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10 Things Indie Musicians Do That Make People Hate Indie

with 26 comments

First of all, I love indie. I love it like a 15-year-old boy loves Megan Fox, sans anything involving posters on ceilings. So before you get up in my face with loud, defensive, aggravated comments about how great it is — I know, I know. Mellow.

But again like our halter-wearing temptress, there are a lot of seemingly reasonable people who HATE indie. And when you start to talk to these people about their hatred (once they get past the asinine jabs about hipster jeans, beards and technical guitar skills, like those even matter), you start to realize they may actually be on to something. Because even though indie is awesome, it’s only really awesome if it’s done right. And sometimes, you just have to take a loved one by the collar and tell them when they’re not doing something right. Right?

Here are some of the things indie musicians do that piss off people who otherwise have good taste in music. (Subtext: if you hate indie because the only style of music you like is speed metal or radio country, then this list, and my entire blog, will probably mean nothing to you.)

whiney singer1. Whine a lot more than necessary. Most people understand that songwriting is about expressing emotions, so like-minded listeners can identify when their parents get divorced and they’re shuttled back and forth like a fake ID at a sorority house. But those alleged “genuine” emotions shouldn’t cause stool to run soft in the bowel, and those “genuine” lyrics shouldn’t have to become ironic Facebook status updates. Despite the majority of indie songwriters who express their inner ingénue at an appropriate level, a lot of them tend to dwell on the idea of adult male vulnerability, riding it like the bow of the Titanic until people in the crowd are considering dialing a hotline. The result: indie rock that is backed only by overdramatic 14-year-old girls and moms who are just glad their kid isn’t listening to Insane Clown Posse. And the woe in my heart bleeds like yesterday’s undercooked pot roast.

bad singing2. Sing like the deaf. Okay, part of being vulnerable and “real” is not having an overtly superior singing style. No one expects to be empathizing with Bono, or relating on a personal level to Axl Rose. (Yikes.) Still, there are a couple of fundamentals that are just part of singing — like pitch control, and not making the audience laugh out loud. So when the biggest Clap Your Hands Say Yeah single sounds like Joe Assface got up on karaoke night and ran a schoolbus over the solfege scale, it’s tough to hold the contempt in check. It’s even worse when it’s a cover of a song people are already familiar with, like Clem Snide’s abhorrent version of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful,” or Ben Gibbard’s cringe-inducing take on Bjork’s “All is Full of Love.” I don’t care how cute his own songs are, taking on Bjork’s most well-heard single with his northern-accented po-boy whimper is like climbing Mount St. Helens in a T-shirt and Converse low-tops. When the tone that comes across is “this didn’t sound like it did in my head, but oh well,” something is probably lost.

ian curtis3. Shamelessly imitate other musicians. How many more indie lead singers are going to try to sound like Ian Curtis before someone devotes a top-10 list to it? Even though the Interpol/Editors/White Lies/Horrors/She Wants Revenge singing style is still cool almost 30 years after the end of Joy Division, indie bands with that sound are about as rare as lice at a Phish concert. At least there’s the rejuvenating presence of the Libertines/Arctic Monkeys/Bloc Party/Larrikin Love/Paddingtons/We Are Scientists “reckless” sound to remind us that anyone can roll out of bed in the morning and record an album between snorting lines and scraping the paint off vintage Telecasters. (And they’re all better than the Panic at the Disco/Fall Out Boy/Paramore/The Academy Is…/MCR pseudo-indie outfits with pop-punk mafia ties. )

bad guitar skills4. Fail to grasp playing instruments. Once again, the everyman’s musician doesn’t need to play guitar like Eddie Van Halen. (Or Blake Mills, formerly of Simon Dawes.) It can even be a point of pride to be “self-taught” … but it shouldn’t come into question whether the guitarist is using his hands or his feet. Case in point: Babyshambles frontman Pete Doherty and his zombie-esque guitarist Mick Whitnall are a page out of the “Make Sure You’ll Be Able to Remember the Recording Session” manual. As talented as Doherty is, his band has released possibly the two worst-sounding albums in music, and yes, that crashing sound at the end of Down in Albion is him falling on his wasted ass. But even musicians who are too bombed to employ the musical skills they have are still superior to the ones who are not wasted, and just try to play like they are. Even worse, there’s the whole sub-layer of completely un-musical local musicians who try to get away with “unconventional” techniques, like playing the guitar like a stand-up bass, relying on “tones” or feedback to create music, or literally just holding the guitar throughout a show only to play two strings during the loud part. Just learn a song, butterfingers.

weird instrument5. Create noise experiments. Lou Reed tried it with Metal Machine Music, an album consisting largely of feedback – and even that was regarded as a joke. Imagine, then, the impact your crappy, untrained garage band will have on the musical landscape when you unleash your new brand of electric-drill-inspired, ultra-distorted noise music for all to appreciate. Will it be “refreshing” when the opening notes of your first performance sound like a large train trying to shove through a small tunnel? Will the squeaky chair hooked up to a loose guitar pickup (.1) break anyone out of their sad, close-minded funk? Will they “get it” when you finally chop the head off your guitar with a bolt cutter at the end of your set? Probably not, you ridiculous excuse for a musician – please fuck off, and refer to number 4 above.

shitty tour van6. Selectively hate major labels. Indie musicians take pride in being independent, and in getting their music noticed without the aid of the big, soul-sucking music industry monster. They enjoy picking apart bands they’ve heard of who have “sold out,” changed their sound a little, and started touring with Velvet Revolver and Jane’s Addiction. “Damn, the Frog Bots get one deal and they change completely, and now they’re only playing for meatheads and teeny boppers at $75 a ticket. Way to betray the scene, man.” Unless, of course, it’s a friend of theirs. In that case, “did you hear about the Narwhal Endeavor? They just got the deal of a lifetime, and now they’re touring with Pearl Jam. That’s awesome.” And finally, what happens when a suit comes to knock on their own door? Everyone and their roommate shits a brick, that’s what happens. So much for integrity, I guess.

Flaming Librarians7. Have obscure-band-offs. Sports guys like to rattle off stats, car guys like to compare engines, and techies like to talk about the latest gear they bought. But somehow, none of it is as infuriating as the veiled contempt in an indie rocker’s voice when he (or she) name-drops an ultra-secret underground band he (or she) is hoping you’ll be stumped by. “Yeah, we (.2) were handing out CDs at the Glimmering Sock Muppets show last night. Killer band.” This is followed by an expectant stare. The only way to respond gracefully is to name-drop the primary influence of the Glimmering Sock Muppets, or at least point out how awesome it is that they poached the lead singer from the Kitten Tossers last week. Though the former is preferable. Of course, if you don’t recognize them, your only hope of staying cool is to actually be in a more noteworthy band — in which case your non-recognition might even cause the questioner to question his own sense of band judgment. Then again, you could always do some research in the used section at Amoeba, you poseur.

the indie look8. Go for the “indie look.” Wearing frayed vintage stuff isn’t necessarily the biggest fault of indie musicians — but then there are the ones who try to out-indie everyone by sporting every indie fashion trend at once. They usually end up looking like one of Lou Pearlman’s sadistic boy-band experiments: greasy, deliberately tangled hair; the light stubble that says “I’m not overly focused on my outward appearance;” the prerequisite all-weather scarf; the mod hat no one wears outside of an Urban Outfitters catalog; suspenders; the collage of concert wristbands; the v-neck that almost exposes nipple, for that subtle feminine mystery; the obligatory women’s fur-lined jacket, just to make it clear they don’t care what you think of them. And of course, no indie look would be complete without the nearly constant semblance of posing for something — something such as the inevitable barrage of Myspace photography that comes after the first round of dirty martinis. The only justice here is the notion that, according to historic fashion norms, these guys will be trying to pull off “bohemian vogue” until well after senility has set in. Eff that, ya whipper snapper.

indie rocks9. Idolize their genre above all others. I’ve met metal guys who are into reggae, and hip-hop guys who are into funk and disco. There’s even an entire segment of punks who get into country. But for indie musicians, the only thing better than indie rock is indie rock and beer. Just take an indie rocker on a long road trip and they’ll have something to say about everything that comes out of your stereo until you start playing Muse, the Smiths, or something that sounds like Muse or the Smiths. I’ll admit that I’m living proof of this, if not to the degree that’s possible when you put someone with musical opinions into one of the most clique-y genres ever created. At least it’s easy to start up a conversation with them at a party: just mention the undeniable production benefits of auto-tune. You’ll start a landslide.

thom yorke10. Worship Radiohead. Actually, I can’t blame indie guys for this, because Radiohead is awesome. But hey, some people hate them. Makes sense to me.

P.S. Think of anything else that pisses off the anti-indie crowd? Comment section that mofo.


1. i.e. Chico Legends, circa 2002
2. In indie terms, “we” always means “me and my band,” unless the speaker is physically standing next to his girlfriend, and indicating her clearly. And it’s still possible she’s in his band.

Oh yeah, and you'll want to download my book.

26 Responses to '10 Things Indie Musicians Do That Make People Hate Indie'

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  1. Dude . . . such a long waiting period for such a fine piece. The wait was worth it. Well done.

    You are correct, I don’t hate all indie, just the aforementioned idiotic stereotypes that ruin some very talented individuals.

    Captain Morgan

    29 Oct 09 at 9:34 am

  2. Yeah, I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time on this lately. Thanks for sticking around, man. More to come, and hopefully more regularly. Cheers!

    (in the works: 10 reasons indie is the most awesome music genre ever)

    Peter Kimmich

    29 Oct 09 at 12:16 pm

  3. I dont really even understand what “indie” means. I think it’s really becoming a meaningless term.


    29 Oct 09 at 8:15 pm

  4. Thank you for writing this! I thought it was very well-written and spot on! :)


    30 Oct 09 at 5:09 am

  5. Only really got into Indie recently. I’ll make sure I don’t fall into any of these traps myself I’ve already seen it with some of my friends in the past. I’m a tech geek mainly so I think there is less danger with me. ;)

    Nice article BTW, very well written. +1 subscribe. :)


    30 Oct 09 at 5:23 am

  6. Great article. And I especially loved points 3, 4, 5 and 9.


    30 Oct 09 at 9:11 pm

  7. This article is brilliant and frankly spot-on. Nice to see someone holding indie bands to a high standard. I linked to this everywhere I could think of.


    31 Oct 09 at 10:06 pm

  8. @ marvn: True.

    @ rich97: Thanks, you rock.

    @ Ren: Awesome, a whole avalanche of blog karma is coming your way.

    P.S. to everyone: Nested comments are supposed to be activated on here, so I’ll have to look into why it’s not working. Thanks for the feedback, y’all.

    Peter Kimmich

    2 Nov 09 at 12:19 pm

  9. Filed under “it’s funny because it’s true…”

    (And added to my reader.)

    PS – I <3 Indie.


    7 Nov 09 at 8:28 am

  10. You what indie bands do that sucks? Fake the funk. If you suck and you are unoriginal, get out of the game and do something else. Stop making us sit through your boring 45 minute set. If you have the honor of opening up for somebody good, you better bring something that is decent or you will kill the mood of the crowd and send them all the the smoking area outside. For example, Factory Party sucked it up before Dub Trio so that the whole crowd left and missed and amazing set by the headliners of the night. Nobody wants to see a band copy others. If they do, they go to Sherlocks, not Warehouse Live. So again, if you unoriginal and boring, please do something else.


    16 Nov 09 at 1:47 pm

  11. I just had a phone call with my friend about my hatred for some indie bands and he said that i had no legitimate reasons for my aforementioned hatred, but then i happened to stumble upon this article. What a wonderful piece of literature.

    ps: Dont forget stores like Urban Outfitters and American Apparel that also force feed everyone the next trend in the indie timeline.


    19 Nov 09 at 8:59 pm

  12. Honestly, this piece sucks. Generalizations everywhere, and talk about low-hanging fruit.

    Totally lame.

    Grease Wizard

    23 Dec 09 at 4:01 pm

  13. Captain Morgan

    23 Dec 09 at 4:17 pm

  14. @ the Captain – That is probably the funniest piece of completely imagined crap I’ve ever seen. Everyone, look at that right now.

    @ Grease – If you had a sense of humor, you’d probably get this stuff.

    Peter Kimmich

    29 Dec 09 at 12:11 pm

  15. Saying “I love indie” or “I hate indie” is retarded. It’s like saying “I love music” or “I hate music.” It’s not expository in any way. Plenty of “indie” music sounds mainstream. Plenty of major label bands sound “indie.”


    5 Jan 10 at 12:31 pm

  16. I guess my biggest problem with “Indie” is the fact that there are no real guidelines for what constitutes a band to be Indie. For instance, if and Indie band such as Death Cab signs to a major label, are they no longer Indie? I love them and consider their sound Indie, but by definition, they are anything but. So, should they be renamed? And if so, who are we to take that away from them? And if I have to hear one more auto-tune band o’matic at a show say that they are Indie, I might have to hide some bodies.

    What I’m saying is, is that beyond the textbook definition of Independent, there are bands who just sound Indie, which has become a very popular genre over the past few years, more so than in the past. Where do we draw the lines? I’m just wondering what everyone thinks.



    5 Jan 10 at 3:22 pm

  17. I don’t think “indie” has to refer to a band’s label status any more than “country” refers to their being from Oklahoma. Maybe it had that meaning at one time, but like everything else, meanings evolve. Take “heavy metal.” In the ’70s that was Black Sabbath, and now it’s Iron Maiden and Lamb of God. If there were ever hard guidelines for anything musical, they got stretched and warped after about 10 minutes. I think it’s pretty safe to say if a band has the “indie sound,” you can pretty much argue them to be indie.

    And of course, that means lame-ass, pitch-corrected crap is created every day with the intention of being passed off as “indie” — but anyone who falls for it deserves to sound like an imbecile.

    @ Kevo: Saying “I love indie” is a little more like saying “I love to start arguments.”

    Peter Kimmich

    5 Jan 10 at 5:43 pm

  18. This made me laugh so much. It’s so true (especially 9 and 10 for me). As a fellow indie music lover, i now understand why some people hate it when i blast radiohead and the smiths. I also hate it with passion when people go for the “indie look.” They end up looking like Jesus with a scarf and a fedora, and it does not look cool at all.


    11 Jan 10 at 3:07 pm

  19. The only problem I have with this is 4 and 5. This is just a shitty generalization for all indie bands. Louis XIV can write better melodies and guitar riffs than the best of the best. Animal Collective uses sound experiments to make some of the most mind blowing music of our decade. I mean really, have you ever listened to Feels? It changed my life. At least related to music. Also, I don’t think it’s that bad to imitate other bands. The more there is of something I like, the better.
    Otherwise good article, especially six and eight, sooo true.


    24 Mar 10 at 8:49 am

  20. Animal Collective I love as well, but man some of their stuff is just weird for the sake of being weird. Same with a lot of indie. Excellent article about a genre I love but am conflicted with constantly.


    14 Apr 10 at 5:12 am

  21. Love the sweet tones!Guitar oriented songs forever man! Sorry for my lousy english!

    Clora Rodriguez

    21 Apr 10 at 11:17 am

  22. We haven’t sold out…… yet (#6)

    The Frogbots

    22 Apr 10 at 3:10 pm

  23. Yo, I love this article. So true for example,there’s this girl in one of my classes that actually walks around TELLING people she’s indie. That’s another indie fail but it’s usually only made by Indie jrs.

    Alee Awesome

    6 Jun 10 at 9:57 am

  24. grease has got a point about the low-hanging fruit. I personally did enjoy the article, but he is right. Not that you have to necessarily be going for the pulitzer or anything, but anti-hipster articles are pretty insanely common. Also, some of what you said seems pretty closed-minded, bearing in mind that I really did enjoy this article. Music isn’t about pleasing an audience, it’s about expressing something. Musicians and Bands owe you nothing, so if they feel that what they want to express can best be expressed in an experimental way that’s what they’re going to do. I doubt anyone has ever decided they wanted to write a really popular song and thought that the best way to do that was with drones and random sound effects. If musicians never tried new, wild, and experimental things, we’d all still be listening to gregorian chant. And with that I apologize for the overly long and overly critical comment. I liked your article, but everyone can improve. It is with that in mind that I say without a hint of irony that sometimes you just have to take a loved one by the collar and tell them when they’re not doing something right.

    chill fellow

    12 Jun 10 at 3:16 pm

  25. Loved the list. If I had to add something to it, it would be the indie people who automatically label any band that more than 12 people have heard as “sell outs”. I had a friend who used to love Fall Out Boy, then got in with this indie music crowd and started blasting them because “they totally sold out.” And he started criticizing all my music at the time (it was like, four years ago) because all the bands had sold out (ignoring the fact that a lot of the bands had nothing to sell out from, really).

    I like indie music too, but the attitude of some of the people in the scene really turn me off of it. Quite a few I’ve met also tend to be “holier-than-thou” about it; like they’re better than me because they don’t have a CD that’s gone platinum on their CD shelf at home.


    19 Jun 10 at 10:12 pm

  26. Indie=cant play cant sing cant write and look like shit.. Shave the godawful beards (real musicians dont have facial hair) actually learn to play write and sing and maybe EVERYONE will stop ridiculing you constantly


    1 Feb 14 at 12:53 pm

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