The “Indies” Didn’t Just Win the Grammys. And Neither Did the Majors

It’s 2011.

Can we please move past this artificial, cooked-up “indie v. major” divide?  On Monday, we received an email from A2IM declaring that “indies” had “reigned” at the Grammys, while citing Arcade Fire’s Album of the Year award.  And within the first two paragraphs, past victors like Taylor Swift, Robert Plant, and Alison Kraus were cited.  In fact, A2IM counted 46 awards for so-called “indie” artists, however they’re defined these days.

And that’s just the problem.  There is no reasonable definition anymore, and any attempt to draw a line belongs in the past.  So what happens when EMI gets chopped-up and sold, when Warner Music Group becomes unrecognizably different?  When we have – count ’em – 3…2…1 major label(s) still surviving?  That’s right, there will be a lot less “major,” but it’s foolish to categorize everything outside of Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars as “indie”.  It’s just a fiction, and not representative of where the music industry is today or where it will be tomorrow.

That’s an immediate challenge for A2IM, which loves to exploit the emotional trigger that “indie” excites.  But maybe A2IM – and similarly-situated groups – need to start changing that rap.

The reasons have been hashed and rehashed on these very pages.  Arcade Fire isn’t technically a major-signed artist, but they have significant label and distribution arrangements, and a serious strategy and operation.  Taylor Swift has major label distribution, yet somehow qualifies as an “indie” because of Big Machine.  And what about every small label distributed through a major?  Are they indie?

You can get lost in all the useless minutiae.  But these examples are all post-major, and representative of an emerging structure.  Let the majors combine, collapse, or whatever they plan on doing to manage the slide.  Because those really interested in growing, developing, and sustaining a serious act will put together the partnerships that matter.  Period.

If that starts with a ReverbNation account and ends with a major label distribution pact – then fantastic.   But labeling and categorizing along the way is simply old school.  It’s just a label, pun intended.

Paul Resnikoff, publisher.  Written while listening to Eric Prydz.