Indie Music: A Complete Breakdown of the Most Diverse and Popular Music Genres

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You are in college. You have just joined a music club. It’s (supposedly) populated by none other than the most amazing and artistic kids on campus. To break the ice, you ask everyone what their favorite genre is.

“I’m a pop girl,” someone replies.

“Rock fan here,” says another.

“I love the countryside! shouts a girl.

You roll your eyes. “Pfft, you are basic.” After rummaging through your canvas tote bag, pulling out a novel, adjusting your metallic glasses, and donning a second-hand turtleneck, you announce that your favorite genre is “indie music.”

The joke is on you, cool cat: independent music is not a genre. Good kind of. Read on to see what we mean. Before getting to the heart of the matter, whet your musical appetite with 7 indie must-haves.

What does “indie music” mean?

Technically, indie music is not a genre. It’s a business model.

The word “indie” is an abbreviated form of “indie”. In the music world, “independent music” literally refers to music released independently by an artist (as opposed to a record company).

Consider the pros and cons of going on a major label versus going independent or staying independent.

If you look at indie music this way, sonic characteristics don’t matter in determining which songs “count” as indie music. AKA songs as pop as Katy Perry’s hits or as twangy as country artist Morgan Wallen’s could still technically be considered indie. Again, it’s because any song box be considered independent as long as it is published independently.

But it is not that simple.

What does independent music look like?

Some support independent music Is have his sound.

People who believe this might argue that the artistic freedom and low-budget nature of DIY release results in grittier, more original tracks than music produced for a major label. This implies that indie music has its own unique set of aural characteristics…and that it could be considered a genre.

Also looking to make DIY pieces? You can even start with Garageband.

For example, listen to New Jersey-based indie band Phoneboy’s song “Hey, Kid!”

Unlike the super-sweet, ultra-produced pop tunes that seem to have been steeped in plastic and preservatives, “Hey, Kid!” has a low-fi grain. The high-pitched, spoken call of the intro (“Ricky, clean your room!”) is a bit unorthodox. It embodies the uniqueness and creativity that comes from DIY music production.

If I heard this song without context, I would probably assume it was indie music.

But… it is not that simple.

What counts as independent music?

what is indie music

Having two definitions (above) makes it difficult to determine what is and is not independent music.

What happens when an artist with indie eccentricity and a homemade sound is signed to a major label? Especially if they keep that “indie sound?” Are they still considered independent artists?

Vampire Weekend, for example, started off distinctly independent. They worked with the independent label XL Recordings. They appeared on several independent charts. They had the sound, vibe and following of an indie band.

Here is their most popular indie track: “A-Punk”.

Then they signed with Columbia Records, a very non-independent label. Columbia signed artists such as Beyonce, Journey and Johnny Cash for reference.

Here’s “Harmony Hall,” which Vampire Weekend released via Columbia. See if you hear a difference.

So… Is Vampire Weekend still an independent band?

If you say indie music is a genre, yes. If you define it as a business model, no.

Up to you.

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What is an example of independent music?

By definition, there are too many to count.

Whether you’re new to indie music or are a seasoned indie music connoisseur, you’re sure to find something new in our collection of indie subgenres.

7 Essential Indie Subgenres

what is indie music

indie-rock

One of the most popular and well-known indie subgenres is indie rock. Indie rock combines the driving rhythm of guitar-based rock with that signature gritty indie sound. This subgenre generally follows a pop form but does not attempt to appeal to mainstream trends or commercial demands.

Indietronica (independent electronics)

Indie electronic music (aka indietronica) began when advanced electronic music could be created using a simple laptop computer. These tracks are usually created in DAWs (digital audio workstations) and include drum machines and synths.

Before laptops, electronic artists fused acoustic and electronic sounds by physically splicing and combining tapes. Modern indietronica artists: be grateful to be able to create your masterpiece tapping small squares of plastic.

indie pop

Another staple of the indie subgenre, indie pop songs have upbeat melodies and pop buoyancy, but don’t entirely lock themselves into the zeitgeist. However, what separates indie pop from mainstream pop is the do-it-yourself attitude surrounding it and the slightly more eccentric nature of independently produced tracks.

dream pop

Blurry, glistening, hazy and warm, the dreamy pop is the pure golden clouds of a dewy summer sunset. Okay, that’s a bit enigmatic. Dream pop sits somewhere between indie rock and psychedelic rock, but it’s softer than both. You will usually find pop melodies mixed with reverb heavy guitar.

There is a lot of controversy over whether dream pop is the same as a genre called “shoegaze”. Shoegaze derives its funky title from music’s tendency to lull performers and listeners into a spaced-out gaze at their shoes, almost like a daze. People will argue both ways, but I believe they differ although there is some overlap. Dream pop encompasses more dynamically structured music; Putting on a real shoegaze album is like listening to a blurry wall of sound.

Dream pop fans will love our recordings of artists who look like her.

indie folk

Acoustic brutality is a central element of indie folk. This almost always means an acoustic guitar or similar stringed instrument. Indie folk vocals are mostly natural-sounding, and it’s not uncommon for these vocals to be soft and heavy with vibrato. Of course, indie folk has its roots in traditional folk music.

Indie Rap/Indie Hip-Hop

Think 4/4 drum machine beats and sick lines that define your favorite hip-hop tunes. Now imagine them a bit quieter (almost like they’re influenced by lo-fi), funkier, and more outspoken about social issues and anti-commercial sentiment. It’s indie rap/hip hop.

For more fresh indie rap/hip hop, check out our handpicked 2022 favorites.

bedroom pop

Imagine combining pop and rock with harmonies, piano and orchestral instruments. Now imagine weaving it all together into a complex yet easy-listening masterpiece. Chamber pop does just that, often through highly technical methods such as counterpoint. Some also refer to this subgenre as baroque pop.

Need a soundtrack for your next super cool hipster party? These tracks go beyond that.

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