I will be blunt and probably a little pretentious. The radio sucks. I can barely stand to listen to it anymore. I have no desire to hear the new Nickleback single; I can just go listen to any of their old albums and hear the same song with a different title. Avril Lavigne? No thanks. And let me go ahead and say that although I do not generally condone violence, I would not be upset to read about the horrible and untimely demise of My Chemical Romance.Fall Out Boy too. I could go on like this, but I won’t. The point is that I find popular music to be infuriatingly mundane and unoriginal.
Every genre of music is going to have its good artists, its bad artists and its copycats. The problem I have with popular music is that it is essentially a negative feedback loop of bad artists and copycats. The Blink-182 pop-punk phase that doesn’t seem to be dead yet is a perfect example of this. What did Blink-182 bring to the music scene that was so special and different? Nothing. Even more recent and relevant (I use the term lightly), bands bring little to the table. What has Chevelle done recently to really make us think about how we enjoy our music? Nothing. I find it amazing and a little disappointing that there are so many copies of Nothing out there and that the public gobbles Nothing up at a furious clip.
At the same time, though, I understand why such music exists. It is easily accessible. The audience doesn’t have to devote any thought to the music they are listening to. It is easier to identify with Billy Joel Armstrong’s semi-informed blithering on about American politics than it is to identify with Thom Yorke (Radiohead) singing about what it would be like to be an alien observing the exhausting hustle and bustle of modern society. This is where the business of music takes control of artistic innovation. I don’t hesitate to call most of the bands on the radio “cookie cutter” in that they could very well be the product of some market study done by a stiff in a suit who’s never even plucked a guitar string in his life. I feel like Dashboard Confessional might be the result of findings obtained from a focus group composed of 14-year-old girls. Music becomes a product, not a form of art, and so music that is popular becomes the business plan for all other music created during that period of time. I will admit it is a good way to be profitable, but only if you are willing to swallow oceans of integrity. I cannot express the degree to which I find this approach to music utterly despicable.
That is why I have found a bit of solace in the world of indie music. Indie is a very broad label for a genre that encompasses many styles of music, but that is part of its charm. The level of variety that exists under the term indie surpasses pop music several times over. If I want to listen to upbeat dance tunes I can look to LCD Soundsytem or the Klaxons. If I’m in the mood for more cinematic and emotional music, then Mogwai fits the bill. And if it’s just plain strangeness I’m looking for then it’s a tall glass of Deerhunter for me. All of these bands are considered indie bands, and I would bet good money that most people have never heard any of those names. This is because indie bands are not held to the same marketable criteria that pop bands are. The companies that produce indie music are aware that they cannot compete with huge conglomerates like Sony and so their emphasis becomes creating good music and not just a marketable product.
Think about it his way. If you’re going shopping, you could go to Wal-Mart. Chances are they probably have what you are looking for. Almost anywhere in the country you can go into a Wal-Mart and find something that’s good enough to meet your needs as a consumer. But if it’s quality you’re looking for you might be better off shopping at a local store. Sure, you can get a loaf of bread that’s been frozen and shipped across the country to your neighborhood Wal-mart along with hundreds of other loaves just like it, but wouldn’t you rather have that fresh baguette that was baked just this morning at the local store? It is the same with pop and indie music. You could listen to some generic pop band playing the same chord progressions while using the same audio effects as some other band you heard on the radio a month ago. I mean, why wouldn’t you? It’s a product designed and marketed specifically for you. Aren’t you special? On the other hand you could take a chance on some indie band your friend recommended to you. You might be pleasantly surprised – that band is putting their heart and soul into their music for the sake of the music not the profit.
Bear in mind that the indie genre also has its share of copycats and just plain terrible artists. The tragedy is that good indie artists are often overlooked or are not as prevalent in the public eye. Bands like Modest Mouse are deviants from this situation in that they have penetrated the pop music market, but if you listen to Modest Mouse’s “Dashboard” and compare it to their songs from ten years ago you can’t help but conjure images of the words “sell” and “out.” Other indie bands making progress in the pop music scene have found a way to maintain their integrity, bands like Interpol (who are now signed to a major label) – but when was the last time you heard KTCL play Interpol?
Again, it boils down to how accessible music is. The truly sad thing is that there is plenty of indie music that anyone could relate to. There is a stigma surrounding music that is not hyped by MTV and the radio. It must not be good enough if it can’t make it into the mainstream, right? Wrong. It’s not in the mainstream because people cannot be bothered to take a chance on something even a little bit different. When was the last time you and your friends sat down in a dark room and listened to the new album of some band you barely knew? When was the last time you put on your headphones and marveled at the brilliant way the artist ordered the songs on a particular record? I feel like, to most people, music is something that plays in the background of parties to reassure them that they are having a good time.
I myself am a musician and I feel very passionately about the state of the music industry. I urge everyone to go out and listen to something new and different. You don’t have to like all of it. I will not say that there isn’t any nonsense to be found in indie music. I’m just saying that there is less of it. And always remember: music is an art before it is a product.
If you want to delve into indie rock, try these bands out for starters:
Interpol – “Turn on the Bright Lights”
Radiohead – “Kid A”
Pavement – “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain”
Broken Social Scene – “Broken Social Scene”
Mogwai – “Mr. Beast”
Modest Mouse – “The Lonesome Crowded West”
My Bloody Valentine – “Loveless”
The New Pornographers – “Twin Cinema”
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Jon Swihart at email@example.com