Indie Music Examples and Artists: What is Indie?

Indie Music Artist

What Is Indie?

The term "indie" is short for "independent," and it represents a fascinating and diverse world. Indie is a descriptor that applies to companies, stores, and creative endeavors that operate independently of major corporate control. The charm of indie lies in its essence of self-reliance and creativity, often leading to unique and authentic products and experiences.

Originally, the word "indie" emerged in the context of the arts, particularly in film and music. Indie films are produced outside the traditional Hollywood system, often characterized by lower budgets and a higher degree of creative freedom. This independence allows filmmakers to explore unconventional narratives and styles that might not fit the mainstream mold. Similarly, indie music refers to music produced and released by artists who aren't signed to major record labels. These artists rely on smaller, independent labels or self-publishing to get their music out to the world.

The indie movement has grown beyond just film and music. Today, indie businesses include everything from local bookshops and coffee houses to clothing boutiques and artisanal food producers. These small businesses pride themselves on their individuality and often cultivate a close-knit relationship with their community. For instance, an indie bookstore might host local author readings and book clubs, fostering a sense of connection that large chain stores struggle to replicate.

Indie’s appeal is rooted in its authenticity. Whether it’s an indie film festival showcasing groundbreaking new directors, a music artist self-releasing an album, or a local indie coffee shop crafting unique blends, indie represents a commitment to originality and passion. The rise of indie culture has been bolstered by the digital age, where social media and streaming platforms have leveled the playing field, allowing independent creators to reach global audiences without the need for traditional gatekeepers.

In essence, indie is more than just a label; it's a movement that champions the underdog and celebrates the unique. It's about carving out one's own path and staying true to one’s vision, making it a vibrant and ever-evolving part of our cultural landscape. Whether you're watching an indie film, listening to an indie band, or shopping at an indie store, you're participating in a culture that values creativity, independence, and authenticity.

What Is Indie Music?

Indie music, short for independent music, refers to music produced independently from major commercial record labels. It embodies a DIY ethos, emphasizing creative freedom, experimentation, and authenticity. Originally, indie music was associated with a specific production method, but over time, it has come to encompass a wide range of genres and styles, including indie-folk, indie electronica, synth-pop, dream pop, and indie rap. The hallmark of indie music is its boundary-pushing creativity and the artists' freedom to explore new sounds and ideas.

Unlike major labels that often prioritize commercial success, indie labels focus on nurturing the artistic vision of their musicians. This emphasis on artistic control allows indie artists to create innovative compositions that might not fit mainstream molds. Many indie musicians choose to remain independent to preserve this autonomy, while others may eventually sign with major labels, bringing their indie sensibilities to a broader audience.

History of Indie Music

1960s: Pre-Indie Influences

Bob Dylan and The Band 1974
Bob Dylan and The Band in 1974

The roots of indie music can be traced back to the pioneering artists of the 1960s and earlier who pushed the boundaries of their genres and embraced a spirit of independence. Icons like Bob Dylan and The Beatles experimented with new sounds and recording techniques, laying the groundwork for future indie artists. Their willingness to challenge conventional music industry norms inspired subsequent generations to pursue creative freedom.

1970s-1980s: Indie Music is Born

The Smiths 1984
The Smiths 1984 promotional photo

Indie music began to emerge as a distinct genre in the late 1970s and early 1980s, primarily in the United States and the United Kingdom. This period saw the rise of bands like The Smiths and R.E.M., who were at the forefront of the movement. The Smiths, with their jangly guitars and introspective lyrics, exemplified the British indie sound. In the US, R.E.M.'s debut album "Murmur" became a seminal indie record, inspiring countless bands with its unique sound and DIY ethos. This era was characterized by a rejection of mainstream production values and a focus on artistic authenticity.

1980s-1990s: Indie Music Evolves

Sonic Youth 1987
Sonic Youth in 1987

The 1980s and 1990s were pivotal decades for the evolution of indie music. During this time, indie music diversified significantly, with bands like Sonic Youth and The Pixies pushing the boundaries of alternative rock. Sonic Youth's experimental noise rock and The Pixies' dynamic soundscapes contributed to the creation of subgenres such as noise rock and shoegaze. In the UK, the Britpop movement, led by bands like Oasis, brought indie music into the mainstream, blending it with elements of rock and pop. This period also saw the rise of grunge in the US, with bands like Nirvana achieving immense success while maintaining their indie roots.

2000s: Indie Music Thrives

The Strokes
2002 promotional photo of The Strokes

The 2000s marked a significant turning point for indie music as it entered the mainstream. Bands like Modest Mouse and The Killers achieved commercial success without losing their indie credibility. The advent of digital distribution and social media platforms allowed indie artists to reach wider audiences without the backing of major labels. The 2000s also saw a resurgence in vinyl record sales, with many indie artists releasing their music on both CD and vinyl to appeal to a nostalgic audience. This era was characterized by a blending of genres, with indie musicians drawing from diverse influences to create innovative and unique sounds.

Indie Music in the 2010s and Beyond

Tame Impala performing in 2019 at Flow Festival
Tame Impala performing at Flow Festival in 2019

The 2010s saw indie music continue to evolve and diversify. Artists like Vampire Weekend and Tame Impala explored new styles and sounds, incorporating elements from folk, electronic, hip hop, and pop. This period highlighted the genre's adaptability and its ability to influence mainstream music while retaining its independent spirit. The rise of streaming services further democratized music distribution, making it easier for indie artists to gain exposure and build a following. Key tracks from this era, such as Vampire Weekend’s “A-Punk” and Tame Impala’s “Let It Happen,” exemplified the innovative spirit of indie music.

Indie music in the 2010s was marked by its resistance to neat categorization. The lines between genres became increasingly blurred, with scenes and collectives becoming more diffuse. This period also saw a creative renaissance in pop music, further integrating indie influences into the mainstream. The continued evolution of indie music reflects its enduring appeal and its ability to push boundaries and experiment with new styles and sounds.

What Is Indie Rock?

Indie rock is a subgenre of indie music that specifically focuses on rock ‘n' roll produced by independent record labels. While the term "indie" broadly encompasses a wide array of musical styles created outside the commercial mainstream, "indie rock" zeroes in on the rock aspect of this independent movement. Indie rockers often retain the ethos and aesthetics of their independent beginnings, even if they eventually sign with larger, more established labels.

Indie rock emerged as a distinct style of music that emphasizes raw, unpolished sounds and a DIY approach. Unlike mainstream rock, which often involves high production values and significant commercial backing, indie rock is characterized by its independent spirit and grassroots origins. This genre prioritizes artistic integrity and creative control over commercial success. Indie rock bands often self-produce their music, finance their own recording sessions, and distribute their work through independent or boutique labels.

Characteristics of Indie Rock

Songwriting and Authenticity

Unlike mainstream artists who may rely on teams of songwriters and producers, indie rock bands usually write their own songs. This emphasis on in-house songwriting contributes to the authenticity and personal connection between the artist and their music. The lyrics often reflect personal experiences, social issues, and genuine emotions, making the music relatable and sincere. This authenticity extends to live performances, where indie rock bands strive to recreate the raw energy of their recordings.

DIY Aesthetic

A cornerstone of indie rock is its do-it-yourself (DIY) ethos. Indie rock bands typically handle their own recording, production, and distribution, often with limited financial resources. This DIY approach fosters a sense of authenticity and intimacy in their music, as it is created without the heavy influence of commercial pressures. Indie rock musicians often record in home studios or affordable local studios, giving their music a raw and genuine quality.

Lo-Fi Sound

Indie rock is frequently associated with a lo-fi sound, characterized by minimalistic production and a lack of high-end recording equipment. This lo-fi aesthetic emerged out of necessity in the early days but has since become a deliberate artistic choice for many bands. The lo-fi sound can include elements such as distorted guitars, unpolished vocals, and a general rough-around-the-edges feel that contrasts sharply with the polished productions of mainstream rock.

Eclectic Influences

Indie rock draws from a wide range of musical influences, incorporating elements from punk, post-punk, folk, electronic, and more. This eclecticism allows indie rock bands to experiment with different sounds and styles, resulting in a diverse and ever-evolving genre. The willingness to push boundaries and explore new musical territories is a defining characteristic of indie rock.

History of Indie Rock

While the broader history of indie music includes significant milestones, certain events and movements are particularly pivotal to indie rock. The late 1970s and early 1980s saw the rise of influential indie rock bands such as The Smiths and R.E.M., who helped define the genre with their distinctive sounds and independent approaches. The formation of seminal independent labels like Rough Trade in the UK and SST Records in the US played a crucial role in nurturing and promoting indie rock bands.

One of the landmark moments in indie rock history was the release of the Buzzcocks' "Spiral Scratch" EP in 1977, which demonstrated the viability of self-released music and inspired a wave of independent labels and bands. In the US, Dischord Records, founded by Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson, became a significant force in the indie rock scene, particularly with the success of Minor Threat and later Fugazi.

The grunge movement of the early 1990s, although often categorized under alternative rock, was heavily influenced by indie rock principles. Bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden, initially signed to independent labels like Sub Pop, brought the indie rock ethos to a broader audience, blending raw, unfiltered music with mainstream appeal.

In recent years, the rise of digital platforms and streaming services has allowed indie rock to thrive outside traditional label structures. Bands can now reach global audiences directly through online distribution, maintaining their independent spirit while achieving widespread recognition.

Top Indie Music Artists and Bands

Chvrches Rock en Seine 2016 Paris 29493346022


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Chvrches is a Scottish indie music band known for their synth-pop and indie-rock sounds. Formed in Glasgow, they gained recognition with their debut album "The Bones of What You Believe." Their energetic tracks and innovative use of synths make them standout indie music examples.

band of horses 2007

Band of Horses

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Band of Horses is an American indie music band from Seattle, Washington. Known for their heartfelt lyrics and captivating sound, their albums like "Infinite Arms" and "Cease to Begin" have been certified gold. They are one of the top indie music artists, with “The Funeral” being a standout track.

Death cab for cutie münchen

Death Cab for Cutie

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Known for their emotionally charged lyrics and unique sound, Death Cab for Cutie has become a favorite among indie fans. Their fourth album, "Transatlanticism," brought them mainstream success. As one of the top indie music artists, they have a loyal fanbase drawn to their folk-rock influenced style.

Pixies Black Francis Troxy


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Pixies are an influential indie music band that laid the groundwork for grunge and alternative rock. Known for their dynamic contrast between soft and loud, their innovative sound inspired countless bands. Albums like "Doolittle" showcase their dark humor and distinctive guitar work, making them top indie music artists.

Pavement the band in Tokyo


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Pavement is a quintessential '90s indie music band known for their slacker vocals and reverb-laced guitar rock. Their albums "Slanted and Enchanted" and "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" are seminal indie music examples. They influenced many bands and left a lasting impact on the indie music scene.

The Strokes (square crop)

The Strokes

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As a key post-2000 indie music band, The Strokes sparked the post-punk revival with their debut album "Is This It." Their fresh sound and energetic performances captivated a new generation of indie rock fans. They are undeniably one of the top indie music bands of the 21st century.

Arcade fire

Arcade Fire

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Arcade Fire is a Canadian indie music band, that blends indie rock with baroque pop. Their albums "Funeral" and "The Suburbs" are critically acclaimed, featuring complex musical arrangements and poignant lyrics. They are one of the top indie music artists, known for their innovative and influential sound.

Alex Turner with Arctic Monkeys at Lollapalooza 2011

Arctic Monkeys

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Arctic Monkeys emerged as a leading indie music band from the UK with their debut album "Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not." Known for their authentic lyrics and post-punk energy, they quickly became one of the top indie music artists with a string of successful albums.

The Smiths 1984 (square crop)

The Smiths

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One of the most pivotal bands in the indie music world, The Smiths are often credited with popularizing the genre. With Johnny Marr’s innovative guitar work and Morrissey’s unique vocals, they redefined what is indie rock. Their album "The Queen is Dead" remains a masterpiece in indie music examples.

Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel in 2014

Neutral Milk Hotel

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Neutral Milk Hotel, led by Jeff Mangum, is an indie music band known for their profound impact despite a brief career. Their album "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" is hailed as a pinnacle of indie music. Their unique sound and enigmatic presence make them legendary indie music examples.

Indie Music Examples

Midnight City (M83)

M83’s “Midnight City” is a synth-driven new wave hit that revived 80s music influences. Known for its iconic sax solo, the song from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming became a festival favorite and a staple of indie electronic music. It’s a definitive indie music example of what is indie’s expansive sound.

Dance Yrself Clean (LCD Soundsystem)

“Dance Yrself Clean” by LCD Soundsystem is a dynamic dance track from their album This Is Happening. Known for its peaks and valleys, the song combines 80s influences with modern sensibilities, resulting in a captivating and danceable experience. This track is a quintessential indie music example, highlighting what is indie rock’s appeal.

Video Games (Lana Del Rey)

“Video Games” is Lana Del Rey’s breakout single, blending nostalgic orchestration with modern themes. This song introduced Del Rey to the world, combining her vintage vocal style with hauntingly beautiful lyrics and a cinematic feel. A perfect indie music example of what is indie, merging old and new.

Desire Lines (Deerhunter)

Deerhunter’s “Desire Lines” is a hypnotic track from their album Halcyon Digest. Featuring Lockett Pundt on vocals, it captivates with intertwining guitars and a mesmerizing instrumental break, showcasing the band's ability to blend serene melodies with intricate guitar work. It's a prime indie music example that defines what is indie at its core.

Oblivion (Grimes)

Grimes’ “Oblivion” from her album Visions is an empowering track born from personal trauma. The song transforms a painful experience into a dance-pop anthem with futuristic production, making it one of the decade’s most influential tracks. A standout indie music example of what is indie’s innovative spirit.

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