It has always been a struggle in the music business to find that perfect balance between commercial success and creative autonomy to maintain your artistic vision. Nowadays, it seems that more often than not a band chooses to “sell out” and join the “mainstream”. But what does this mean exactly? Also, is this anything new in the music scene or is our generation so obsessed with being different that we are making a bigger deal out of joining forces with the musical powerhouses than is necessary? For the answers, we must look back at “indie” music’s rise during the 80’s and 90’s.
Creation Records, founded in 1983 and headed by Alan McGee, became an indie powerhouse during the 80’s and 90’s in both the UK and America, largely through their successful band Oasis. It’s shocking however to find out that Creation Records has been aligned with Sony since 1992. This came as a huge shock to the music scene at the time and earned Creation the reputation as a “sell out” and “traitor” to the indie cause. However, how much did they really sell out when they joined forces with Sony? Well for starters they sold out hundreds of venues due to the global promotion Sony was doing on behalf of Oasis. They also sold millions of copies of their album. By aligning with Sony, they were able to put their music, which heralded back to classic rock, all over the world and crate buzz for both themselves and for Oasis. If you dig into Creation Records reasoning for joining with Sony, you will actually discover that in this case their goal to maintain an old school pop icon aesthetic by conquering the globe fueled their drive to become institutionally “mainstream”, a tactic that would be picked up by other indie labels such as One Little Indian. Hesmondhalgh goes into great detail how in case of both One Little Indian and Creation Records they allowed their aesthetic visions to drive their institutional policies of joining with majors in very successful, and lucrative, ways
In a way, this is no different than the movie industry that we find ourselves in today. In both cases, the final product can be created, produced, and distributed completely independent of the major players. To what end, though? If you are simply making the text for the sake of art than sure, go right ahead. But if you are trying to introduce a new genre of text into the world or really want to impact people wouldn’t it be useful to use the established structure to deliver it to the masses for you? In both cases, success stories have been documented by independent companies who work under a corporation, albeit at an arms length, to both create popular works of art and maintain the connection to the masses who wish to appreciate their work (example Miramax). While complete autonomy cannot be totally achieved in this system, I believe this is a comfortable middle ground for indie artists, writers, directors, actors, musicians, etc. and should be taken up by all forms of media.