28 August 2007

"Indie hits"?

Pitchfork is one of the most prominent places on the Internet dedicated to indie music - news, concert- and record reviews. On August 22, Pitchfork delivered a very sour and perplexed review of a record called "This is next". "This is next" consists of tunes by the biggest-selling indie artists (Bright eyes, Of Montreal, Spoon). "Indie hits"? Isn't that a contradiction in terms? Who is conceived to be the audience of this type of thing? It can't be the fans of the artists on the album: they already know these songs, and probably own the album or have downloaded the songs. The reviewer's, LeMay's, suggestion is that Warner-owned distributor Alternative Distributor Allience is trying to sell indie artists to a mass audience, supposedly buying the album at a Wal-Mart type of non-specialty retailer.

The question is: if the distributors of alternative music will attempt to transform indie music into products that are sold to mass audiences, how will this change the conditions of distributing indie music? Will distributors exclusively concentrate their resources on the artists they think have a potential of Wal-Mart success? LeMay comments: "Historically speaking, bad things tend to happen when major labels seek to impose their own promotional strategies on their independent partners." I think there is a lot of truth in this.

LeMay reassures the reader that he doesn't want to keep his obscure indie favorite bands to himself - and the rest of the indie élite. The issue is not about that. It's good that decent bands reach an audience. But, as he says, the idea behind "This is next" "is far more condescending" than the elitist indie rocker's scorn for the "masses".

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