Defining the Essence of Indie

Maybe you’re like me. Whenever I say I’m an Indie music fan, or I announce my favorite bands include Mates of State, The Great Lake Swimmers, and Freelance Whales, I am usually met with a confused expression. I have even met the occasional inculto who denounces Indie music as boring, low-fi dribble that is hardly listenable. Maybe Indie is an acquired taste, or maybe, most people just haven’t been properly educated beyond the Nick and Norah’s Playlists of Hollywood or the occasional television commercial:

Or maybe, most people have been brainwashed by the catchiness of the otherwise monotonous melodies and lyrical dribble of the so-called “radio playable” mainstream.

Of course, Indie-lovers will disagree with the mainstream mumbo jumbo that Indie is just low-fi boredom. But the problem of Indie may be even more complex for us aficionados. After all, ask 100 Indie fans what Indie is, and you’ll get 100 answers. Heck, ask one Indie fan what Indie and you’ll get 100 answers, or 100 bands, whichever comes first. Either way, none of the above helps anyone answer the question: How does one know if one is listening to Indie.

Strictly speaking, Indie music is music developed and produced by Independent artists (those either unsigned or represented by an Independent label). This definition presents a further problem: What if an Indie band is signed by a non-independent record label. Does said band thus forfeit its right to be Indie?

Of course, that’s ludicrous. So the only other answer is that there must be an Indie-ness to Indie Music—an essence that qualifies it as Indie. After all, Indie is neither Alternative Rock nor Bubble Gum Pop, but yet there is Indie Rock and Indie Pop.

Clearly, there is a need to conceptualize “Indie”. And, of course, it has to be more than whether the music was featured on the Juno Soundtrack or whether the band’s name looks like it was derived from random Wikipedia pages (i.e. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Ha Ha Tonka, and Architecture in Helsinki).

The heart of Indie may be in its rejection of the mainstream mundane, and though this has led to numerous permutations of what could be considered Indie, in this wake of musical revolution, some hallmarks of Indie may be notable, including its vocal variety, fusion of musical styles, instrumental innovation, and lyrical superiority to mainstream radio-playability.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be devoting this blog space to building a case for what constitutes Indie-ness, complete with legally FREE DOWNLOADS, which is also a hallmark of Indie. Stay tuned.

What no Indie? Itunes new Ping not Indie friendly.

Much ado has been said about ITunes 10, as it launches itself from music software to social media hub. I for one was quite excited about the prospect of a social media realm dedicated entirely to music, but unfortunately, my excitement was short-lived. On the list of media genres with which one can associate oneself, Indie is curiously absent. This is particularly odd, considering that ITunes seems to be a crusader for the Indie genre. Case 1: Ipod commercials have often featured Indie songs and bands, virtually inviting users to explore new, undiscovered Indie talent. Case 2: The free single of the week often features Indie-type music. Case 3: I’ve downloaded lots of Indie from ITunes, and don’t they care about what I like? (Ok, so number 3 probably isn’t valid).

Either way, it’s like I’m in 1995 again. Instead of listing oneself as an Indie fan, users have to select from categorizations like: Alternative, Singer/Songwriter, and Rock. No Indie. No Indie-pop. Not even Indie-Alternative. I mean, how would “one” associate oneself with music similar to Rodrigo Y Gabriela? It’s certainly not “World” music. What about Mates of State? They’re anything but “Alternative”. And I don’t even have a clue where to put They Might Be Giants…

Honestly Mr. Jobs, aren’t we farther than this in the sphere of online music?

Indie Music not for Jocks or Pretty Girls?

I always like to get your opinions on what Indie Music is and means to you…but, it’s nice to get opinions from the trenches, the people that are defining this new music revolution. I asked Andy Clockwise, whose free download I featured a few weeks ago,  on what Indie means to him, and  here’s what he told me:

1. What does Indie mean to you and where do you see yourself in the evolution of this amazing musical revolution?
Well I suppose it means everything. People finally don’t have to tow the line of the phenomenon of whats happening now, they can create whatever. Anarchy in art is to be embraced and rules are meant to be shunned….. I mean, I can see that sometimes the essence of the term could be bastardized by the powers that be, but the brilliance of the situation is that someone can come along and break it all down once again, thats the beauty of it, we have the tools, the means, the time, the avenues of which people can finally hear something that relates to them, not something that makes the jock or the pretty girls at school feel good on a Friday night. I also love that indie bands are covering such a huge musical and lyrical landscape…. they’re  doing everything that they want to hear…… & it rules!!!!

2. How do you define Indie music and your place in the “Indie sphere.”

Well I think we are delving deep into the arbitrary idea of indie music maybe in the way that they hijacked the term “alternative” in the 90’s. I mean, I suppose what indie has been defined to me over the years reflects me at 13 yrs old, lining up at Waterfront Records in Sydney before it opened trying to get a limited pressing of a 12 inch by some unknown hardcore band. Or sneaking out to festivals, dying my hair that morning and having blue hair dye all over my face. I suppose what we are trying to define is somewhat already done– a DIY attitude to what you are doing, not an obsession with the normal musical landscape but not an entire rejection of it either. Take a pinch of rejection and social awkwardness mix it with some honesty, add a half a cup of irony and sarcasm and mix it around in a bowl of amazing awesomeness…..I’m not sure if I am trying to make a recipe for us all, so we all know what the fuck we are doing!!!?

to the the posed question of where I think I fit in the indie sphere I would have to say I’ve never been much of a sphere guy i’m more into cubist stuff or even a dodechahedranist. 🙂

Good stuff, Andy, you make dodechahedranists everywhere proud!

Mates of State in Houston

The Indie Girl and I went to see Mates of State a few weeks ago in Houston. Frequenters of this Indie life will know of this blogger’s extreme bias for Mates of State. Fantastic band. They’ve got such a fresh sound. And, frankly, their release in 2007: Re-arrange Us, is probably one of the best Indie Albums of the Indie Age (ahem, since the year 2000 or thereabouts). The concert did not disappoint. First, the venue, The Warehouse, is such an intimate setting. You really are THIS close to the band:

In their set, they played a good mix of old stuff (stuff from Team Boo even), as well as their newest stuff from their Crushes cover album (which, is quite the nice addition to your indie collection, if you haven’t purchased it yet)  and even new, new stuff, slated to come out later.

I’ll post a few videos soon: Apparently the file format (AVI) isn’t supported on WordPress, which I find is odd.

Stay tuned.

I died three years ago…

I’m always fascinated by how social media has facilitated the Indie music explosion…and even more fascinated when one of us regular guys can do Indie just as good as the big name bands.

Case in point: John Watson, one of my favorite bloggers, who posts on all things eclectic, put together a wonderful little ditty entitled, “I died three years ago” full of satire, sarcasm, and Indie goodness. Frankly, minus the “mild” language, I think it’s as good as, if not better than, anything you can find on the Juno Soundtrack or Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Check it out and download it on his blog.

He’s inspired me to put some tracks together. Many don’t know this, but I have written a number of songs, including one I wrote to propose to my wife.

In which I play the part of Andy Rooney

You know what? I like Andy Rooney. Sure, he’s on a boring show (60 Minutes), and he’s basically that old guy who gets 5 minutes to complain about something…He’s kind of like professional journalism’s version of those hecklers from the Muppet Show (except, without the humor, and the laughing).


Well consider this my 5 minutes to complain…without the grumpy old man creepiness…

I think much has been said about the economy. In fact, just when we thought “economic stimulus plans” were going out of style, Obama comes in and asks for even MORE money than Bush was asking for.  The media tells me it’s all about getting people to have money, so they can spend it again.  Sure, that might work, but I have to tell you…there are some specific things we really need to look at. For example:

Airline Food: A few weeks ago, I had a 5 hour flight across the country on an air carrier which will remain nameless so as to protect the innocent (it rhymes with Famerican Fairlines). Before getting on the plane, I bypassed the over-priced food peddlers in the airport thinking that I could probably survive on the stale pretzels and swallow of soda they offer.

Much to my dismay…when I got on the flight, I was informed that my stale pretzels now cost $4.00. And my swallow of soda would be an extra $2.  Yes, I am being serious. It’s piracy in the skies. You can buy a 5 Guys’ burger or you can get a bag of exactly 4 stale pretzels.

In this time of economic uncertainty and general depressing outlook, it’s nice to see that companies like American Airlines…er, I mean Famerican Fairlines, was nice enough to pass the cost on to us, their happy customers.

..but what about the Indie Personality?

It seems we Indie fans have been left out…again. Nevermind that Indie has earned mainstream recognition through Indie bands gone mainstream (like Death Cab for Cutie and the Decemberists), and nevermind that movies like Juno and the upcoming Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist rely on Indie music….

…but, a new study has defined personality through music taste.

Apparently, classical and jazz enthusiasts are creative, pop fans are hardworkers, and heavy metal fans are, get ready for this, “gentle”.

But what about Indie fans? Since Indie can overlap between pop, heavy rock, and even jazz, do we fit somewhere in between? Are we gentle hardworkers who are creative? Maybe we’re something else?

If I had to put my vote in, I’d say Indie music fans are motivated. A personality theorist I used to be a ghostwriter for believed that personality could be reduced to 4 main core drivers: Drive for power, closeness or intimacy, fun, and peace or absence of conflict. Now, these don’t really translate into the music personality theory reported above, and I don’t think you can say all Indie enthusiasts are motivated by power, or intimacy, or even fun…but I do think you’d find that Indie enthusiasts have common personality traits like motivations for uniqueness, to be different, hardworking (as in driven to get what they want, not as in working 60 hour weeks), and committed.

In other words, I’d sum up the main Indie personality trait as “driven”.

What do you think?

Living la Vida Indie in Chicago

Ok, so it’s been about a week since I blogged last. Well, I have a good excuse: I spent the week in Chicago speaking at a conference on journalism and mass communication (for which one of my presentations will be on YouTube soon…I’ll post later).

When I go to conferences, I like to take a break and sightsee…looking for fun, lesser-known places to enjoy. It’s part of the indie lifestyle, I guess. This time, however, someone living the Indie lifestyle found me. As I was walking down “Magnificent Mile” a young woman with a pen and a pad of paper stopped me and blurted out, “I’m writing a poem and I need a line–What are you waiting for?” Stunned by this, the only thing I could say was “I’m waiting to go home.” Her response, “Perfect!” and she walked off…

Reflecting on it the rest of the day, I couldn’t help but think: that was the most random thing I have ever seen. Kudos to the pedestrian-accosting, poem-girl.

Test your Indie Acumen! Indie Personality Test v. 1

OK, so this is something that has been in the works for months…taking up my thoughts and replacing what I should be doing–writing my doctoral dissertation. In the end, I gave in and decided to go for it…

Have you ever wondered how “Indie” you are? Are you a grass-grazer, bandwaggoner, or Indie Guru? Maybe you’re a closet Indie fan. Take the Indie Personality Test and find out.

Truth be told, I used to be a ghostwriter for a best-selling author who wrote books on personality, and put together one of those color personality tests. I decided to do something similar, based on Indie as a lifestyle. Visit the page and see how you stack up!

Note: It’s a work in progress, and I plan on updating it as need be.