The Null Device

Indie charts 2.0

The Official Chart Company, which runs Britains's music charts, is reviving the indie charts, updated to reflect the changing definition of "indie":
The initial criteria defined an independent release as any record which was released by a label with independent distribution, in an era when major record companies were self-distributed and smaller labels used alternative routes. Today, however, with even majors outsourcing their own distribution to independent operations, this criterion has become less relevant.
Under the new rules, a download or CD will be eligible for the Official Independent Charts if it is released on a label which is 50% or more owned by an independent (or non-major) company, irrespective of the distribution channel through which it is shipped or delivered.
So now joint ventures with the Big Four major labels are officially "independent".

I think, however, that they missed the big picture. When the word "indie" is used to refer to musical product (bands, labels, records), it seldom refers to the business model under which the product was released. Typically, when a band or record is described as "indie", this refers partly to what they look or sound like (which is to say, to a greater or lesser extent like the independent bands between post-punk and the rise of Britpop), but more saliently, to the target demographic. "Indie" means sort of what "alternative" meant in the 1990s; a conspicuous badge of not being "mainstream" that doesn't require any more effort to obtain than being in the mainstream would, with its sounds and styles (not to mention the word "indie") borrowed from the original independent bands, only stylised and streamlined for easy mass consumption ("Note: lose all that stuff about Marxism and Fluxus and existentialism, and pump up the sex.")

As such, looking at the ownership and distribution of a record label when assessing whether a record is "indie" is woefully inadequate. A more suitable criterion would have to be based on a points system, with bands or releases being awarded points if they fulfil certain criteria, i.e.,

A score of 5 or higher is required for a band to be officially "indie".

To keep the criteria relevant, a committee of industry, media and marketing types would convene every six months to update these rules to take into account recent trends. (For example, in light of the recent trend towards hipster-folk, the committee might now be debating allowing one point for band members with rustic-looking beards, or for bands having ukuleles in their instrumentation.)

There are 7 comments on "Indie charts 2.0":

Posted by: Newob Tue Jun 16 00:25:21 2009

trends are dumb.

Posted by: Greg Tue Jun 16 00:52:05 2009

That's a thought-provoking post. I have often grappled with how to describe this genre. Part of the problem is that it is defined less by "sound" than by demographics. There have always been hipsters (but there has rarely been a satisfactory label for them - my old 'band' name 'new waver' meant something like it). I think 'indie' means 'what hipsters are listening to', and this of course changes over time. It is usually guitar-based pop-rock (with some variety of sub-genres) and it is usually recorded, manufactured and distributed by the scene, rather than a record company. But it's the scene itself that defines the genre. Recently I've been involved in re-issues of some early/mid 90s material - the golden age of indie. As I listen to this not-quite-old music I'm reminded how much of it was 70s-inspired, just as today's indie is 80s-inspired. I sense a "90s revival" in the air, which would mean that the indie music of 2010-15 will sound like 90s indie which sounded like 1970s rock.

Posted by: datakid Tue Jun 16 01:44:43 2009

The first thing I thought of was that the criteria committee would be totally needed - I think that Godspeed! You Black Emperor would have fitted the indie moniker under your rule system. Which is not an outrageous claim, but doesn't fit with the same idea of indie-as-sound that, say, Galaxie 500 or Beat Happening reflect.

The second thing that grabbed my attention was Greg's line "my old 'band' name 'new waver'". There are six words I never really wanted to see in print. Vale.

Posted by: acb Tue Jun 16 09:02:17 2009

In the UK, "indie" isn't "what the hipsters listen to" but "what people who consider themselves non-mainstream buy at HMV"; it's synonymous with the American/Australian genre "alternative", only with an added layer of stylised cool (typically ripped off from post-punk, mod and 1980s indie). You see posters all over the Tube, some stylised to look like 1980s underground zines, promoting bands all over the mainstream-alternative axis at great corporate expense.

Posted by: ianw Wed Jun 17 06:44:57 2009

greg, didn't I say this just the other day? without disagreeing with (in fact quite the opposite) your theory of what might be coming back into fashion the trouble with the word "indie" the way you use it (above) is that colloquially it has come to mean the opposite, since this cdentury at least. For example, a band would be described, in 2002, as being "indie" if it (sounded a bit 90s /Pixies/whatev as opposed to 80s/GangOfFour/etc) was, rather than being what hipsters were listening to, was a bit old hat. What's worse, in the scheme Andrew is describing (ie the wider bigger non-hipster world) "indie" has come to mean something else again, also not-what-hipsters-listen-to. The process of redefining the word to mean 'mainstream pop' (despite the image/packaging borrowed from 70s/80s 'independent' music) has been going on slowly since the term ("indie") was first invented of course.

Posted by: Greg Wed Jun 17 14:23:32 2009

By the way,

Posted by: ianw Mon Jun 29 02:50:49 2009

ah, now I can remember (x2..) - see also