Is "Indie" a Bogus Concept in 2014?

Categories: Music Bidness

Photo courtesy of Artificial Head Records
Creative independence: 8-track tapes in 2014
These responses have been pretty typical, Steinhardt notes.

"I had a lot of people writing and thanking me, and a lot of people writing and damning me," he says. "Some of the people that wrote to say how much they liked the piece and agreed with it sometimes seemed like they were putting words in my mouth even in agreement as much as people who disagreed with me.

"I've always sort of kept my head down with the label and just made the decisions I believed in, and that made sense to me," he continues, "but I'm starting to see that that attitude may have been doing a disservice because people might not realize that our decisions and our bands' decisions are values-driven and the things we do and don't do are because we say yes and say no and not just because they haven't been offered to us."

As a fan of many of his acts, I asked how I could rectify his argument for "keeping it real" with "keeping it to ourselves." I want everyone to hear good music, after all.

He said I'd missed the point.

"There is nothing stopping an independent endeavor from becoming massively successful, and in fact throughout history there have been independent bands and labels that made small fortunes off of their music," reasons Steinhardt. "Our goal is to put out artists alongside the biggest artists on major labels but on their own terms."

Thumbnail image for artheads250.jpg
Photo courtesy of Artificial Head Records
What indie distribution looks like today.
That's what Steinhardt hoped readers would focus on. Being independent shouldn't mean being unknown or unsuccessful. But it should mean unwavering, especially aesthetically. DenBaars and the Artifical Head heads are all behind that notion.

"What is tempting about 'selling out' is all of the support you'd get that you're currently not getting, but what if you got that support without having to compromise your ethical being?" says DenBaars, whose own band, Arroyo Deathmatch, just released its eighth independently released album.

"We have successfully made available costly resources, expert knowledge and useful services to independent artists free of charge," he continues. "We raised money and built a mobile recording studio from the ground up that has already been put to work recording many local and out-of-state artists. We are currently working on distribution, again for free and for independent musicians.

"We are teaching people how to become sound engineers," adds DenBaars. All of this took place during 2013, and all of this makes the entire Albuquerque scene less reliant on the people who would let the world burn for better quarterly figures."

Chavez and his business partners, Walter Carlos and Liz Lee, are working with some of Houston's most exciting talent. The label formed as a means to promote the work of a single band, Art Institute. Within the next six months, they'll be releasing records by Giant Battle Monster, Jody Seabody & the Whirls, Funeral Horse, Hell City Kings and Artificial Head's first-ever compilation, a KISS tribute featuring bands like Clockpole, Omotai and The Linus Pauling Quartet.

"Joe's argument that a band accepting money from a shoe company to get a van and play a show in L.A. -- or wherever -- deflates the integrity of a band's brand as an ethical independent artist," says Chavez. "I completely disagree. Artificial Head is about selling records. We're not a museum -- we don't want copies of your record sitting in a box in our living room for the next five years.

"We want all the bands on our label to grow and achieve their dreams," he continues. "The thinking here is that if the bands get bigger, we'll sell more records, which means we can fund more records and help more bands get to that next step."


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Fabricio Ycaza
Fabricio Ycaza

I think that indie can only mean independent. If your act is part of a major/small label and you no longer manage your own outreach to your followers then I do not believe the tag applies. I am personally not fond of acts calling themselves indie as a genre, I rather use it myself to describe my perception of their work. If a major/small labels uses "indie tactics" they are not an "indie label" which I think is part of what frustrates Steinhardt. Macklemore is no longer indie, he is now mainstream which is most musicians goal.

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