An Indiepenent History

Indie | Wednesday 14th August 2013 | Andy

So what does ‘Indie’ music mean to you?  Interesting question really, to some it’s just a style of music ‘with guitars in’, to others, like myself, it’s any music made that doesn’t conform to the mainstream music industry. The term ‘Indie’ did indeed come from the word independent, and it really started way back in the 50’s when independent labels in the UK sprouted up to rebel in their own little way against the big music labels of the time and in particularly the control the labels where trying to push upon artists in order to sell more records and make more money, both good things unless you’re an artist that doesn’t want to be moulded. And so the rebellion began, and quite promptly failed when most of the new emerging independent labels got swallowed up by the now huge major record labels of the time.

More success was had over in the States with Independent labels like ‘Sun Records’ retaining artists such as Elvis Presley, Jerry lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Even still, Elvis’s contract was sold just three years after the label was formed to help pay the mounting bills. But this was just a minor setback to the independent labels, with twenty-five of them joining together to form ‘The National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences’ (NARAS), collectively starting the Gramophone Awards’ in 1959, which we now all know today as The Grammies.

Moving on and back to the UK. Newly formed indie labels like Rough Trade and Factory started signing upcoming artists like Joy Division, Happy Mondays, New Order and The Smiths. The UK Indie Charts were formed in 1980, and so the UK revolution was back in full swing. While over the water a small Seattle college fanzine called Subterranean Pop started issuing mix tapes with alternate issues, a venture that led on to the creation of the Sub Pop record label who’s signings’ included Nirvana, Mudhoney and Soundgarden, and thus grunge was created.

The 90’s brought with it the interweb and the mp3, and a whole new indie music revolution. For the first time in history an artist using relatively cheap equipment and software could create music in a bedroom studio and release their creations upon the entire world via their modem, while more established bands could release backdated or live tracks at a fraction of the previous cost.

This was a major turning point in the war between the independent and major record labels, with music lovers being able to download individual tracks as Mp3’s straight to their hard drives for free from internet sites like Napster. This was fantastic news for budding new musicians trying to get their music to a large audience and music lovers who didn’t want to buy entire albums just for one or two tracks that they like. Not quite so great for the major record companies who realised a little too late that trying to get the honest hardworking public at large to part with their hard earned money for an entire album when the tracks that they want can be easily downloaded for free was just a little bit silly.

With the beginning of the 00’s it seemed that the major labels and some of the artists that they represented where in major trouble, with artists such as Metallica’s Lars Ulrich voicing his despair at the situation with the argument "If I let a car mechanic download my music for free then I want him to come over and fix my car for free”, he was sitting by the swimming pool of his mansion at the time. Something had to give, and it was Apple that had the inspired forethought to bridge the gap between the fast growing music download scene, and big business, with the acquisition of SoundJam MP, an early Mac OS compatible MP3 player, which they renamed ITunes. This allowed the public at large to download just the tracks they desired for a standard price. The Major labels didn’t like the idea, but they went along with it and in the first week of the ITunes store being opened it sold over a million singles, for money. Thanks to Apple an important compromise was made with the music industry and the public seeing an increase of record sales and a decrease in piracy, with total revenues for 2012 hitting $16.5 billion worldwide.

            And there we have it. A brief history of independent music. Its not just music with guitars in after all.

Andy p