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Indie Is Not A Real Genre!!


Here it is, I’m going to say it once and for all; Indie Is Not A Real Genre!! I know many of you might be saying, why Harris, why isn’t it a real genre or why don’t you have any respect for the music these musicians create? The point is I do care, I just have no respect for the “indie” label (from now on “indie” will be in quotes because for the purposes of this article “indie” is a figment of all of our imaginations). People have tried to explain to me the label in three different ways and they are as follows: 

  1. A person performing independently, without a record label (i.e. unsigned “independent” of a label)
  2. A genre of music, the genre has no specific sound but includes (but is not limited to) rock, pop, country, electronic, hip hop, jazz, bluegrass, rock, heavy metal, screamo, emo and techno
  3. An attitude towards music, loosely defined as not caring about anything but the music, things not cared about include (but are not limited to) fans, merchandise, pop culture, growing your fan base, working with companies larger than two people

I can very easily go through each of these examples, explaining why the genre is dead, and why being an “indie” musician is really not a real thing anymore. Starting with the more abstract, number three involves the attitude “indie” musicians encompass. There is something about the pretentious way they look at music that makes me want to stab them with a Hofner bass. Any music that they (or their closest friends) did not write is looked at as being “under them.” They lend no respect what so ever to the pop music world, and it is this mindset that leads to their ultimate failure. It is a given that if you do not make money (even just enough to cover expenses), you will not survive as a musician. It is this point that “indie” artists fail to see.

Moving on to the second point. Calling yourself “indie” because of the sounds coming out of your amplifiers, drums, keyboards and PA systems is like saying that all animals are penguins. We know that’s not true, their are many species of animals on this planet and lumping them together wouldn’t make any sense. Why then do I listen to artist after artist, all considering themselves “indie,” who sound nothing alike? If I stroll through my iTunes library and pick a few random songs within a genre, let’s say Classic Rock, the songs will have a relative sound. Of course they won’t all sound exactly the same, but they will each fill a void, a space that they are meant to fill within the bubble of Classic Rock. The fact that “indie” has so many sounds, styles and teachings, further proves my idea that it is a dead genre.

Finally, the talking point I have been waiting for. Number one on my list is the most fundamental of them all. It should be easy to prove if an artist is independent based on the status of that artist and any and all contracts they have signed. Taking a look at who my closest friends consider “indie” artists, bands such as Ra Ra Riot, Black Kids, Cold War Kids, Arctic Monkeys, The Kinks, The Kooks, Sondre Lerche and The Libertines, always seem to come up. Among these “indie” bands, not one of them is independent. They all have recording contracts (most with major labels) and therefore the most basic “indie” principle is thrown out the window. Just in case you were wondering here are the labels some “indie” artists are signed too, many for quite a few years now:

Finally, my favorite example is the final one on the list. MGMT, hailed as one of the best “indie” rock bands of 2008, and thought to be the ultimate Brooklyn based “indie” band, are on the major label circuit just as much as anyone else. Broken up for a few years the band was brought back together by Columbia Records as they were set to nationally release “Oracular Spectacular.” 

So there it is in a nut shell. “Indie” the genre we all love to debate, listen to and share with friends is not in fact a genre at all. To all the so called “indie” artists out there, you should probably decide on a real genre before the ship gets to the bottom of the ocean. If you call yourself “indie” pop you should just be taken outside and bludgeoned for not understanding what an oxymoron is. All you other bands that call yourself “indie,” it’s easy, just pick a real genre. If you need help, see number two in the above list, that will help point you to a real genre. 

I look forward to extensively debating this topic with you all throughout the week, but I hope that you really take the time to read it, before doing so. Enjoy!

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22 Legacy Comments

  • Comment by katy posted April 27, 2009 at 20:31

    ahahahahahhaa.

    indie just means independent from a major label. often, these artists record & distribute music themselves, or join a label that does not construct their artist identity as is the case with mainstream labels. they are primarily concerned with the recording and distribution of music, rather than copious amounts of wealth or fame.

    "They lend no respect what so ever to the pop music world, and it is this mindset that leads to their ultimate failure."

    Why does every musician have to have respect for every genre?

    Do you know for a fact that every indie band ever has no respect for mainstream pop?

    How can indie bands "fail" in mainstream culture if, as you stated, they do not care about mainstream success?

    "It is a given that if you do not make money (even just enough to cover expenses), you will not survive as a musician. It is this point that "indie" artists fail to see."

    How do indie musicians have staying power if they aren't making any money?

    How do they have such a large following, if this is the case?

    How do you think certain bands get discovered if not for indie music scenes (which are geographic communities of music–ever heard of "baltimore club" or "seattle grunge rock")?

    "Making money" should not be equated with wealth. Shockingly, it's possible to make money and not be disgustingly rich. This is a concept that is true regardless of profession–there are stars and there are not in every type of art.

    "Why then do I listen to artist after artist, all considering themselves "indie," who sound nothing alike? If I stroll through my iTunes library and pick a few random songs within a genre, let's say Classic Rock, the songs will have a relative sound. Of course they won't all sound exactly the same, but they will each fill a void, a space that they are meant to fill within the bubble of Classic Rock. The fact that "indie" has so many sounds, styles and teachings, further proves my idea that it is a dead genre."

    why only listen to music that sounds alike to music you already have?

    unfortunately, this logic is severely flawed. you are comparing apples to oranges. classic rock is a SUBGENRE of rock. of course classic rock sounds like classic rock–as southern rock sounds like southern rock, pop punk sounds like pop punk, punk rock sounds like punk rock, etc. but then compare these subgenres to each other? they aren't alike–hence the problem in your logic. still, indie music has an unbelievable amount of subgenres–twee pop, riotgrrl, alt-country, shoegaze–just to name a few. if you would listen to bands that identify with a certain subgenre, you are guaranteed to notice similarities in their music.

    "Among these "indie" bands, not one of them is independent."

    of course. as the term "indie" generally refers to the status of the label, indie subgenres, such as the ones stated above, reflect musical stylings. however, you fail to recognize bands that are actually independently producing music. what do you call them? bands unaffiliated with a major label, would be, by definition, (gasp!) independent, no?

    i must also comment that just because an artist is signed to a major label does not guarantee mainstream success. so, as a musician, why stress out to be signed by a major label? why criticize them if they are happy with independent production?

  • Comment by Harris posted April 27, 2009 at 21:22

    There is simply so much here that it is hard to fight it out. I'll try to defend some key points. Your opening statement, is the entire basis of this argument.

    You said "indie just means independent from a major label. often, these artists record & distribute music themselves, or join a label that does not construct their artist identity as is the case with mainstream labels"

    That is the complete opposite of the truth, artists that sign to labels such as EMI, Sony, Columbia and Warner Brothers, along with all of their subsidiaries are concerned with one thing, the bottom line. Your kidding yourself if you think these artists aren't concerned with making money and the fact that their on a major label, by your definition makes them not indie.

    This statement intrigued me: "How do indie musicians have staying power if they aren't making any money?" The fact is that they do make money because they sign huge record deals with these major labels, further defeating the ideas of the genre.

    The entire paragraph about sub-genres is extremely off. You are discussing sub genres within rock. The problem is that within indie the sub genres are other genres. All rock stems from the same place, a place of electric guitars and generally loud music. All the sub genres fit that mold. In indie, the sub genres range all types of music (not that this is bad) but to categorize them all under indie is foolish.

    "bands unaffiliated with a major label, would be, by definition, (gasp!) independent, no?" Here again, the point is missed, you are saying that they are unaffiliated when in fact they are 100% affiliated, signing a recording contract is a signing a recording contract. There's no way around the fact that they have sold out just as bad as anyone else.

    I look forward to continuing this debate. Any other takers?

  • Comment by Greg posted April 27, 2009 at 21:55

    You cannot make that argument about sub-genres harris, if you still consider yourself a fan of pop music, cause that has more sub-genres that are completely unrelated than you could shake a stick at.

  • Comment by Harris posted April 27, 2009 at 21:59

    I have thought more about our conversation greg, and here is my argument against that. Pop music for all intensive purposes sounds the same. It all is filled with hooks and catchy choruses. The sub genres are not many and as I said, they all have very similar characteristics. You can have indie songs that are totally different and have no similar characteristics.

  • Comment by Harris posted April 27, 2009 at 22:02

    also here is a “dictionary” definition of pop music: “Pop music is a music genre that features a noticeable rhythmic element, melodies and hooks, a mainstream style and a conventional structure.”

    FInd me something like this that sums up indie music, it can’t exist because of the utter non-sense that is considered “indie”

  • Comment by katy posted April 27, 2009 at 22:12

    i think you missed my point. i'm not sure who you are discussing when you talk about bands that sign to/are affiliated with major labels.

    my point is that indie bands are independently distributing their music. mainstream bands are signed to major record labels. there are definitely bands that cross over, just as bands that begin mainstream & stay mainstream and bands that begin as indie and stay as indie. my argument addresses the last type.

    your subgenre argument could just as easily apply to mainstream music as indie music. in fact, look at it this way–

    the debate is staying indie (on an independent label) or going mainstream (on a large label). so, indie music is to an independent label as mainstream music is to a large label. therefore, there are indie subgenres AND mainstream subgenres. using this logic, rock is a subgenre of mainstream music, and a subgenre of that would be punk rock. punk rock is absolutely a different sound than other rock. but a totally different genre? not really–not like the difference in genre of mainstream rap v. mainstream rock v. pop. apply the same logic to indie music, because indie refers to the status of the label, rather than the actual sound of the band. :)

  • Comment by Harris posted April 27, 2009 at 22:17

    yes, but my point is that almost all the bands you probably think of as “indie” bands are being distributed by major labels and therefore are not actually indie, they’re selling their souls just like everyone else. Also, no one considers “mainstream” to be a genre, “indie” is something people actually see as a genre.

    Also you said “the debate is staying indie (on an independent label) or going mainstream (on a large label). so, indie music is to an independent label as mainstream music is to a large label” Thats the fact that is not true.

    I don’t disagree that mainstream and pop have many sub genres, but they are connected by the hooks see my above definition above your comment. “Indie” is just too broad to define.

  • Comment by Greg posted April 27, 2009 at 22:19

    find meaning in that definition harris, “a noticeable rhythmic element, melodies and hooks, a mainstream style and a conventional structure” the first part is describing music, the second part describing popularity, so simplified its music thats popular, any type of music can be popular. For all intensive purposes the sub genres of pop are completely different. Last I checked Kanye West doesnt sound a thing like Green Day

  • Comment by Harris posted April 27, 2009 at 22:21

    On the contrary, Kanye West and Green Day sound a lot more similar than MGMT and Sondre Lerche. The hooks with conventional structure is what makes it pop.

  • Comment by katy posted April 27, 2009 at 22:26

    no, indie is not too broad to define. it’s how music is recorded/distributed. it is not a genre of music, and is comparable to mainstream.

    if you agree that mainstream has many subgenres, how can you argue that indie is unlistenable because of it’s numerous subgenres?

    and believe me–i know bands that are actually indie bands.

  • Comment by Harris posted April 27, 2009 at 22:34

    I don’t doubt that you know true indie bands, any that you wanna share? Also, I know that your saying its “how music is recorded and distributed.” The problem is that it’s the same. Most “indie” artists especially the ones listed ones above are distributed and recorded the same way as mainstream bands.

    This is the argument I hoped to get to. This is the common mis-interpretation of mainstream music. Why do the musicians in Fall Out Boy or All Time Low care any less about music than an indie artist. Many of them are signed to the same labels and record at the same studios. It’s just weird.

    Just as an example of this, Regina Spektor is signed to the same major label as The Veronicas or My Chemical Romance.

  • Comment by Greg posted April 27, 2009 at 22:37

    well, if your going to use wikipedia as your dictionary source for pop music, then lets do the same for indie shall we. “Indie rock is a genre”. argument over.

  • Comment by katy posted April 27, 2009 at 22:46

    i should also say that the genres associated with indie music are associated that way because these types of music are more likely to be under indie labels rather than major labels. this is not to say that major labels don't investigate indie bands–how else would former indies cross over? you can't condemn music that leads and influences the mainstream music scene–use mgmt as your example…that syntho-dance-y kind of music is now super popular.

    mgmt & sondre lerche are now signed to major labels….making them not independently distributing their music.

    now look at their actual genres: synthpop v. singer-songwriter jazzy pop. couldn't those genres fit under the umbrella of mainstream music?

    also–kanye and greenday similar? lolz, maybe in fame & fortune! — compare the actual albums of each….they aren't similar. it's poppy hip hop v. (mostly) punk rock.

  • Comment by Harris posted April 27, 2009 at 22:57

    There isn’t really much to argue here, the fact is that mainstream isn’t considered a genre and if pop is the choice word, then it is pretty easy to define. Kanye and Green Day are similar in the way they construct albums and the production style, they both always have the hooks and catchy beats in their songs.

    Are we taking MGMT and Sondre Lerche out of the “Indie” genre now that they are mainstream? Also I wouldn’t consider Sondre mainstream by any means, he’s just a signed to a major label, he’s not very successful yet.

  • Comment by Greg posted April 27, 2009 at 23:06

    Sondre just did the entire soundtrack to a motion picture i would say hes on the rise, and what you keep forgetting is that KANYE WEST IS RAP AND GREEN DAY IS PUNK THEY ARE NOT THE SAME.

  • Comment by katy posted April 27, 2009 at 23:07

    sure–

    coconut records
    tilly and the wall
    shout out louds
    she and him
    ratatat
    dr. dog
    the apples in stereo
    lcd soundsystem

    for just a few.

    what do you mean about your main argument? indie bands record and distribute their music through an independent label, not a major label. which makes them different.

  • Comment by paige posted April 28, 2009 at 09:26

    indie bands are bands that usually release records on an independent label, many times even their own label. They also make sure that when joining a label, be it independent they remain in almost complete control of their album. this is a big deal for indie artist as opposed to major record label artists who may have some control but ultimately listen to what the label tells them. indie bands maintain that control.

    i also think that indie is an overall grouping of music. its a way of production and a way of doing things. i think when talking about it you need to make it more specific. ie- indie rock, indie pop..all genres have indie music. and the indie sound, while as you say it may all sound different, (pop, rock, hip-hop, jazz…whatever) it is usually a lower recorded quality. its recorded for a lot less money then say..green day. they record in a smaller studio with less equipment, giving it a different sound. so yes..indie has its own sound, even if it isn’t noticeable at first. and since indie labels and artists aren’t bowing down to record label heads they have more freedom to create music that doesn’t sound like your everyday radio hit.

    and just because Kayne West and Green Day have hooks and catchy beats doesn’t mean they sound the same. if that is what you saying makes two artists sound the same…then most mainstream bands with hooks and catchy lyrics…which A LOT of bands have…all sound the same.

  • Comment by Anonymous posted May 04, 2009 at 13:12

    The problem with the term "indie" is what was originally an ideology has been turned into a musical genre (i.e soft pop-rock).

    "Indie bands record and distribute their music through an independent label, not a major label. which makes them different."

    I have a problem with the "implied" worth of Indie music, simply because it is independent, therefore, musically superior to anything else. Just because an artist releases his music through an independent channel, doesn't make it inherently better than any other kind of music. I find this utterly pretentious.

    "and since indie labels and artists aren't bowing down to record label heads they have more freedom to create music that doesn't sound like your everyday radio hit."

    While your statement may true of some indie bands, I'm sure there are some "indie" bands who would be more than happy to sign to a major label and change their music to make it more popular. You try to paint a very black & white picture of indie/mainstream music which is juvenile.

    I believe that anyone has the capacity to make decent, insightful, interesting music regardless of what "channel" it has come from.

  • Comment by David posted June 20, 2009 at 04:24

    No doubt 'indie' is perceived as a music genre. Clearly, it has moved away from the words original meaning. Never the less, when I hear 'indie' a particular style of music does come to mind, and when that style is heard by many, they identify it and describe it as indie.

    It sure is a shame that the word has so many pretentious connotations, if it were ideal and genres were planned it would not be so. However much I hate that the work indie is directly connected to 'independent', I have to accept that it is infact a term used by everyone and I can recognise its meaning to me.

    In summation, the word 'indie' is pretentious, breeds pretentious conversation and overall I hate it. Aside from this however, I must recognize its place in communication.

  • Comment by JerzeyBlaze posted July 09, 2009 at 15:26

    Ladies and Gents…here's my input on this topic. Harris(im assuming the writer of this article) does make some valid points as does many of the posters. Katy is on point though in her definition of Indie. To me, indie refers to RECORD LABEL status only. It's either you are signed to a major or you are not signed to a major. If you are not signed to a major, then you are either signed to an independant label that is distributed by a major such as Kanye West record label "G.O.O.D. Music" or you as an "Unsigned" artist decides to start you own label and get distribution that is not affilated with the major label, either through the internet or a distribution company. Thats the only Indie i know. I do agree that indie is not a genre. if you do rock or hip hop or country, etc. Thats the genre of music you are categorized into. So i can sit here and say im a hip hop artist that started my own independant label. That doesn't make me indie hip hop, im just hip hop.

  • Comment by Brian posted October 20, 2009 at 19:52

    I wouldn't say that music that is popular (i.e. Top 40) qualifies as a genre, as Top 40 itself, would not qualify as a genre. I would say, however, that there is a 'pop sound' that I would call a genre, albeit a loose one a la 'Rock.' Similarly I'd say there is an 'indie sound.' In my mind they can also be applied together Indie Pop. Not necessarily music that is popular or truly independent, but that borrows from both styles (fun. for instance).

    I would almost venture to say that music genres as a whole are losing relevance. I think that music can best be described using a tag cloud which co-opts conventional genres and uses them in tighter context, as well as other terms and phrases that help describe the mood and feeling of music (http://www.last.fm/music/fun./+tags) as it avoids pigeon-holing music.

  • Comment by LogicBomb posted October 20, 2012 at 20:17

    No arguments here. Everything you said was perfect. Also, Corpse Molestation and Country Church are both “indie”, but are they in the same genre? No, because indie is not a genre.

    P.S. Just realized it’s been exactly three years since the last comment.