Indie Music: This Week in Common Sense

Hipsters beware. This article isn’t going to sit well with you. Wait, who am I kidding. Hipsters won’t read this. Or, maybe they will simply because it would be ironic. Who knows. One thing is certain, as Indie Music Gains in popularity, this trend will only continue.

Friends don't let friends listen to BAD music

Let’s start by saying I know there are a lot of great independent artists out there. Reverbnation is a great site to find them. Granted, many are not my personal style or genre of choice, but there are many talented artists on there. The thing is, just making good music is not enough in this market, but we’ll get to that later.

On the flip side, there are a lot of NOT so talented artists out there. I’m sure you’ve seen them. YouTube is littered with them. The guys and gals who take poorly written coffee house poetry and sing it over an acoustic guitar. These artists have become so cliche they have devolved into a parody of themselves.


This movement has actually managed to crack into the mainstream, thanks in large part to the talent shows that are so prevalent on TV these days. An Indie Rock/pop duet won the last season of X Factor USA. There is almost always one or two Indie artist on American Idol. They never win, but one almost always winds up around 4th to 6th place. Of course, you never hear of them again after they leave the show. That’s no surprise though. You often times never hear of the people who win those shows either. Often times it’s the people who finish 2nd or 3rd who have the biggest careers. Daughtry finished 4th on Idol but has seen more success than all 3 who finished ahead of him combined.

Many of these Indie artists are really quite talented. Their issue is, they are part of a smaller niche that is trying to go mainstream. There’s a chance of having a crossover hit here and there, but that sub genre is a world unto itself. Folks in the internet marketing world get this. It’s called “niching down”. You work your way into a particular niche then dominate that market. If these musicians would realize what they have, and work with it, they could be highly successful. Sure, they may not get play time on many radio stations or MTV, but they can build a loyal following via the internet. Through iTunes and merchandise sales many of these artists could make a quite nice living.

Today’s Music Market

In the past year I made a friend on Facebook who is an independent artist. Scott Clark is an independent singer/songwriter with the band Friday Night Music Club. Scott shared with me just how hard it is to make a living from music in today’s market. When people can either listen on YouTube or download your entire catalog via a torrent site, album sales alone do not support most bands. Members of many smaller bands, like Scott’s, still have day jobs. Finding the time to play gigs, write and record, on top of working a full time day job, is a daunting task. I can relate though since I’ve been working for about 5 years now on growing my business while maintaining a day job in architecture.

Even large well established acts have found this to be the case. That’s why we have the VIP sessions at concerts these days. The money paid for these tickets is what is supplementing the lack of sales now due to piracy and just the fact that music is such a cheaply purchased commodity. Especially for bands who do not get a lot of radio play, and therefore fewer royalties, this is even more important.

Common Sense Conclusions

Ever since Napster the music industry has been struggling. Digital music, available via download which completely removed the need for a medium to hold the music, caused a major paradigm shift in the industry. And, as is often the case, the industry giants were slow to respond. Major record labels had to play catch up years later. Take this lesson. When your entire industry changes, sticking to an outdated model will not serve you well.

Everyone, from the labels to the individual talent, all missed the boat. The bands who fought file sharing the most, such as Metallica, shot themselves in the foot. Not only did they irritate their existing fans, but made themselves look like whiny pansies to potential new fans as well as the old ones (it doesn’t help when you have a squeaky voice like Lars Ulrich either).

Common sense would suggest that the most successful people will be the ones who address these changes and come up with creative ways to work within the new system. My friend Scott that I mentioned earlier has come up with some really creative ways of leveraging social media to promote his band.

I love to support good independent musicians. I play several instruments myself, and hope to be producing some music in the near future, so I guess I can relate.

Are you a music fan? How do you consume your tuneage? Are you a musician? If so, what creative ways have you found to get the word out in this noisy world we live in?