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.