The Classic Debate- Mainstream vs Indie(Music)

So I’m going to predict the future now and say I’m gonna end this blog post by saying something like, “No matter how you look at it, the important thing is you’re listening to music you like and makes you happy”, or something along those cliché lines. And it’s true! Music is a subjective form of art that acts an outlet for both the creator and the audience to express themselves.

Back in the day, although there were always multiple genres (now we have the most ever), there was no such thing as “mainstream” music or contrasting independent artists. There was one goal if you were an aspiring musician: Get famous. You were either good enough to get signed by a major label, or you weren’t. Those that were we know as the classic bands and artists of old, still influencing music and musicians of today. Those that weren’t we know as mild-mannered suburban fathers who still have their old drum set or guitar, and who tell their unlistening children about how they opened for The Stones back in the day.

Things aren’t that simple now, things aren’t that black and white. Nowadays, not everyone wants a major label signing. And those who do are said to have made sacrifices that fans disagree with creatively to get there. There seems to be an obvious separation of style, fans, and maybe even quality between music that gets played on the radio, and music that is produced by small and/or independent labels. Why the difference?

Well let’s start with mainstream music. What is mainstream music? There are negative connotations that follow that phrase, a stigma that sticks to its listeners, a stereotype of shallow minded, one dimensional, tasteless millennials. But this isn’t the case at all. Mainstream music is just what its title implies. It’s music that, no matter where you are or what your preferences are, you’ve heard before. It’s on the radio, on commercials, in YouTuber content. And this is mostly because of being signed by a major record label. Yes, a big name goes a long way, but it’s the label that makes the name big. The music itself is tailored to a wide variety of demographics, which is another primary factor in what makes it “mainstream”. If it’s going to be on highly trafficked radio stations, most people need to like it.

For some people, this is a drawback. I’m trying to be as unbiased as possible in writing this, but this is something I strongly agree with. The problem with trying to please everyone, is that 1: Sometimes the quality suffers, and 2: Everything begins to sound the same. For those simple two reasons, it’s hard for me personally to listen to the radio, but I do realize that making music, writing songs, making mixes, is a difficult talent, and there are many who just so happen to be mainstream, famous, household name artists who are fantastic at what they do, and recognition and respect has to be given to them for their talent and devotion.

I personally happen to love indie artists because they do their own thing, and they don’t allow the label to creatively interfere. Major record companies have a long history of altering the way their signed artists express themselves musically in order to tailor the music to general demographics, and I always felt that that sucked. There are bands to this day I used to listen to avidly, until they were told to change their style, their tone, or personnel. Not so with independent artists. Their music might not appeal to the general public, but they have their followings of people with a particular vibe and taste, and that’s who they try to please.

However, we can’t forget that even mainstream artists are musicians too, for the most part. There’s always going to be people in it just for the money, but for the most part musicians are very passionate about their craft. That being the case, it’s important to remember that these passionate individuals are making subjective art. Every work is meant to be enjoyed and criticized. And if a person enjoys it, it’s not their fault, it’s never something that they should be judged for or looked down upon for.

This is a major drawback, maybe not for indie artists, but for their fans. Let’s not judge others, remember why we listen to music guys. This is my message to fellow indie heads: Just love music. It is such a beautiful and intricate way of emotional and spiritual expression. Don’t pay attention to stereotypes or stigmas. Don’t give any particular type of music a title like “Mainstream” and avoid it because that’s what you deem it as. Avoid music that doesn’t connect with you euphorically, and embrace music that does. What can you relate to? What touches you on a level that no one else would understand? What incites emotions inside of you? What makes you feel the way you want? And when you’re already feeling a certain way, what explains your emotions for you?  That’s the kind of music you should listen to, mainstream, indie, new, or old..

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