There was a time when MTV broadcasted video clips, the new work of an artist was synonymous with a Diamond Record, and concert halls had no problem surviving thanks to the great influx they registered. The economic crisis hit the markets in 2008, but for the musical universe, it was just one more blow within its own identity crisis. The Internet was not a panacea and sometimes it has only added enemies to the clan of musicians. There are no longer artists, now there are products. Terms such as mainstream and indie generate disputes in current criticism. What is happening with music today?
Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain is the symbol of grunge, the indie music movement that became a global trend in the 1990s. Cobain couldn’t stand the pressure of mainstream success and took his own life at the age of 27, in 1994.
In 2011, the Canadian alternative music band Arcade Fire won the Grammy Award for Best Album of the Year, ahead of other more commercial and famous artists such as Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry. The next day the most frequent question in general media articles and on social networks was: Who are these guys? Without the support of a great marketing strategy and unknown to the general public, the band had won one of the most important awards that an artist can achieve. An award is always associated with a well-known name, a mainstream artist.
The correct translation of this term would be something like “mainstream”. That is, what is mostly accepted, what the majority likes. Arcade Fire’s name was unknown, and that broke the schemes. They weren’t part of a major label—their work had been released through Merge Records, an independent—although they were under the umbrella of Warner; their singles —the album itself was number one in Great Britain and the United States, number two in Spain— had not reached the top of the charts in all countries as the other artists with whom they competed did; and his image did not appear on the covers of the main world magazines, not even covered in the folder of a high school girl. To summarize it in some way, for the vast majority, an indie or unknown group had risen to the mainstream sphere, but this statement is not as simple as it seems.
Today, being independent (or indie) has lost much of its connotation, since many times these artists tend to generate more money than those who have continuous media attention. Perhaps linguistics has to do something for an evolution in the term, or perhaps we simply have to start considering the indie as a specific attitude in which the artist seeks to get out of the normal, the accepted, what he likes. But if one thing is clear, it is that the differences between independent music and commercial music are in a totally diffuse and constantly changing state. Is an artist who wins the best music awards independent? Is a group commercial just for playing on the airwaves? Can you sell millions of copies being strangers? Some speak of a way of labeling a band, others speak of qualifying it as an attitude or feeling… Internet, with an endless universe of artists to meet, and the boredom of part of the musical public with a repetitive and focused pop sound only in generating income, have caused diversification in the tastes of the population.
Easy access to musical products today, thanks to the tools like VidMate, makes everyone choose their sound menu of the day. The commercial does not have to be the most listened to. Independent does not have to be strange. It seems that indie and mainstream, as we have always known them, have died. And like it more or less, it’s a positive phenomenon for music. Artists must work harder to succeed and even increase their chances.