Independent musicians, independent groups, independent artists,… How many times have we heard these expressions? But do we know what exactly they mean? For example, independent of what, or to what extent, or how.
In this article we are going to try to unravel the use of the word independent applied to what we call modern popular music, until there is no doubt about what it means.
Origins of the so-called independent music
But, once again, from what oppression, from what domain, from where or from what have the musical proposals that are usually described in this way become independent?
Indie music seems to have its roots in the Punk Rock scene of the 1970s and 1980s. That’s when bands started releasing their records through their own independent labels and distributors. This fact marked a clear difference with respect to the classic “supervision” of the record companies over the creations of the musicians as well as the way in which they were going to make themselves known.
Punk emerged in those years as a new form of counterculture, as a movement driven by musicians who wanted to break with the dominant trends and customs, in an effort to create their own sound and express themselves in a generally more direct and raw way.
The Post-Punk era in the United Kingdom from 1977 to 1983, for example, also spread to the United States and other countries, and was characterized by its experimental and diverse character.
Bands like Joy Division, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Wire or The Cure are just some of the many artists that were part of this scene.
What is independent music?
So we are going to try to define this expression in some way when we directly relate it to musical proposals.
Independent music is a label that can be applied to all musical groups and artists who do not have a current contract with a major record company and who, therefore, in principle, have more autonomy and power in making compositional decisions. and production.
This is an assumption, really, since there may be cases in which an independent group or artist is less experimental, groundbreaking or risky than another financed by a large company in the music industry.
But it is also true that the limitation of commercial expectations favors making music without thinking so much about other external conditions, such as the money that is expected to come in, for example, and the resulting works may perhaps be more pure or authentic, to call it somehow, and more faithfully reflect the artistic purposes of the musicians.
Independent music genres
Over the years, since the 1970s at least, as we have said, some musical genres have been defined by avoiding traditional methods of recording, publishing and distributing music.
This included from the very compositions, instrumentation and lyrics, to the most productive or economical part and ended up constituting a kind of attitude against the majority or traditional, the mainstream , in any of its forms.
Punk is a musical genre that emerged in the mid-1970s and reached its highest levels of popularity with British groups like the Sex Pistols, The Damned or The Clash, and other Americans like the Ramones, or Blondie, especially.
Musically, he is characterized by putting together simple, direct compositions with a raw sound.
The interpretations also used to be intense, while the compositions were almost always fast and brief.
In them you could hear distorted guitars, few arrangements and instruments. The general sound context was constant and loud, clearly reflecting anger, frustration and a desire for revenge. The vocal parts were equally strong or even violent and the lyrics dealt with social and political issues as a protest, denouncing the established system and the privileges of the ruling classes.
The so-called Post Punk refers to a diverse range of bands and performers who, from the Punk Rock premises, brought new perspectives to that countercultural feeling and its consequences in the lives of a large part of the population.
If Punk drank directly from Garage Rock, these new bands, around the “New Musick” label, tried to do the same, new music, not so basic and accelerated, for example.
This is specified in compositions with unusual structures, a more introverted attitude and a darker aesthetic, to name it somehow.
Siouxsie And The Banshees, Talking Heads, Killing Joke, The Cure or Joy Division were some of the bands that explored these possibilities on both sides of the Atlantic.
During the 1980s, this artistic current that was looking for new paths away from the commercial and the unconventional gave new fruits.
More and more genres and subgenres explored these musical possibilities and Heavy, Gothic Rock or the incipient electronic music with Kraftwerk, among others, demonstrated it by focusing on very specific instrumentation and atmospheres.
At this time, often under the Alternative Rock label, many different proposals were developed that were not necessarily in the minority or worked with a purely independent structure.
In general, a band brought something new to the Rock scene with little means and, if they obtained some recognition from the public, they continued their recording path through traditional channels and big companies, while trying to preserve their innovative spirit.
The label has continued to be used in the following decades as a sign of a differentiated and new attitude with respect to the majority tastes of the moment, but each time with greater confusion in its use, due to the variety and fragmentation of styles and public.
Indie Rock is usually understood as a group of groups and musicians that, as a subgenre of Alternative Rock, which from 1980 onwards offered a rock version far from the cliches and the most popular trends.
Continuing a bit with the confusion and variety of musical terms and labels, bands and artists could be considered alternative, indie, and in other ways simultaneously.
In the 1990s, the so-called Britpop , in Great Britain or Grunge in the United States, and its replicas in the rest of the world, were considered forms of Indie Rock.
Anyway, in general, we can identify a group of musical subgenres that are usually grouped as descendants or strongly influenced by the idea of Indie Rock or independent Rock.
Another expression that has been widely used in the last part of the 20th and 21st centuries to designate bands and artists with new, different and, at least initially, minority proposals, is Indie Pop.
To simplify, we can say that when a musical project did not have a marked rock character and sounded more relaxed or soft, but presented unusual elements in productions of its time, this Indie Pop label was often used to designate and group them in some way. , generally by the press and specialized radio, although they did not have much more than that in common between them.
Indie hip hop
Independent Hip hop, Indie Hip hop or even Underground Hip hop. Any of these labels refers to styles or artists who practice unconventional or innovative Hip hop genres or forms.
Once again, these terms are used to group non-commercial proposals or simply far from the canons or standard Hip hop of each moment.
Alternative Rap, Hardcore Hip Hop, Horrorcore or Conscious Rap, among others, would fit into these independent coordinates.
Although Hip hop culture is essentially underground , the progressive acceptance of its productions made it possible for, over time, bands and artists clearly anti-commercial and with a low-budget infrastructure to reach the general public and the dominant companies in the industry. world musical, in the same way as other Rock, Pop or electronic bands, which began their journeys in the independent universe.
The term indie , in short, has been used to refer to a new sound presented by a musician or band.
That attitude that musicians adopted when they became independent from the big record companies or, directly, avoided them to create music through their own means.
Thus pretending to support and encourage all those who dedicate themselves to reproducing their creations in small places.
An important characteristic of “indie” would be that they promote “do it yourself”, or ” Do It Yourself ” (DIY), as opposed to collaboration or dependence on external agents in the creation and performance of music.
The fanzines of the past centuries or the mixtapes produced by some musicians of the 21st century, would be samples of this independent spirit, as well as their particular aesthetics sometimes called ” underground “.
In some media, indie styles or genres are identified as “sensitive and melancholic,” “personal and intimate,” or revealing lo-fi sound and low-budget productions. On other occasions, it is pointed out that they show “simple melodies” or very raw sounds”, which shows that going against the current at a certain moment can represent both being very subtle, hard or, simply, different from the most popular.
Bands like Sonic Youth or Pixies, for example, achieved the sound of guitars, unconventional structures or dreamlike lyrics, for example.
Many countries have developed an extensive indie scene, some of its representatives reaching enough popularity to survive, but being virtually unknown outside of them.
Independent musicians and the digital age
The irruption into our lives of digital technologies has opened more and more ways for both a new or unknown artist and anyone who did not want or could not enter the gear of the traditional music industry, to be able to make themselves known.
Progressively, new communication and dissemination tools and channels have appeared and have made it possible to carry out projects based on the Internet, social networks and all this new virtual ecosystem.
But not only that, also digital recording, with the computer programs dedicated to it (DAW and Home Studios), the distribution of music through online stores or contacts with managers or music promoters have been adding to this way of meeting, relating and reach agreements.
Digital radio stations, websites and forums specialized by genre, streaming on demand such as Spotify, among others,…
Around all these novelties and the digital transformation of the world of music, new opportunities have appeared for independent bands, even without a record label, self-publishing and publishing their songs almost without intermediaries.
As we have seen, in short, and despite the fact that one can discuss the depth or the commitment of one and the other to the idea of being independent, we can say that the musical proposals that qualify as such want to create their music freely, above all else.
Whether for artistic reasons, because the compositions or the sound (or whatever) have an acceptance or a minority public, on some occasions, producing and/or distributing music independently is the only or the best solution for that music is commercialized and has the opportunity to be heard.
If you don’t have contacts, or followers or the songs you make, your musical proposal is very different from the majority tastes, perhaps focusing the recording and dissemination of your works in this way is the ideal path.