To be an “indie musician” can mean a lot of different things to different people. It could mean playing a genre of music that doesn’t have a lot of mainstream appeal. To others, it can mean that the musician isn’t working with “the man” or music labels and corporations.
Turns out, indie music actually has a definition, but even that doesn’t make much sense. Many sources agree that an indie musician is one who produces their own music without the help of big corporate labels. But then there are also indie labels that distribute music for lower costs than so-called big labels. How does an indie label exist? Shouldn’t all recording labels be big corporations and anyone who works for them on a regular basis be considered a non-indie musician? We don’t think so.
Why is Everything so Confusing?
Indie artists in other mediums make art their own way, but working with big corporations doesn’t necessarily disqualify them from being indies. You see this with video games and movies, where indie artists make small-budget arthouse projects with the advertising power and funding of big corporations. This may lead to many people being confused about what counts as indie and when an artist stops being indie.
In reality, being indie means something different in each artistic medium. In film and video games, it means working on a budget with limited resources. With music, it means making everything completely yourself. This may sound like there’s not a lot of freedom in what can be indie in the music industry, but it’s actually quite the opposite.
In the music industry, there are indie labels because they’re arbitrarily small and don’t make as much money as a name brand like Sony. Because of their small size, they have a creative interest and integrity that gives their artists the freedom to do what they want. An indie label can have people publish and distribute music with the mindset of being the little guy who’s trying to make it big on creativity.
So When is a Musician No Longer Indie?
Now we get to the main question. If a music label can be indie, when does an artist stop being indie? There are a few possibilities we considered.
Joining a Label
Music labels are typically big corporations that pair artists with producers, assistants, and marketers so they can produce and sell albums, singles, and concert tours. When a musician joins one of them, many consider that the moment they made it big. But many artists can become a part of a big label and never take off.
Or when they join an indie label, wouldn’t they still be indie even if they’re successful? This means that joining a music label isn’t the best way to judge when an indie artist is no longer indie.
When They Make a Lot of Money
Success is often measured by financial success, but how much money does someone need to earn to be successful? A musician can make more than enough to live well by producing music at home and using other means to make money and distribute their music. An artist can make money without having a producer or a manager, so would that still make the artist independent, but also rich? If they’re still independent, why wouldn’t they also be indie musicians? This isn’t the best way to determine if a musician is still indie either.
They Make Music on Their Own
Whether that’s as an independent musician, band, or label, if an artist can make whatever music they want and don’t have to worry about anyone telling them to make something else, we call them independent. To be independent is to not be influenced or controlled by others, and if their music isn’t controlled by anyone else, shouldn’t it be indie music?
When we look at it like this, being an indie musician is more about how much control an artist has over their music. If the artist has control and can make their music as they want, however they want, then they’re independent. The moment producers, managers, and other businessmen come in to make changes for reasons outside of the recording studio, it stops being indie music.
Want to Listen to Awesome Indie Musicians? Come to the River Street Jazz Cafe!
Almost every weekend, the River Street Jazz Cafe hosts indie musicians looking to show off what they’ve been working on to the people in their community. We do solo concerts, and duo performances, and even hold indie fests on our stage! If this sounds like something you’re interested in, check out our calendar and get your tickets before they’re sold out!