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TheStreet Open House

Stop Calling Music 'Indie' -- There's No Such Thing

Stocks in this article: PAXPGMTGTAAPL

That's what's getting companies like Pandora and others into the concert streaming game. By letting musicians perform in front of a laptop and cut out some venue and promotion fees, artists keep more cash in the pockets and fans get to keep the groove they've worn into their couch nice and warm.

But what about integrity? What about that DIY work ethic? What about Dischord Records? Listen, it would be lovely if the world played along with Ian MacKaye during his Fugazi days and created an ecosystem in which artists could sustain themselves on $5 shows and publishing rights alone. But that's not happening. MacKaye was just one of the folks who helped artists find a path to independence from label influence and control, but the world musicians have to operate is -- in a whole lot of ways -- even more unfriendly to musicians and artists trying to make a living doing what they love.

Granted, there are still plenty of artists out there who refuse to place their work in commercials, but even alternate licensing routes run them afoul of corporate influence. Want to license to film? Fox (FOXA), Sony (SNE) and Time Warner's (TWX) "indie" divisions would love to pay you. Television? Even the check Washed Out received for letting the folks behind IFC's Portlandia use its song Feel It All Around as the show's theme traces back to AMC Networks (AMCX).

Unless musicians are independently wealthy or willing to crash in a squat and spare for change, they're not "independent." They have a whole lot more freedom than major label artists who have their terms dictated to them, but there's still a brand attached to many of the financial decisions related to their music.

In a sharp turn from the music landscape of 20 years ago, being comfortable with that hard-earned brand money has become an indie mark in its own right. Carrie Brownstein built her indie credibility with the entire Sleater-Kinney back catalog, so why not take American Express' (AXP) money for playing Portlandia-style characters in commercials? Lou Reed's artistic credentials were already well established by the time he pitched for Honda and he didn't veer from them once that commercial was in the can. Even Tegan and Sara didn't put their folk-pop sound on the shelf after doing a cover of the Bangles' In Your Room for Target (TGT) years before Closer.

There's a whole lot of support out there for artists willing to take it. However, there are way too many corporate benefactors behind all that artistic freedom for "indie" to be a fitting term. There's a distinction to be drawn between label musicians and their counterparts, sure, but neither functions independently. Major label signees function more as employees or, worse indentured servants. Those who spurn labels with the help of benefactors should lay claim to the sole title long assumed by colleagues who've accepted such patronage: Artists.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.



>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.
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