Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Debating the Supposed Death of Indie

Sign posted near CMJ Music Marathon in 2008

I just read the much buzzed about Paste magazine cover story by Rachael Maddux called "Is Indie Dead?" As I plodded my way through her lengthy story I was overcome by a strong feeling of deja vu, as we've definitely been done this path before. She provides an overview of various definitions of "indie" as applied to music and by the end of the essay pronounces that the concept of indie is dead and that perhaps we are now in a post-indie world.

Back in 1998 I wrote a paper about the debates over the term "indie" as it applied to a college radio station concerned with making airspace available for under-exposed artists. That paper morphed into my 2007 article for Radio Journal, "Does Indie Mean Independence?," which subsequently spawned this blog Spinning Indie. So, for awhile now I've been interested in all of the conversations surrounding the contested definitions of indie as applied to music and radio.

Yes, of course, "indie" can be understood as a genre. But, it can also be understood as a specific, non-corporate method of production and that still does matter to some people.

At the same time, in all of my recent radio station travels it's become clear to me that many college radio stations are not as concerned about the indie/major label distinctions as folks were back in the 1990s. Unfortunately many stations take the path of least resistance, mirroring the playlists of every other college station out there. More often than not, the artists appearing on the majority of these playlists have some sort of major label distribution or backing and that's how they are ending up in the hands of stations all over the country.

So, I guess my personal plea goes something like this: regardless of whether or not something has been deemed indie, independent, alternative, hip, post-indie, mainstream, or passe by someone with some sort of authority; try to cultivate your own ear for music and listen with an open-mind to new (and old) sounds.

I applaud radio stations (like the one that I profiled for Radio Journal) who work hard to create an airsound that's different from the mainstream and who really care about making room for artists with limited resources.

Wouldn't it be amazing if a scan of the playlists of college radio stations all over the country revealed radical differences from city to city? There is SO much music out there that I think we all owe it to ourselves to dig for things that are unique, unsettling, strange, or surprising. It doesn't have to be the newest and hippest; often some of the most incredible gems are lost sounds from different eras.

Do you think that "indie" is dead? And if so, is this a crisis?

P.S. For more reactions to the Paste piece on indie, take a look at Flavorwire's selection of short essays from various music critics responding to the article.

No comments: