If you want to understand the indie mindset in America (and elsewhere) right now I would say it’s a must that you read Pitchfork. It wields an almighty influence in terms of the formation of taste and in terms of giving musicians widespread internet exposure. To give it its due, Pitchfork has regular features on topics which are often ignored, such as international music trends, and has also been reasonably successful with regards to exposing indie fans to hip-hop and electronica. Its reviews and articles are almost uniformly awful but, if one is willing to wade through the garbage, it’s possible to discern how both the typical indie fan and the typical indie musician approach music and popular culture.
While reading through various Pitchfork features recently I noticed a slightly troublesome trend. From a recent interview with Iron And Wine came this little nugget: Beam, who has frequently licensed songs to commercials and films, is largely unconcerned about repercussions within his fan base. The days of hollering “sell out,” we agree, are mostly over. “I think people in the industry care. And people who define themselves by what kind of music they listen to care. But most people can tell the difference between people who are making records to be famous, and people who make records because that’s what they like doing,” he says. “It’s the same shit, whether you put it out yourself, or on an independent label, or on a big label. It doesn’t matter.”
What I found troublesome was the offhand way in which the entire question of ethics in regards to song licensing was glossed over. Decades of debate were dismissed casually and carelessly. Barely a week had passed when I uncovered this in a Decemberists’ interview:
Pitchfork: Did you feel any backlash from the initial decision to go to a major?
Colin Meloy: We didn’t get as much backlash as we might have if it had happened 10 years prior, when there was a stronger connection to what independent rock music meant. Now, people understand that you gotta do what you gotta do. I remember when The Shins sold ‘New Slang’ to McDonald’s – it was an uproar. People were so pissed off. Now it’s, “Oh, whatever”.
Notice that both statements reek of passivity. This thing happened, and, well, that’s just the world we live in now. There’s no point in complaining and, anyway, people can tell who’s in it for fame and who’s not. So, in case you were slow on the uptake, here’s where we’re at right now: there should be no ethical dilemmas about either signing to a major or allowing your songs to be used in a commercial. It simply does not matter anymore. Then while browsing a little more I find these lovely quotes from a Pains Of Being Pure At Heart feature:
Pitchfork: You recently wrote on Twitter: “We just turned down a lot of $$,$$ because we don’t want to be in TV ads. Not self righteous, just rather be unknown than known for that.” Can you expound on that?
Kip Berman: I shouldn’t have said that because one day we’ll be on a commercial and someone will be like, “Oh wow, you compromised your original values!” If someone else had said that, I probably would’ve rolled my eyes at them. The thing is no one really knows our music and suddenly for everyone to hear it for the first time all at once on TV– I don’t know. I just want people to hear our music as music first.
At the same time, there are a lot of bands that are better and cooler than us that have done it. It allows a lot of artists to make music on their own terms. Ultimately, the song’s a song, no matter the context. It’s a way for bands to make money and bands deserve to make money. But we do want our songs to be in TV shows and movies. I’ve always wanted to be a part of popular culture like that.
Alex Naidus: Just because we’re indie, it doesn’t mean we can’t do this or that. That whole idea doesn’t exist as much as it used to.
Did you catch that? The palpable sense of embarrassment at maybe, kinda, making a decision based on ethical grounds? Please don’t mistake their actions for self-righteousness though! At this point it would appear that some people live in fear of being judged if they take a moral stand. Is this is what we’ve come to? Something important has disappeared in terms of our understanding of what ‘indie’ or ‘alternative’ is, and nobody seems to care. In fact, they appear rather pleased about it. So, I suppose what I’m wondering is, does it matter and should we care? -> -> ->