The Commodification of Indie

by Stephanie Roush

[EDITOR’S NOTE: As we move into 2017, Live Music Daily plans to bring you more features & articles about the state of the music and the music industry. Some will be opinionated. Some will be heavily sourced. Some will be just for fun. Let us know if you like what you are reading. And more importantly, let us know if you would like to contribute.]


If you told my sixteen year-old self that almost ten years in the future I would feel compelled to write an essay with nauseatingly pretentious title like “The Commodification of Indie Music” I would not have believed you. Ironically, the egregious title would not have been the root of disbelief, but instead the notion that indie music, my muse, my flame, could become a commercial behemoth would baffle me.  My taste and love for music has always been a badge that I’ve worn with honor and pride. I’ve always wanted the bands I love to be a representation of me, yet in the past couple of years many of the bands I’ve loved and rooted for over the years have come to disappoint me, make me question my taste, but maybe most despicable of all, succumb to a mainstream musical ideal that caused me to dig these bands in the first place.

Animal Collective’s Strawberry Jam

As the ten-year anniversary of Animal Collective’s release of Strawberry Jam approaches, I think of what a monumental impact that album had on the experimental, DIY, and indie music. Not unlike the way in which atmospheric & orchestral sounds on Sergeant Pepper’s changed the rules of production and making an album, the rhythmic, ethereal constancy of Strawberry Jam changed the rules for anyone making music in 2007. So, when I attended an Animal Collective DJ set at Brooklyn’s Brooklyn Bowl you can imagine my disappointment when the selection and the crowd were less than inspiring, and beers were more than pricey. I guess there are worse offenses than DJ-ing to a room of wealthy parents bowling on their weekly date night in “hip” Williamsburg.

Part of this seismic shift in indie music can attributed to the seismic shift in the music industry overall. With the proliferation of subscription-based music streaming services and the growing reliance on concerts and tours as the main source of revenue, bands are forced to compromise an ever-widening sliver of their DIY morality. Festivals now play a large role in this. I once had the almost-psychedelic experience of watching Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes perform at the main stage of one of the major music festivals and watched as his anxious, pessimistic onstage antics went almost entirely unnoticed by a crowd of teenage girls in crop tops taking selfies in the front row.

Broken Social Scene, circa 2007

Some of my favorite, life-changing bands, Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Modest Mouse, Bright Eyes, Fleet Foxes, White Stripes, have weathered this storm of commercialization and festivalization with grace, yet they’re still faced with the troubling riddle of the post-modern music industry: risk economic failure or risk commodification.  The independent, rebellious of the ethos proves to be less relevant in a world where you can build a website in a few hours on Squarespace or record an album on your iPhone and upload it to Soundcloud in the span of an afternoon.

Maybe my nostalgia for the golden age of indie (definitively, 2007-2011) is misplaced. Maybe I can find what I’m looking for somewhere on the Tumblr of a fifteen year-old heavily promoting his friends’ Bandcamps and local battle of the bands. Maybe the overwhelming amount of media and thinkpieces being published about what we used to call indie music is creating an inflated sense of its commoditization. Maybe, just maybe, we’re on the brink of something new, something more exciting than Broken Social Scene’s “7/4 (Shoreline)” in 2006. Now that would be something to write about.


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