Monday, August 9, 2010

Independent conversation


Last Friday Keith, Pat and I were discussing the very dynamic applications of the term “Indie” specific to music.  Basically what does it mean when we say that so-and-so is an “indie band?”  Does it define the label?  the sound? the pretentiousness of the fan base? the quantity of PBR consumed during recording sessions?  or is it one of those terms that has been applied do diversely that it has no practical meaning? like progressive and conservative.

As is the case with most internationally acclaimed publications, the New Yorker wanted in on our conversation.  This week Sasha Frere-Jones discusses the Indie environment specific to the case of Arcade Fire’s new album The Suburbs.  He discusses how indie labels like Matador and Merge are fulfilling the traditional role of the label (distribution, merchandising and money making) but are better at it than the majors.  Mostly because they know how to use the interweb.

But digital technology has upended the way people hear music, making recordings less dependable commodities, so that the profits brought in by a Beyoncé may no longer pay for smaller prestige acts on her label, Sony Music—they probably just pay the bills.

While the conclusion seems to be you can make more money on a major label, the chances of success are smaller and smaller every day.  It seems more bands are opting for moderate touring fame rather than gaga fame that “permeate[s] every night club, taxi, bodega, and drugstore”

Now that the outsized profits of the CD era have disappeared, the music business is rapidly retrenching. With a limited amount of money to make—a sum dwarfed by movies, video games, and sporting events—many bands may figure out that major labels’ publicity budgets are an unsustainable luxury.

All due respect to Mr. Frere-Jones, the definitive work on the subject was done by Paste magazine writer Rachel Maddux (so close) earlier this year.  Read it all hear.

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