Indie Music & What That Is

What automatically comes to mind when you hear indie music? How do you know it is “indie” in the first place? Indie music is the rejection of the air-tight pop productions commonly found in the Top 40-Hits. It represents a side of the music industry that doesn’t necessarily have access to mainstream music production methods, but more importantly, it doesn’t need or want them.

Indie music is making the best of what you have, achieving creativity without resorting to the overproduction and gaudy glitz that popular music is notorious for. Therefore, as a practice, indie music is a response to the commercialized and calculated nature of the pop song market. If we are going off of Neural Milk Hotel’s 1999 album In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, we see a classic example of indie versus institutional independence. The song ‘King of Carrot Flowers part 1’ a strum-y guitar starts us out, gradually building up and adding various instruments (including a campy horn), to back up the folksy delivery of the lead singer. What gives the song its indie vibe is the mellowed narrative, keeping with the theme of love and loss in the time of the second world war. The harmony and melodies of the song, as well as the whole album, are very up-beat and happy, which is at complete odds with the lyrics. If you’ve ever heard the surprise hit ‘Pumped Up Kicks,’ you know this isn’t an accident. What indie music strives for is a balance of independent production and creativity, that circumvents the signed sealed and delivered nature of modern music. They can’t use the same production techniques as the major label studios, but indie culture isn’t interested in higher production values anyway. Bands like Neutral Milk Hotel attempt warm instrumentals set against the backdrop of dark lyrics and narratives. To attempt that same goal at a higher end label would be seen as a selling out.

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2 thoughts on “Indie Music & What That Is

  1. You make some interesting points here Kyle, first and foremost about the nature of indie music to defy the norm. While I do agree with you on the front of the creative nature of indie music, I would argue that at least some calculation goes into the production of the music. I believe that, just as in indie film, indie bands can aspire to rise to the same level as their poppy counterparts, or possibly seek to surpass them. And while, as you say, they don’t want to compromise their identity in order to do so, they can still emulate their more successful others within the industry. Take your example of the song Pumped Up Kicks. Surely the catchy nature and rhythm of that song wasn’t just born out of pure spontaneity. But, as again you mentioned above, it was still able to keep its identity by juxtaposing the addictive beat with lyrics that were true to what the band wanted.

    • Why thank you Easton, I agree that indie bands/musicians want their music to sound good/have a good production, but indie music works within those boundaries for the sake of its culture, wanting to get the best possible sound out the production they DO have. So for example: While Neutral Milk Hotel probably only had access to relatively few instruments, they took that and worked with it, until they had what they considered to be the best possible sound. So I agree with you that production matters very much to indie music. I just think that WHY it matters is a bit different from the norm, and hence Indie.

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