Independent and Music Don’t Go Together Anymore

"What an Independent Artist?", says the average music consumer...

“What an Independent Artist?”, says the average music consumer…

Oh boy… Things have been busy with a capital B around here lately! I’ll have some new updates on the production of my next comedy special soon.  I’ll also have new posts about gig promotion and hosting contests to build your mailing list.  Both things that I’m doing right now, but haven’t had time to sit down and write about yet.

But today something occurred to me that hopefully won’t come off too ranty.  But we have to stop using the word “independent” when talking about music.  I still see a lot of websites, radio shows, and other music outlets using phrases like “We support independent artists!” or “A place for independent music.”  Or even artists self-describing and “independent musicians”.

Back in the day, “independent” music meant you weren’t signed to a record label. Then it meant either you weren’t signed or you were signed to a small indie label not affiliated with a major.  And the only real reason there was a division was access to distribution and promotion.  And to a certain extent, the access to getting good quality recordings.

It’s a new world now…

As we know, the internet has blown all that out of the water.  The recordings all sounds better now.  And most everyone has access to promotions online (if you’ve got the money, in some cases…)

Yes, there are still plenty of differences between major label artists and the hoi polloi of artists that most of us count ourselves a part of. The thing is… The consumer doesn’t see a difference anymore.  The consumer doesn’t care what label, if any, an album comes out on. They don’t care if it was recorded in an expensive famous studio or in some dude’s bedroom.

Not everyone, of course. Some people are cult followers of particular labels or have good enough ears to tell a home recording from a studio.  But most people don’t care.  If the songs are good, they don’t really care where it came from.

The new source-agnostic listener…

This occurred to me over the last few weeks.  I’ve had new students coming for music lessons and I always ask what they listen to and what songs they’re always interested in learning. More and more often they tell me about songs in video games or YouTube videos.  Not radio, not TV, not even Spotify.  Random pieces of music that strike their fancy. They don’t care where it came from or even who wrote it. They just like it.

In the ears of the average listener there is only music they’ve heard or haven’t heard yet. So, in using the word “independent”, you’re setting up three camps of people:
– They know what that means and they like the idea
– They know what that means and they run like hell from anything described as such
– They have no idea what that means

That third group is growing by leaps and bounds.  The second group has always been there. And you’re doing the music a disservice by scaring them away because they have old, per-conceived notions of what independent music is.  And that first group is great, but it’s very small and mostly made up of other musicians.

So using independent is cutting out large swathes of audience that might otherwise be perfectly willing to listen to your offerings.

As a side note, labeling a consumer-facing site as “We support independent artists” also doesn’t communicate any benefit to the listener. It’s fine if your business is catering to artists. But if your business is trying to attract listeners, they don’t care what kind of artists you support as long as the music is good.

So I’d like to propose that we retire the old “independent” slogan. It served its purpose to rally support and signal authenticity in its day. But that day has passed and we need to communicate with our listeners in terms they can identify with.

Do you have thoughts on this? Post a comment below!


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