Dec 212009


  30 Responses to “What Are the Criteria for Being an Indie Band?”

  1. Hank Fan

    I take it literally. Any band not signed to a major label is an indie band. Whether they are “alternative” is another story altogether.

  2. BigSteve

    To me they have to be from Indianapolis proper, and not just the vicinity of Indianapolis. Those bands are Indy poseurs!

  3. hrrundivbakshi

    Hindi bands? They have to speak Hindi, of course!

  4. it doesn’t mean anything.
    it’s a marketing brand used to suggest hipness.
    just like:
    alternative, college, or post-punk.
    Technically Garth Brooks is post-punk.
    and The Rolling Stones are independent.

    This is really weird. I was just thinking about this indie bullshit less than 24 hours ago.
    stop reading my mind for post ideas.
    fuckin jerk.

  5. Mr. Moderator

    I think the band needs to give off no sense that any member would ever actually “hit” on anyone in the audience.

    And the bassist had to have been led to his or her instrument through the work of that Joy Division/New Order guy rather than losing a coin flip to another guitarist, as is the case with most forms of rock ‘n roll.

  6. sammy i don’t really think you’re a jerk.

  7. sammymaudlin

    shawnk. I laughed out loud when I read that… Jerk.

    I don’t think Major label vs. Independent Label cuts it. Aren’t a lot of those “indie” labels arms of Major labels? What “Major” labels are even left?

    Is Merge an “indie” label? They say they are.

    If the definition is based on major vs. non-major label then anything released on non-major is “indie” yet there is some underlying assumption that “indie” bands are a group of new-cool like “punk” bands or “new wave” bands or “grunge” bands were. Those idioms have identifiable characteristics.

    (Did I use “idioms” correctly?)

    Mod might be onto something with the asexual angle. (see Belle & Sebastian) I’m hard pressed to i.d. an “indie” band with balls. I’m sure I must be missing something. Hmmm?

  8. Mr. Moderator

    And can an indie band ever “graduate” to a new, more mainstream status, the way “new wave” or “grunge” bands like U2 and Pearl Jam, respectively, eventually became plain, old rock ‘n roll bands? I agree with shawnkilroy that it’s all about marketing, but how do the marketing folks know whom to market as such?

  9. In the late 70s through the mid-80s, I think you could make a case that “indie” referred to music from independent labels and distributors because there was a pretty clear line between “independent” and “major label”. There was such a difference in the market size (and tastes) between independents and majors it was hard to mistake one for the other. Once the Replacements/Husker/Nirvana major-label sweepstakes started in the late 80s and early 90s everything got blurry real fast. Now “indie” seems to be more or less a lifestyle niche (as shawnkilroy pointed out) whose definition adjusts to fit current trends.

    A thought occurred to me recently along these lines (before this post came up) – since the old big majors are now entertainment conglomerates and have sort of lost the direction and influence they had in the 70s and 80s and 90s, have the bigger music-focused labels with an independent background like Merge, YepRoc, Sub Pop and Matador now become the de-facto “Major Labels” in terms of influence (and maybe even sales)? Are they the Warner Brothers, Arista, Island etc. of our time?

  10. On a related note, Strongbad hit the nail on the head recently regarding “indie” films vs. independent film. It’s not too hard to draw the parallels to music marketing ca. 2009 (his definition of “indie” bands: those “whose songs are already in every car commercial ever”

  11. sammymaudlin

    noone. I definitely agree with your assessment of independent releases from the 70s-80s. Even if I didn’t like a band’s music, I’d have respect for them simply by being on a label like SST. And maybe that is the source of the term “indie”. But (everyone I know has a big but) I don’t recall hearing the term “indie” until much later.

    The oldest band that I can think of that comes under the nebulous “indie” umbrella is Yo La Tengo. But at what point that term came to be applied to them I don’t know.

    Here is an interesting Wikipedia link that purports to list all American Indie Rock Groups. It’s interesting to see who’s on and who’s not. I.E. The Pixies are not on but The Breeders are.

    So if I’m to give this list a modicum of importance I would be left to discern that one of the characteristics of an “indie” band is demarcated by time. Some point in time between The Pixies demise and The Breeders beginnings. Which is, not coincidentally, around 1990.

    I’m going to postulate that you can only be an “indie” band if the majority of your releases are post 1990.

    I’m going to postulate as well that “indie” music is really the same as what we called “alternative” in the 80s and that term simply morphed. Hmmm?

  12. 2000 Man

    Indie rock should be defined by the labels, but if that were the case, I’d listen to all kinds of indie rock, and a cursory glance of that list doesn’t have The Dexateens, Two Cow Garage or Centro Matic on it. I’m pretty sure they’re all on very independent labels.

    Lucero makes the list, and they’re on Universal now. So I have no idea what indie music is, I guess.

    I’ve noticed that the indie music I don’t like is that electronic, slow shit that’s all supposed to sound pretty. The other kind I don’t like is bands like Of Montreal or Dressy Bessy. Too fey for rock n roll, if you ask me.

  13. That they are from Indiana? Indie has no meaning anymore outside of that.

  14. sammymaudlin

    We’ve got a radio station out here called “Indie 103” and every Thursday they do “triple plays” all day. Last Thursday they did a triple play of Eddie Money. Now THAT’S fuckin’ indie dude.

    Who knew Eddie Money even had enough material for a triple play?

  15. Labels. It all comes down to labels. I remember reading somewhere that The Smashing Pumpkins managed to hold on to their “indie-cred” while having some degree of commercial success. There are those bands (and their fans) that feel like having a hit could be the most damaging thing in the world. God forbid someone actually like your music. Call me kooky, but I like writing songs in the hope that someone, somewhere will dig it. I’d love to hear someone singing along to a melody I came up with. I guess I’m a vain motherfucker.

    Wasn’t A&M an “indie” label?

    Oh, we can’t like Modest Mouse anymore because they’re on Sony. I always kinda liked it when a band I liked caught on. I felt some weird sort of vindication. “Hey! I’ve been listening to Jack and the Jerks for 11-teen years! It’s cool they’re making some bread.”

    I remember seeing Ben Lee in Atlanta back in 1997 when he was the darling of the so-called indie scene. He was opening for another indie fave, The Magnetic Fields. At the end of Ben’s set some dude looked at my friend, smiled and saidn, “Kinda makes you proud to be an indie rocker, doesn’t it?” Wow. I should have punched him in the mouth right then and there.

    “We folk people HATE rock music and all its electric guitars and drums…It’s awful…Our Bobby Dylan would never do that…” (Speaking of which, that scene in I’m Not There where Dylan goes electric, the one where Cate Blanchett and Co. turn around and proceed to mow the audience down with machine guns, that was pretty awesome…)

    I don’t why this indie-rock thing has pissed me off so greatly this morning. But I’m feeling kind of violent. Apologies for that. Merry Christmas!


  16. misterioso

    sammymaudlin, fyi:

    Eddie Money triple play=Eddie Money’s Greatest Hits plus one bonus track.

  17. alexmagic

    I like that RTH had a great Eddie Money-driven post back in January 2009 and he’s generating quality discussions here in December. Is Money about to take Seger’s spot in the RTH Pantheon? Maybe Seger peaked when we inducted him into the Foyer of Fame.

    I don’t really have anything to add to the indie discussion, because two of the three points I was going to bring to the table – calling you all jerks and claiming that you can’t be indie today if you don’t have a song in a commercial – have been taken. My third point would have been that a band probably isn’t indie if any of you (here is where I was going to call you all jerks) have heard of them, except maybe Kilroy or Oates.

    So what I will say is that maybe indie bands should be forced to operate under the same rules as independent wrestling, in that you can only count as an indie if someone can get hit in the face with a cheese grater or someone’s prosthetic leg at one of your shows. I think the indie scene could use that kind of toughening up.

  18. I think we all agree that it is a marketing term. Apply the term to films, press, even stores and you have your overly researched demographic.

    If it isn’t aimed at the mainstream (or with careful calculation manufactured to appear to avoid the mainstream), it gets the “indie” tag regardless of the label/corporation behind it).

    You carefully select the “proper” TV shows to be on and make sure you are on the proper magazines/web sites for key indie coverage. When success hits beyond the “core”, you create an ironic pose to maintain the “cred”.

  19. When I was in college, which is when I first heard about “indie,” it generally meant scrappy, not terribly virtuosic guitar rock released on an independent label: Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Superchunk. But you wouldn’t think of a band on Epitaph Records as indie; they were probably punk or maybe emo (this is the pre-eyeliner days of emo, a whole other topic). And on the other hand, there were bands like Tortoise, who weren’t scrappy non-virtuosos. They were indie, right?

    I’d suggest that indie was coined in this time period to differentiate from “alternative,” which by then had been totally co-opted by major labels to describe ass-clowns like Live and Seven Mary Three. So now indie is co-opted by, if I understand this correctly, ass-clowns with synthesizers and/or beards and/or NPR, or whoever is to blame this week.

    I’d say in both the ’90s and now, there are different kinds of indie. It’s not really a sound (nor is classic rock, for that matter). It wasn’t always a marketing terms, or it used to be a much smaller, niche-marketing terms. Now it’s relatively bigger business, although as I understand it, there is a greater disparity between the amount of talk about indie and the sales it generates than is usually acknowledged.

    I have one more thing to say about this: A nice thing about indie, both then and now, is what I have long referred to on RTH as “small rock.” I can see how small rock might seem complacent or maybe even a myth, but I maintain it is sometimes a necessary corrective to both car-commercial indie and a band like Green Day, who I am beginning to think are evil in the way that William Hurt was evil in Broadcast News.

  20. hahaha you said Seven Mary Three!!!

  21. 2000 Man

    I like the “small rock” idea. I always call the bands I like little or small. It’s not because they actually are, but because they don’t have the big fanbase of the more mainstream acts. Black Mountain certainly sounds huge. I don’t think Green Day is evil, though. Boring, yeah. But all the pop punk bands are boring, and they sound way too clean.

  22. BigSteve

    The term ‘indie’ comes from the film world, and it goes all the way back to the 20s, referring to producers working independently of the Hollywood studios. Independent movies became a big deal in the 70s in the wake of Easy Rider, and the studio system pretty much fell apart.

    I think it was this indie movie scene that led to the term being taken over by little punk labels in the late 70s. There was an indie chart in the UK by 1980, where labels like Cherry Red and Rough Trade had more effect on the market than their counterparts in the US.

    Everybody used to know who the ‘studios’ or the ‘major labels’ were, and if you weren’t them you were indie. Now it’s not so clear, which is why we’re having this discussion. Indie labels will get successful enough to be called ‘major indies,’ and major labels, or what’s left of them, will raid baby bands and put out music that will never sell millions of copies. Big labels let artists form boutique labels, or they’ll buy a controlling interest in an indie label.

    I don’t think it’s useful to call a band indie. And music certainly can’t be indie.

  23. sammymaudlin

    Eddie Money triple play=Eddie Money’s Greatest Hits plus one bonus track.

    Ha! His Greatest Hits is a 45.

    Indie can’t simply be defined by label without a time parameter. I’ll go back to The Pixies. Are they ever referred to as “indie”? I think this is pretty darn close

    I’d suggest that indie was coined in this time period to differentiate from “alternative,” which by then had been totally co-opted by major labels to describe ass-clowns

    My only hesitation is this gnawing impression that indie bands have no balls.

  24. Mr. Moderator

    In the recent issue of The Big Takeover Sonic Youth is credited as being the first indie band. If only I had read that on the Web I could be certain of that claim’s accuracy.

  25. I could have sworn that The Shaggs were the first indie band. If Sonic Youth is the first, then who invented rock and roll?


  26. My only hesitation is this gnawing impression that indie bands have no balls.

    That’s kind of a sweeping generalization, isn’t it? Who’s to say who has balls? What’s great about balls, anyway? Limp Bizcuit had balls. Or ballz.

  27. BigSteve

    Sun Records was an indie, and I think Elvis Presley predates Sonic Youth.

  28. Sam Phillips invented rock and roll AND indie music. Way to go, Sam!


  29. sammymaudlin

    Oats. Having no balls wasn’t a criticism, just an observation. Is Limp Bizcuit indie?

    I have this impression of indie as having a level of preciousness. I’m not really sure where that comes from honestly.

    But I can speak from experience when I say having huge balls isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

  30. indie bands with balls: fugazi, mission of burma, shellac, the ex

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