Indie Music A Case Study in Innovation Rebecca Horton DMGT 702 | Spring 2012
Independence means not having to answer to anyone, really-thatâ€™s what it means in my mind.1 -Geoff Travis, founder and director of Rough Trade Records
1 As cited by Robert King. How Soon is Now: The Madmen and Mavericks who made Independent Music: 1975-2005 (Faber and Faber: 2012), Digital release.
Table of ContenTs Why Study Indie Music?
The Backdrop: Indies Versus Majors
Diffusion Over Time
Analysis of the Innovation
Why Study Indie ?
The independent music scene emerged in the late 1950s 1960s and quickly became a vanguard for do-it-yourself, homegrown creative work. While the term indie has lost much of its orginal significance, it once stood for the underground, emergent musicmusician, emergent scene, i.e.i.e. those the musician musicianswho whoexisted existed outside the context outside the confines of traditional of traditional record labels. record Since labels.then, Sinceindepenthen, dent musicâ€™s transformation independent musicâ€™s transformation of the music of theindustry music industry has served as a served has boilerplate as a boilerplate for creatives foracross creatives a multitude across a multitude of industries. of Today, the term industries. Today, indie the is term ubiquitous indie is ubiquitous and the power andof thethe power independent of the independent entrepreneur entrepreneur can be easily is easily viewed observable in art, fashion, in art, film, publishing, fashion, film, publishing, design, and design, business and business at large. at large.
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The Backdrop: Indies versus the majors
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1 Paul Lopes. “Innovation and Diversity in the Popular Music Industry: 1969 to 1990.” American Sociological Review, v. 57, no. 1 (1992): 56-57. 21
At the beginning of the 1950s, a shift began whereby new means for recording and distributing music enabled indie, i.e. independent, bands to get their music to the masses while sidestepping the majors. Three main factors contributed to the beginning of this shift: the emergence of the “unbreakable” vinyl disc that replaced the “capital-intensive logistics” of music production; the invention of the magnetophone, which allowed musicians to record in their garages; and the rise of the independent radio station thanks to new licensing regulations by the FCC.1 With indie labels as a new player in the marketplace, musicians could now function untethered by the majors, free to produce and distribute music as they pleased. However, as the next few pages will demonstrate, the music industry shifted gradually into the newfound freedoms of producing and selling independently. For many years to come, musicians still depended heavily on the distribution networks of major labels to promote and sell their recordings. 1 Peter Tschmuck. “How Creative Are the Creative Industries? A Case of the Music Industry.” The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society, 33 (2003): 133 22
The independent music scene emerged in the late 1960s and quickly became a vanguard for do-it-yourself, homegrown creative work. While the term indie has lost much of its orginal significance, it once stood for the underground, emergent music scene, i.e. those musicians who existed outside the context of traditional record labels. Since then, independent musicâ€™s transformation of the music industry has served as a boilerplate for creatives across a multitude of industries. Today, the term indie is ubiquitous and the power of the independent entrepreneur can be easily viewed in art, fashion, film, publishing, design, and business at large.
Diffusion over time
Diffusion of Innovations Model
Drawing The independent upon themusic diffusion sceneofemerged innovations in the model late 1960s developed and quickly by Everett became Rogers, a vanguard this section for do-it-yourself, will document homegrown the diffusion creative of the indie work. scene While as itthe relates term to indie both has the lost production much of its and orginal significance, purchase of music. For it once each stood adoption for the phase, underground, it offers a rough emergent music scene, timeframe, an example i.e. those of a musicians typical user, who andexisted a prominent outside the context indie band that of traditional functionedrecord as a change labels. agent Since and then,drew indepenwide dent musicâ€™s transformation of the music industry has served listenership. as a boilerplate for creatives across a multitude of industries. Today, the term indie is ubiquitous and the power of the independent entrepreneur can be easily viewed in art, fashion, film, publishing, design, and business at large.
1950s to 1960s The Innovators Those within the music industry itself were the first group to adopt independent music. Music producers began to take their raw skills outside of the majors scene and dabble in independent music on the side. Some of them successfully formed independent labels, although these labels were not highly profitable or well-known. At this point, indie musicians remained heavily dependent on the majorsâ€™ distibution channels, making it virtually impossible for an indie musician who gained popularity to stay indie. 28
“[T]he Byrds became touchstones for indie pop. Not for nothing did Edwyn Collins later sing: “I wore my fringe like Roger McGuinn’s.” -Michael Hann for The Guardian, 2011
Late 1960s to 1970s Early Adopters After gaining initial traction with those in the music industry who were looking to escape the grip of major label control, indie garnered a wider following. In the late 1960s and 1970s indie labels began to establish themselves as viable players in the music industry, with indie listeners coming from the hippie counterculture and underground movements. These new followers of indie music primarily learned of new bands through local word of mouth, independent radio stations or record stores. 32
â€œI was rearranged by the Velvet Underground in 1967. How on earth were they making that sound? And Nico. Nico!â€? -Cary Tennis, Salon.com, 2002
1980s Early Majority By the beginning of the 1980s, underground music hit the airwaves full-force. Much of the indie music during this era drew upon punk rock roots, with predominant indie “scenes” in cities like New York and London fueling its diffusion. One of the UK’s widely-followed music video programs, The Chart Show, gave indie musicians further credence as the show required bands to be indie in order to qualify for it “chart.” As the 1980s neared a close, indie charts had garnered so much attention that major labels were beginning to set up subsidiaries in order to push their acts through as indies. 36
“To put it simply they were everything...We refused not to wear our Queen is Dead t shirts at school, we spray painted the Smiths everywhere and we finished girlfriends who insulted them. From a time of shocking throw away pop The Smiths were seminal.” -Martyn, Newcastle UK, comment posted in response to a 2003 BBC article entitled “The Smiths: the influential alliance” 39
1990s Late Majority Heralded by majorsâ€™ move into indie branding during the late 1980s, indie music hit the masses during the 1990s, with wide distribution via radio, music television, and (later) peer to peer sharing online. The development of â€œindie rockâ€? magazines, such as Pitchfork, and music festivals, such as Lollapalooza, further catapulted indies into the mainstream. This time period was fraught with controversy, though, as listeners questioned the legitimacy of indie bands. Thus, the indie title underwent a redefinition, splitting into alternative rock and indie, with murky distinctions between the two. 40
“Holland doesn’t want you to get all smug and superior if you support [The Offspring] for staying with the small Epitaph label ...[Says Holland] ‘For whatever reason, we’ve done things in the way we wanted to do it and we’re happy to stay on the independent label.’ -Jim Sullivan for The Boston Globe, 1994 43
2000s Laggards During the early 2000s, indie reached its final crescendo via the launch of the iPod and iTunes store, which brought underground music to the masses. The internet carried indie into the swarm, allowing start-up bands to quickly share their tracks online and gain success virtually overnight through social sharing platforms like YouTube and Facebook. The popularization of online music made indie the new norm, forcing many major labels out of business, but also crippling many musiciansâ€™ means of income and forcing them to find other jobs. 44
“[T]he success of [Adele’s] album-ofthe-year contender, 21, which is expected to sell its 20-millionth copy in the next month, also confirms that the independent sector has broken the once-unassailable grip of major labels on the UK charts.” -Caroline Sullivan for The Guardian, 2012
Analysis of the innovation
While it is probably already clear why indie music is an innovation, one can also view indieâ€™s role through a more critical lens. Based upon the five attributes of innovations outlined by innovation scholar Everett Rogers, indie music scores positively in all areas today. However, at the time of its introduction, indie was signifianctly lacking in three of the five areas. Since then, technological shifts have pushed indie music further along the spectrum.1
Everett Rogers. Op. cit.
Adoption Less Likely 1960
Adoption More Likely
Over the course of approximately 60 years, independent music moved from relatively unknown to platinum awardearning status. Throughout that time period, the music industry underwent a wide variety of shifts, including changes in the way music was recorded, a vast redefinition of the music distribution structure, and the development of new listening devices and platforms. Beyond the more obvious causes of indie’s diffusion, there are also the less obvious, like the global population shift to urban centers and the role that small concert venues played in catalyzing new acts. While the term “indie” has lost much of its original clout, there is little doubt that it has redefined the entertainment industry across many domains. The evolution of indie music to its present state underscores the power of the complex actor networks in facilitating the development and adoption of an innovation. Indie’s metamorphosis into its present form may be best summed through the following words from New York Times writer Rob Walker:1 1 52
Rob Walker. “The Brand Underground.” New York Times (2006).
â€œ[We] no longer live in a world of the Mainstream and the Counterculture. We live in a world of multiple mainstreams and countless counter-, sub-, and counter-subcultures.â€?
What is indie? Today the boundaries between being on an independent label and being on a major label are no longer the defining characteristics of an indie. Some think of indie as a subgenre of rock music dominated by scraggly hipster young adults. Others see it as a broader term that can apply to crafts, filmmaking, fashion, and publishing. Still others see it as a lost genre with no present meaning. With indie musicians like Adele in the spotlight, and indie music festivals, blogs, and publications dominating the modern music scene, indie has become the norm rather than the exception.
Many questions surround the future of indie and few can surmise what it might hold in a world where an unknown band can dominate millions of earbuds at the click of an upload button. Yet, as the garage bands of yesteryear continue losing their edge to the Youtube music sensations of today, one thing remains certain: the notion of do-it-yourself indie music is not going anywhere soon.
Bibliography: Feenberg, A. “The Critical Theory of Technology.” Capitalism Nature Socialism, 1990. King, R. How Soon is Now: The Madmen and Mavericks who made Independent Music: 1975-2005. Faber and Faber: 2012. Digital release. Law, J. “Technology and Heterogeneous Engineering,” MIT Press, 1986. Lopes, P. “Innovation and Diversity in the Popular Music Industry: 1969 to 1990.” American Sociological Review, 1992. Rogers, E. Diffusion of Innovations. 5th ed. Free Press: 2003. Strachan, R. C. “Do it Yourself: Industry, Ideology, Aesthetics and Microindependent Record Labels in the UK.” 2003. PhD diss, University of Liverpool, 2003. Tschmuck, P. “How Creative Are the Creative Industries? A Case of the Music Industry.” The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society, 2003. Walker, R. “The Brand Underground.” New York Times, 30 Jul. 2006, . http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/30 magazine/30brand.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1
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