[Hype Hype Hooray] How Much Influence Does Indie Music Really Have?

Every [two weeks?] Jamie Hale takes a long, hard look at the music industry and the blog scene that feeds it. Here, he releases those findings and makes snarky, sarcastic remarks. Admittedly, both Jamie and Knox Road are a part of this scene. So sue us.

This week I got my TIME magazine, as usual, on Monday morning at work. This week’s issue wasn’t a typical issue, it was a double issue called “The 100 Most Influential People in the World.” Always musically-minded I skipped over the politicians and billionaires and comedians to find out which musical artists of our day had the most influence over the world.

It was pretty rough.

Before I opened the issue, I knew they were going to profile Adele. Sure, her name was printed on the cover, did anybody not see that coming? The first section the magazine comes to, and the first place one would look to for musicians, is called “Breakouts.” Here, TIME came to their first influential musician: Rihanna.

I have nothing against Rihanna. She seems talented and humble enough, given that she’s a pop star, but how influential is she? Since she’s in the money-making-music-scene, I guess she moves a lot of dollars around, but is she really the artistic sage in this age of music? At the very end of the section, TIME comes to musician number two: Raphael Saadiq.

I personally have no idea who Mr. Saadiq is, but his profile (penned by Elton John) says he’s a fantastic soul singer. That’s fair enough, but again, his influence is new and in the very niche soul scene. After Saadiq, TIME comes to Adele in the “Icons” section at the very back. How many musicians were there between Saadiq on page 57 and Adele on page 157, you ask? None.

Now, I’m not saying TIME should fill their Influential People issue with handfuls of musicians. I’m especially not saying they should fill it with indie musicians. In fact, I’m extremely relieved this year no current indie artists made the list.

Realistically, who from the indie world would have been worth a mention? Active veterans like The Arcade Fire? Not enough of a present influence. Experimental stars like Animal Collective? It’s not 2009 and they’re too divisive anyway. Rising hype bands like Best Coast? Realistically, they don’t have a very big audience.

Who else would be worthy? James Blake? Wavves? Yuck? They’re not even blips on the TIME magazine radar. Why? Because they don’t actually have any real-world influence.

Sure, Rihanna is a little bit of an off-choice for the list, but at least she has an argument for how much influence she has. She sells millions of records and has an undebatable influence on the world of pop, a genre that reaches billions of listeners every day (“Yeah? Well St. Vincent is releasing ‘KROKODIL’ on red vinyl!”).

Indie has been a unifying scene in so many ways, but as “indie” becomes less of a genre and more of a complicated label, it’s strength to influence naturally wanes. Instead of having a few influential standouts, we have a gaggle of golden calves. Wavves definitely had a lot of influence, but whom did they really inspire? Other lazy-surf-punk bedroom projects?

Music bloggers, who tend to be concentrated coincidentally enough around indie music, have a tremendous ability to make a band influential. By blaring the sirens to thousands of ears across the world, a blogger can turn a dude playing in his garage into a dude playing at Coachella.

But what happens after Coachella when the well of popularity runs dry? A few stick around, of course, but if they don’t get a spot at a big enough indie label, or even at an industry label, they’re done. After all, most bloggers can’t sign record deals.

What results is, as I said before, a lot of golden calves, mooing at the masses, but gathering only modest followings. Anymore, it’s just not in indie’s nature to be influential. It’s so niche, it’s practically in hibernation. The barrier to entry in indie is so high, a lot people just don’t bother trying.

There’s no solution here. It’s hard to say “Indie musicians! Go out and spread influence to the world!” because a lot of indie musicians can’t really do that. They’re too poor, too inexperienced and too out-there, really, to build an audience at all. Rihanna is easy to listen to; Shabazz Palaces is not.

Of course, none of this means indie artists are without any sort of influence. The scene is full of a lot of talented people who are influencing a lot of other talented people. The problem is really with us, the indie fans. We tend to have an affinity for small rooms. We don’t like to share our favorites with too many people, so when musicians start to get too big for the room (oh hello, Adele, Edward Sharpe), we push them out on their own.

The survivors go on to be popular and wealthy and maybe even “influential.” The losers, well, they can get back in the crowd, if they want, to try to get their hands on that red St. Vincent single. I hear she’s going to be big some day.

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