How Has Indie Music Changed Over Time - The Journey

Posted by Jam Addict Staff

This article will discuss how has indie music has changed over time by looking at different eras of what is now known as "indie" music.

At the end of the article, we will talk about some of the biggest benefits to recording and performing as an indie musician by including some thoughts from a contemporary indie artist.

One really important thing to note about the term "indie" as it applies to music is that it has had multiple meanings since it was first used.

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In a very strict sense, indie music refers to independent music, that is, music released through an independent record label, as opposed to being released through one of the major record labels of the time.

But while this definition still applies to indie music, indie has now also come to refer to music that has a niche or unique sound, drawing immediate comparisons to the more adventurous music that has historically been released by those independent labels we were talking about earlier.

So now indie music can be music released through independent labels or just music that sounds like it's on the fringe or just more creative in general.

Now that we've got that covered, let's go through a brief history of indie music and discuss what it's like today.

How Has Indie Music Changed Over Time

Early indie music

There have been some form of independent record labels, in some form, since music recording officially took off in the early part of the 20th century.

In fact, in the very beginning, there were no giant record labels because every company was just getting started.

But where independent record labels, and therefore indie music, became a serious force in music, was in the 60s and 70s as fringe music and DIY music started to gain popularity.

Motown, a record label that later became the name of an entire genre, was founded in Detroit in 1959 and later expanded its influence to cover most of the United States.

Focusing on black artists in Detroit at first, Motown was one of the first independent labels that created what may have been some of the earliest indie music in the world.

Of course, in the late 1970s, the punk movement, and with it, DIY music, took off as well, giving very small artists an unofficial go-ahead to make the music they wanted to make with whatever instruments and recording equipment they happened to have access to.

Even in these early stages of indie, very different kinds of indie music were being created, from the polished recordings of Motown to the harsh and poorly mixed punk records of the late 70s and early 80s.

But indie continued to evolve over time, of course, and in particular, the 1990s were a very interesting time for this genre.

90s indie

On the mainstream side, the 1980s were a time of massive revenues for big-name record labels and recording artists, especially in the United States, where LA's Sunset Strip became a hot spot not only for performances but for recording studios and hangouts as well.

The music scene was dominated by massive pop acts and hair metal bands, and, for the moment, independent music really did go underground.

But in the late 80s and early 90s, indie music came back in a big way, largely thanks to the now-legendary Seattle record label Subpop, which gave the world extremely impactful indie acts like Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and, perhaps the biggest of all, Nirvana.

These bands helped bring about a major shift in mainstream music, making grunge the new hot thing, as well as proving that independent record labels could be extremely successful when some of their signed acts hit it big.

Other indie groups of the 90s included seminal bands like Sleater-Kinney, Pavement, Sonic Youth, and Weezer.

All of a sudden, the line between indie music and mainstream music became blurred. Was it still indie music if most people knew about it? Could indie still be indie if it was ultra-popular?

The answer, of course, was yes, indie was allowed to be a big deal, and the music didn't need to have a tiny, niche appeal in order to be called indie.

But this was a very important moment for indie music and for the music industry as a whole. We can't deny the impact that some of these highly popular indie groups had on the future of music and the ways in which fans seek out and become fans of new music.

This brings us to the state of indie music in the internet era.

Indie music today

Let's be clear on this point: so-called "mainstream" music still existed in the 90s, it still existed in the 2000s and 2010s, and it definitely still exists today. Even further than that, mainstream pop, rap, and soul will continue to exist in some form, even as the dominant styles change.

But the really interesting thing about indie music, especially in the age of the internet, is that it opened the door for a lot of people to discover entire genres that they were completely unaware of before.

how has indie music changed over time

In fact, we could say that the internet era has given way to a whole new DIY movement, as more and more artists working in many different niche genres and styles have been able to make music and find success thanks to online forums, social media, and media sites that allow them to easily share their work.

Even if the Billboard charts don't show off all that much variety (in particular, expect to hear lots of sprinkler-style hi-hats on many of today's biggest tracks), there's actually a huge variety of music being made today, much of which will never find its way onto radio stations or charts.

The freedom of indie music, feat. Nick Muilaert

To close out, we got some input from Chicago-born singer-songwriter Nick Muilaert, whose music centers itself on themes of self-discovery, apathy, and of course romance, all while making use of a stylish lo-fi approach.

Muilaert's band, Theo Saint Quest, helps to create memorable and unique on-stage performances.

During lockdown, Muilaert set to work on his new album, Plastic Soul, by drawing on some of his biggest musical influences, such as Neil Young, My Morning Jacket, The Beatles, and Fleet Foxes.

nick muilaert music

Artist Nick Muilaert

Says Muilaert, "I was writing a lot of songs so I decided to get very experimental and try to replicate this free-range 60s mentality while also attempting to keep it somewhat 'modern-sounding.'"

As for indie music,  Muilaert thinks that the term itself has lots of benefits when it comes to how new or future fans think of this kind of music:

"I feel that the term indie is highly beneficial for many artists because it gives potential fans a sort of psychological permission to open up their minds and listen to different things. If you say that your music is indie, people don't know what they're in for and are much more open-minded to listen to new things."

This has definitely been true in recent years, when music streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube have made it easier than ever before to listen to the music you want and discover music you've never even heard of before.

Muilaert also feels that working as an indie artist really allows artists to unleash their creativity and make the music they want to make:

"That freedom allows them to grow as an artist, musician, songwriter, producer, and person. It allows them to forge their own path. It's a huge waste of talent to not let artists express themselves because even if the record is a bomb, they will grow and improve from that mistake in the long term."

Indie music has come a very long way since its humble beginnings, and we can expect it to change even more in the coming years. Hopefully, audiences around the world will remain open to anything labeled as indie music, and if they do, artists will continue to feel free to make excellent groundbreaking music that helps build the musical future we all want to see.

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