suburban teens in their bedrooms can just as easily discover niche music, such as folk-punk, as they can find music from the top forty charts.

In a sense, technology has made indie obsolete. The internet has revolutionized the music industry for both artists and listeners, and this is a positive thing — it’s not that indie has died, necessarily; it has just evolved and taken on a new life form.

About a month ago, I came across a Songza playlist entitled “Mainstream Indie,” which consisted of bands like Haim and Tame Impala. As paradoxical as “Mainstream Indie” seems at first glance, it has certainly found a place in the music world. Artists like Lana Del Rey are generally considered indie, but still manage to find massive mainstream success. So, how is this even possible?

In many ways, indie has become an industry. The indie music subculture has grown so much that it is now widespread and even profitable — entire radio stations are now dedicated to indie music, such as Indie88; festivals like Toronto’s Field Trip or Atlanta’s Shaky Knees have predominantly indie lineups; indie music is reviewed by Pitchfork or Exclaim!; the genre reaches success through prizes such as the Polaris or Mercury Prize; and cities such as Toronto and London pride themselves on their large and truly wonderful indie scenes. 

Mercury_prize2_2386533b

Alt-J after winning the Mercury Prize, via The Telegraph

While talking to a friend about what indie music really is, she told me that when she first listened to Vampire Weekend back in 2007, it was overwhelmingly agreed that they constituted indie, but nowadays they certainly did not. Although Vampire Weekend’s popularity has undeniably grown, their musical style hasn’t really changed that much throughout their career. For example, Modern Vampires of the City, the band’s most recent album, was beautiful and was just as experimental and alternative as its predecessors but had a larger audience scope. So does record sale and the size of their concert venues trump musical style and artistic direction when it comes to deciding whether or not a band like Vampire Weekend is indie? And is that really the way it should be?

Indie has irrevocably changed, but I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad thing.

In the end, music shouldn’t be about labels. And although the meaning and importance of indie could be debated forever, we wouldn’t really be accomplishing anything for the music world. Really, indie is just a descriptive word, so even if it has died, I don’t think that it is a death that music fans need to spend too much time mourning. Instead, we should focus on the quality, creativity and artistic merit of good music.

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