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What Is Indie Music? 11 Best Examples

May 5, 2023
what is indie music

Indie music is a genre that has grown and evolved over the years, encompassing a wide variety of styles and sounds. 

At its core, indie music refers to music that is created outside of the mainstream commercial music industry, by artists who choose to produce and distribute their music themselves or through smaller independent labels. 

Indie music has its roots in the punk rock and post-punk scenes of the 1970s and 1980s, where artists and labels sought to distance themselves from the corporate mainstream. 

In this article, we’ll explore the history and evolution of indie music, its diversity and experimentation, the challenges and opportunities facing independent artists in the music industry, and the future of this exciting and dynamic genre.

What is Indie Music?

Indie music, short for independent music, is a genre that emerged in the 1970s and is characterized by its DIY approach to music production, promotion, and distribution. 

The term “indie” originally referred to music that was produced and released by independent record labels, rather than major record labels.

However, over time, the term has come to encompass a wider range of music that is produced outside of the mainstream music industry, with a focus on originality and artistic expression.

Indie music is often associated with a DIY attitude, as artists and bands take control of their own creative process, from writing and recording to promoting and distributing their music.

This approach allows indie musicians to create music that is more personal and authentic, as they have complete control over their artistic vision.

One of the key features of indie music is its diversity. The music genre encompasses a wide range of styles, from folk and rock to electronic and experimental, with many artists and bands blending different genres to create a unique sound. 

This diversity is a reflection of the independent spirit that drives the genre, with musicians breaking away from the constraints of the mainstream music industry to create truly original music.

The Origins of Indie Music

The origins of indie music can be traced back to the 1970s and 1980s, a time when the punk and post-punk movements were taking the music world by storm. 

Independent record labels, or “indies,” began popping up all over the UK and the US, providing a platform for musicians who didn’t fit the mold of mainstream pop and rock. 

These labels were often run by music enthusiasts who were passionate about supporting new and innovative artists, regardless of commercial success.

Indie music in the 70s and 80s

Indie music has its roots in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when artists began to break away from the mainstream music industry and forge their own paths. 

This period saw the rise of independent record labels, which allowed musicians to release their music on their own terms and reach audiences outside of the mainstream. 

In the 1970s, punk rock emerged as a powerful force in the music industry, with bands like The Ramones, Sex Pistols, and The Clash leading the way. 

These bands rejected the polished sound of mainstream rock and instead embraced a raw, stripped-down sound that emphasized energy and attitude over technical proficiency with songs like “I Wanna Be Sedated” by The Ramones. 

At the same time, the punk movement was closely tied to the DIY ethos, with bands often self-producing their music and releasing it on their own independent record labels.

This DIY spirit was also present in the indie rock scene that emerged in the 1980s. 

Bands like R.E.M., The Smiths, and Sonic Youth rejected the slick, commercial sound of mainstream rock and instead embraced a more eclectic, experimental sound that drew from a range of influences. 

These bands often released their music on small, independent record labels, which gave them the freedom to explore their own creative visions without interference from major record labels.

The 80s also saw the rise of college rock, a genre that blended punk, indie rock, and new wave influences.

College radio stations played a key role in promoting and supporting this genre, with DJs often championing bands that had little or no mainstream exposure. 

This helped to create a thriving network of independent record labels, fanzines, and live venues that supported the college rock scene and helped to establish it as a vibrant part of the indie music landscape.

The 70s and 80s were also a time of political and social change, which was reflected in the music of indie bands.

Many of these bands were politically conscious and used their music as a platform to express their views on a range of issues, from environmentalism to anti-war activism. 

This gave their music a sense of urgency and relevance that resonated with audiences, particularly younger listeners who were looking for music that spoke to their own experiences and beliefs.

Indie Music in the 90s

The 1990s were an exciting time for indie music.

As the popularity of alternative rock continued to grow, so did the indie scene, with many new and established bands creating unique and innovative sounds that captivated audiences around the world.

One of the defining characteristics of indie music in the 90s was the diversity of genres and subgenres that emerged during this period. 

While grunge and Britpop dominated the mainstream, indie artists were experimenting with a wide range of styles, from shoegaze to lo-fi to post-rock.

Shoegaze, for example, was a genre that emerged in the late 80s and early 90s, characterized by heavily distorted guitars, ethereal vocals, and a dreamy, almost hypnotic sound.

Bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, and Ride were at the forefront of this movement, pushing the boundaries of what was possible with guitar music. 

Among the most famous Shoegaze songs of the 90s is “Sometimes” by My Bloody Valentine. 

Lo-fi was another genre that gained popularity in the 90s, characterized by its intentionally low-quality production values and a stripped-down, raw sound. 

Bands, like Guided by Voices, Sebadoh, and Beat Happening, were pioneers of this style, creating music that felt intimate and personal, even if the recording quality left something to be desired.

Post-rock was a genre that emerged in the mid-90s, characterized by the use of unconventional instruments and structures, as well as a focus on texture and atmosphere over traditional song structures. 

Bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Slint, and Tortoise were some of the most influential artists in this genre, creating sprawling, epic compositions that defied easy categorization.

Another notable trend in indie music in the 90s was the rise of female-led bands and artists.

While women had been involved in indie music for decades, the 90s saw a surge in female-fronted bands that challenged traditional gender roles and brought a fresh perspective to the scene. 

Bands like Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, and L7 were pioneers of this movement, creating music that was both powerful and socially conscious.

The 90s were also a time of great change in the music industry, with the rise of the internet and digital music distribution leading to new opportunities for independent artists. 

Many indie labels and artists were able to reach a wider audience than ever before, and the DIY ethos that had always been a part of indie culture became even more important as artists took control of their own careers and creative processes.

Indie Music in the 2000s

The 2000s were an interesting time for indie music. With the internet gaining prominence and music becoming more accessible than ever, the indie music scene flourished.

Here’s a closer look at how indie music evolved in the 2000s.

One of the defining features of indie music in the 2000s was the rise of the indie rock revival. Bands like The Strokes, Interpol, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs captured the attention of audiences with their raw, garage-rock-inspired sound. 

These bands were part of a movement that harked back to the DIY ethos of punk rock, and they resonated with a new generation of fans who were looking for something different from the mainstream.

At the same time, the 2000s saw the emergence of several new sub-genres within indie music. 

Most notable was the rise of post-punk revival bands, which combined elements of punk rock, new wave, and indie rock to create a sound that was both familiar and fresh.

Bands like The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, and Arctic Monkeys became popular for their catchy hooks, danceable beats, and witty lyrics.

Another sub-genre that emerged in the 2000s was folktronica, which blended traditional folk music with electronic music.

Artists like Four Tet, The Books, and Tunng were among the pioneers of this genre, which gained a small but dedicated following. 

A famous folktronica song of the 2000s is “Teenage Birdsong” by Four Tet.

The 2000s also saw the continued rise of indie pop. Bands like Belle and Sebastian, The Shins, and Death Cab for Cutie made music that was melodic, introspective, and often bittersweet. 

Their music spoke to a generation of fans who were coming of age in uncertain times, and their vulnerability and authenticity made them popular with audiences around the world.

One of the most significant developments in indie music in the 2000s was the rise of digital music distribution.

With the advent of platforms like iTunes and Napster, it became easier than ever for independent artists to distribute their music to a wider audience. 

This led to a proliferation of new indie labels and a democratization of the music industry, as artists could now reach fans directly without the need for major label backing.

The 2000s also saw the emergence of new online platforms for independent artists. Sites like MySpace and PureVolume allowed artists to create profiles, share their music, and connect with fans. 

This gave rise to a new generation of indie musicians who were able to build a following and launch successful careers without the need for traditional record label support.

The Rise of Digital Music Distribution

The rise of digital music distribution has had a profound impact on the music industry as a whole, but it has been especially transformative for indie music. 

Prior to the digital revolution, the vast majority of music was distributed through physical formats like vinyl records, cassette tapes, and CDs. 

This made it difficult for independent artists to get their music distributed and heard, as they lacked the financial resources and industry connections of major label artists.

The advent of digital music distribution changed all that. Digital music files, such as MP3s, made it possible for anyone to distribute their music online, without the need for physical media or expensive distribution deals. 

Digital distribution platforms like iTunes, Amazon Music, and Spotify emerged to meet the growing demand for digital music, and they have since become the primary mode of music distribution in the modern age.

Digital music distribution has not only made it easier for independent artists to distribute their music, but it has also made it easier for them to earn a living from their music.

In the past, independent artists were often forced to rely on live performances or merchandising to make money from their music. 

With the rise of digital distribution, however, independent artists are now able to sell their music directly to fans and keep a larger share of the revenue.

See also: Music Distribution Services

The Impact of the Internet on Indie Music

The internet has had a profound impact on indie music, providing independent artists with new opportunities for exposure and recognition. 

In the past, independent artists had to rely on traditional methods of promotion such as touring and radio play to gain exposure. 

However, with the advent of the internet, independent artists have been able to promote their music on social media, streaming platforms, and music blogs, reaching a much larger audience than before.

Social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter have become important tools for independent artists to build their brands and connect with their audiences. 

These platforms allow artists to engage with their fans on a personal level, sharing updates about their music, tours, and personal life.

This has helped independent artists to build a loyal following, which has translated into increased sales and revenue.

Streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music have also had a significant impact on indie music. 

These platforms have made it easier for independent artists to reach a wider audience, as users can discover new music based on their listening habits and recommendations. 

Streaming platforms also provide independent artists with valuable data on their listeners, allowing them to tailor their music and marketing to better connect with their audience.

Music blogs and websites have also emerged as important sources of exposure for independent artists.

Websites like Pitchfork and Stereogum have become influential voices in the music industry, and they often feature reviews and interviews with independent artists. 

These features can provide independent artists with valuable exposure and help to build their reputation within the industry.

See also: Ways to Promote Your Music

The Emergence of New Online Platforms for Independent Artists

In addition to the traditional music distribution channels like iTunes and Spotify, new online platforms have emerged that cater specifically to independent artists. 

These platforms provide independent artists with a space to showcase their music and connect with fans, often offering more control over the distribution of their music and allowing them to keep a larger share of the revenue.

One such platform is Bandcamp, a music distribution and sales platform that has become popular among independent artists. 

Bandcamp allows artists to upload their music and sell it directly to fans, either as a digital download or as physical merchandise like vinyl records or CDs. 

Bandcamp also provides artists with valuable data on their listeners, including demographics and purchase history, allowing artists to better understand their audience and tailor their marketing accordingly.

Another emerging platform is Patreon, a subscription-based crowdfunding platform that allows fans to directly support their favorite independent artists. 

Artists can offer exclusive content, such as early access to new music or behind-the-scenes footage, in exchange for recurring monthly payments from fans. 

This can provide independent artists with a more stable and predictable source of income, allowing them to focus on their music without worrying about financial instability.

The emergence of these new online platforms has not only made it easier for independent artists to distribute their music but has also given them more control over their careers and revenue streams. 

Independent artists are no longer beholden to traditional music industry gatekeepers, and can now take more control over their own destinies.

Challenges Facing Independent Artists in the Digital Age

While the digital revolution has provided independent artists with new opportunities and tools for success, it has also created new challenges.

With the democratization of music distribution, the market has become saturated with more music than ever before. 

This makes it increasingly difficult for independent artists to stand out and gain attention in a crowded marketplace.

Another challenge facing independent artists is the increasing dominance of major labels on streaming platforms. 

Major labels have more resources and industry connections, which allows them to secure more prominent placements and promotional opportunities on streaming platforms. 

This can make it difficult for independent artists to compete for attention and gain exposure.

Additionally, the digital revolution has made it easier for fans to access and share music illegally, leading to widespread piracy and lost revenue for independent artists. 

While some artists have embraced the free sharing of their music as a promotional tool, others have struggled to make a living in the face of widespread piracy.

Indie Music Scenes Across the World: Exploring Regional Differences and Unique Sounds

Indie music has become a global phenomenon, with vibrant scenes emerging in cities and regions across the world. 

Each indie music scene has its own unique flavor, with artists drawing inspiration from their local cultures, histories, and landscapes. 

Let’s explore some of the most exciting indie music scenes around the world, and examine the regional differences and unique sounds that make them so special.

North America

North America has been a hotbed of indie music for decades, with many of the most influential indie bands and artists hailing from the United States and Canada. 

Cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle have long been associated with indie music, but in recent years, other regions have emerged as important indie music hubs.

One such region is the Pacific Northwest, which includes cities like Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver.

The Pacific Northwest has a long history of producing innovative indie bands, with seminal acts like Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, and Sleater-Kinney all hailing from the region. 

The indie music scene in the Pacific Northwest is known for its DIY ethos, with many artists recording and producing their music independently.

Another important indie music region in North America is the Canadian prairies, which include cities like Winnipeg, Regina, and Saskatoon. 

The prairies have a thriving indie music scene, with artists like The Weakerthans, The Rural Alberta Advantage, and Arcade Fire all hailing from the region.

The prairies are known for their harsh winters and vast open landscapes, and many prairie artists draw inspiration from the natural beauty of the region. 

Europe

Europe is home to some of the most diverse and exciting indie music scenes in the world.

From the post-punk revival of the UK to the dreamy pop of Scandinavia, European indie music is known for its experimentation and innovation.

One of the most influential indie music scenes in Europe is in the UK, where bands like The Smiths, Radiohead, and Arctic Monkeys have helped shape the sound of indie music over the past few decades. 

Cities like Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow have produced some of the most iconic indie bands in history.

More recently, London has emerged as a hotbed of indie music, with bands like Wolf Alice, Black Midi, and Shame all gaining international attention. 

Some notable songs from UK indie bands include “This Charming Man” by The Smiths, “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead, and “Do I Wanna Know?” by Arctic Monkeys.

Another important indie music scene in Europe is in Scandinavia, where artists like Sigur Rós, The Cardigans, and Lykke Li have gained global acclaim. 

The music of Scandinavia is often characterized by its dreamy, ethereal quality, with many artists drawing inspiration from the region’s natural beauty and folklore. 

Some notable songs from Scandinavian indie artists include “Untitled 1” by Sigur Rós, “Lovefool” by The Cardigans, and “I Follow Rivers” by Lykke Li.

Asia

In Japan, the city of Tokyo has become a hub of indie music, with artists like Cornelius, Shintaro Sakamoto, and The Telephones gaining international attention. 

The indie music scene in Tokyo is known for its eclectic mix of styles, with artists drawing on everything from jazz to psychedelic rock to create their unique sound.

Some notable songs from Japanese indie artists include “Count Five or Six” by Cornelius, “In a Phantom Mood” by Shintaro Sakamoto, and “Monkey Discooooooo” by The Telephones.

See also: Best Japanese Bands

In South Korea, Seoul has also emerged as an important center of indie music, with bands like Hyukoh, Jambinai, and Crying Nut gaining international acclaim.

The indie music scene in Seoul is known for its fusion of traditional Korean music and modern indie rock, creating a sound that is both unique and deeply rooted in the country’s cultural heritage.

Some popular songs from Korean indie artists include “Comes and Goes” by Hyukoh, “Connection” by Jambinai, and “Offside” by Crying Nut.

11 Examples of Indie Music From Around the World

1. “Float On” by Modest Mouse

2. “Soul Meets Body” by Death Cab for Cutie

3. “One Great City!” by The Weakerthans

4. “Tornado ’87” by The Rural Alberta Advantage

5. “This Charming Man” by The Smiths

6. “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead

7.  “Untitled 1” by Sigur Rós

8. “Lovefool” by The Cardigans

9. “Count Five or Six” by Cornelius

10.  “In a Phantom Mood” by Shintaro Sakamoto

11.  “Comes and Goes” by Hyukoh 

What is Indie Music – Final Thoughts

Indie music is a diverse and constantly evolving genre that has been shaped by independent artists and labels who prioritize creative expression and autonomy. 

With its origins in the 1970s punk and post-punk movements, indie music has grown to encompass a wide range of styles and sub-genres, from lo-fi folk to experimental electronic music.

From the emotional intensity of Elliott Smith’s acoustic ballads to the electronic soundscapes of Four Tet, these artists have pushed the boundaries of what indie music can be, while remaining true to its core values of authenticity and independence.

While the definition of indie music may be difficult to pin down, one thing is clear: it represents a vital and vibrant part of the musical landscape. 

As new artists continue to emerge and established acts push the envelope even further, it’s clear that indie music will continue to inspire and innovate for years to come.

You may also like: Best Indie Songs of All Time

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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