Neutral Milk Hotel combines many different categories of music into one. As discussed earlier in class, indie music groups tend to mix up many different genres to make their unique sound. Neutral Milk Hotel has a folky feel as well as rock-style instrumentals and electric pop sounds interspersed in between. Along with their unusual sound, they present their album as a complete project creating an entire experience that is different for everyone. These aesthetic differences make Neutral Milk Hotel’s album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, stand out as indie.
From an institutional viewpoint, because they chose to isolate themselves from producers that would want them to clean up their sound, the end result was unlike anything anyone had ever heard before. Because it was not as easily accessible as most of the music being produced at that time, it was more personal and offered everyone different experiences. The political lyrics also played an important role in setting their group apart from the rest. And their ability to preserve the sound the way they wanted was an important aspect in their production.
These hallmarks, of what we consider to be indie, are shared all throughout music, television, and movies. Each music group we studied didn’t have a typical sound, they all isolated themselves either by using different ways of recording and producing their music, and everyone had the opportunity to do their own thing. We have found that maintaining autonomy has been a significant part of how indie is classified as indie.
Indie music is quite similar to indie films and television when it comes to the relationship between institutional independence and indie aesthetics. We’ve learned that there are common aesthetic elements within the indie culture that are prized and utilized in texts (such as unique narratives, characters, and dialogue) because the media producers are free from major institutional guidelines. While indie music may not have these same elements, they still have aesthetic freedoms that come naturally from being independent from major industries (in this case, major labels and record companies).
Hesmondhalgh states that one of the successes of post-punk (and the growth of an indie music culture) was “the commitment to independent production and distribution [that it] transcended romantic notions of musical creativity.” Beginning indie music producers worked to be independent from both major producers (who knew what profitable music was at the time, and they made it) and distributors (again, looking for profit- they wanted to sell music that would please the masses for the most money). Without constraints of the industry, indie music could go in any way it wanted to. Indie culture flourished within these independent bands, whether in music quality, genre, lyrics/themes, and/or social and political commentary. This is similar to indie film and TV, where the indie culture grew from a collective agreement on opposition of the mainstream’s conservative aesthetics.
Indie music being unrestricted from major institutions has its struggles as well, just as television and film do. Indie producers want the creative freedom they earn from risking popularity and profit that they could’ve ensured with “selling-out” to a major company. Plus, indie bands have to constantly work against the mainstream and simultaneously keep an exclusive distance from mass audiences to stay in its indie culture. (This cultural ideal isn’t as prominent in indie TV, but for indie film this exclusiveness is an element.) But then how does an indie band or production studio make profit? This is where the shaky middle ground of “micro-independents” and “mini-majors” come into consideration of struggling media producers.
I think it’s very hard to be a true indie artist, since there are not many functions (that I know of) that will help an aspiring indie musician to gain popularity. (And could they even keep that popularity without signing onto a big label?) Separating from major industry influence definitely shapes aesthetics, just as with other indie media; but I believe the music culture keeps broadening so that there are more successful “indie” artists and less common and agreed-upon indie music aesthetics.
Indie bands can be so far from the mainstream that they could seem nonexistent. But that’s what makes them indie right? c: