What does the term “indie music” actually mean?

 My indie roots

I first came to know about indie music back in 2007, when it was still somewhat underground, and not like now where even mainstream radio stations play indie songs, and there is the increased prominence of indie music festivals and concerts e.g. Baybeats, Laneway which both indie fans and the masses attend.

Back then, my brother and his school friends had started to wear skinny jeans (just before it became a trend for women to do so) and listened to indie songs which I had no idea how they became exposed to. When I asked my brother recently, he said he had started to listen to such songs on Youtube, and realised he preferred them compared to those played on the radio at that time.

1(Photo from honeycombers Singapore)

Indie music makes the world go round

As a sister, I naturally got influenced – listening to the indie songs he played on our house computer. When my family visited Beijing in 2008, many Chinese people were  smirking and giving my brother the “you’re jeans look so tight and weird” look, but now BOOM, skinny jeans have become a fashion norm all over the world for both males and females, just like how indie music has garnered global prominence. 

I sometimes wonder how do these indie bands make it in the market? How do they stand out from the rest?  It is already so hard to even enter the pop music world, what more not to say for the indie music industry which reaches out to a smaller consumer group? 

10 Questions on Indie Music

1(Photo from areyounotentertained)

#1 Does the term “indie music” have a specific meaning?

It is up to subjective interpretation for anyone. For me, the first meaning I align it to would be a distinct “indie” sound. People love to ask this question “How does “indie” sounds like?, How would you define “indie’ music?” in the most skeptical tone.

But dude, why don’t you ask the same question to rock, metallic, rap, jazz, hip-hop fans? Like any other music genre, all have their distinct sound, and are categorised into different genres for classification purposes.

The second meaning I align it to would be when an artist (can be playing any genre of music) coming from an independent recording label, or making and promoting their music through their own means, without the help of a major recording label.

#2 Do all indie artists have to play indie music?

This statement is debunked in the second meaning above.

#3 Should indie music be kept underground?

This is an old school conservative and selfish mindset that indie music should be kept away from the masses. Indie music is for anyone and everyone to listen, not just the so-called niche indie fans.

By reaching out to a wider audience, it will allow the indie music scene to grow, and for more people to learn and appreciate the beauty of indie music.

1(Photo from fastcompany)

#4 Are indie bands seen as a “sell out” when they sign on to a major recording label company?

Some indie fans show disapproval, or less support to the artist because they feel latter have “betrayed” their indie roots by signing on to a mainstream label.

Yes, there is a possibility some indie artists may have to suit the major recording label company’s interest of revamping their music to better fit the taste of the mass listeners, or they may become driven by monetary gains and fame. But nonetheless, it does not apply to all indie artists.

The artist and the label are 2 separate things. The indie artists can still choose to stick with the same attitude, write the same kind and style of songs, even if they face pressure to conform to mainstream ideals. At the last resort, they can join another recording label company if they find a clash in musical imagery or direction.

#5 Is a band or artist no longer considered “indie” when it signs on to a major recording label company, or when it has becomes popular with the masses?

Taking the mainstream route does not mean they will lose their indie roots. As long as they write and play  their music genuinely, a label is just a label. When indie music becomes popular, the only difference is that it has more diverse listeners and exposure which is a good thing.

On the artists’ part, they can have more supporters and earn more as such from their albums and gigs. One the part of music lovers, they can build up on their music vocabulary.

1(Photo from giphy)

#6 Do indie music lovers feel that indie is the best music genre in the world?

I am an indie music lover but I do not feel any music genre is better than the other. Good and bad music are found in any genre, and of all us have our own preference and liking towards certain style of songs. All music has its own beauty regardless of the label placed on it.

A song will still sound as good regardless of the label placed on it, as the latter does not define how good the song will sound like, similarly to the Shakespeare’s phrase “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

#7 Do indie music lovers feel that the masses who listen to pop music are not as cool as them?

I listen to pop and EDM, much more than indie music. There is nothing wrong for an indie music lover to listen to pop music, and vice versa. Nobody is more or less cool than the other, and no one music genre is any cooler than the other simply put.

1(Photo from female first)

#8 Are the terms “indie” and “hipsters” related?

An individual does not have to try and fit an image of what they deem as an indie look e.g. through actions, dressing, interest.

What I donot get is when people choose to pretend they know the indie artists when they actually do not. It doesn’t matter how much indie bands you know, or even if you do not know the latest indie bands. I myself am not even aware, nor do I catch up on the “hottest” indie artists. You just end up looking like a hipster-wannabe.

The 2 coolest videos for all the indie hipsters out there 😉 –

Project Laneway 2015

Coachella 2013

Appreciate indie music not for its label, but because you genuinely enjoys listening to songs of such a genre, like how everyone have a certain preference for various music genres.

#9 People who listen to indie music will dress a certain way?

Almost every music genres stereotype listeners as portraying a certain image e.g. dressing, hairstyle, accessories. There are many kinds of dressing for any youth sub-cultures, or music genres.

Nonetheless, anyone listening to any type of music can dress in any ways they feel most comfortable and relatable with, instead of following the stereotypes.

#10 Indie music has no other sub-genres?

There are many sub-genres under indie music – indie pop, indie rock, indie country, indie folk etc.

My personal analogy of indie music

If I compare pop music with indie music – Pop music is like a soft drink. You like it a lot at the start, but it becomes too much when you consume it in great portion. Indie music is like plain water, it may taste mild at first, but you slowly get the hang of it, and it taste fine even if you drink it daily.

Hunting for good “indie” music

Over the years – I have explored, and found what indie sub-genres or style of songs I had a higher inclination and liking towards. Some of my songs are searched from online, soundtracks of mainstream or independent films, television advertisements and shows, or from songs played at shopping centres. I would write down the lyrics in my notebook, before googling for the song title on the internet. SoundHound also helps.

Honestly, I think I liked the indie “label” more than the music itself as a kid. Playing back some of the old songs recently, I realised some songs are actually not that good. I most probably still kept them in the past as finding good indie music was, and is still, like hunting for a rare gem. But having grown over the years, I’ve come to genuinely like indie music for itself, rather than what the label encompasses.


(Photo from QuotesGram)

I relate to this quote in a sense where – like how certain smells we were exposed to before can bring back memories of a specific time in our lives, playing back old music also likewise brings back memories of a past time period in our lives.


Written by: Cass

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Featured images credits:  Paris Chia Photography (website), @Instagram@Facebook

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