I think we can all agree that the word “indie” has kind of lost its meaning. I still find myself using it when people ask that very common and broad question of “what kind of music do you listen to?”, but as soon as I include “indie” in my answer, I realize that I really haven't said anything.
For some people, “indie” is a sort of sound (i.e. not overly produced). For others, it is the shortened word for “independent” (i.e. doing it yourself). But once you have “independent” labels and music produced specifically to sound not overly produced, things get a bit blurry. I think in general, what people consider “indie” is a hard to quantify mixture of the two (i.e. a certain sound + a certain DIY aesthetic… which one could easily go on a Lana Del Rey tangent about, if one could be bothered).
Having been a big fan of Bandcamp for a very long time, one thing I am super aware of is when an artist or label is not using Bandcamp (or even more so, when a band once used Bandcamp and then after getting more popular / signed to a label, suddenly stop). This is mostly because I pretty much only buy music that is available on Bandcamp. Which always puts a bit of a wrench in my purchasing plan (all my phone listening tends to be from my Collection these days).
Quite awhile ago, I wondered out loud about why some artists / labels do not use Bandcamp (which was something I didn't get… and actually wondered twice about it) and I was recently reminded of that train of thought after a heavy metal dude wondered the same thing. The common thread between artists that do not have their music on Bandcamp / once had their music available on Bandcamp but no longer do seems to be a certain level of success. This is usually connected to going from unsigned to signed; going from small blogs writing about you to making it on Pitchfork / Spin. Once that happens, it seems a lot of bands no longer have their new albums available to buy on Bandcamp (and sometimes the old albums removed). Their music will be up on iTunes & Amazon (and all the other 'big names'), but for some reason, Bandcamp no longer is a part of their online strategy (of course this is not always the case, as there are a lot of labels / popular artists that continue to use Bandcamp).
Now since we can all agree that Bandcamp is the undisputed home to DIY / Independent artists and labels, I've come up with a very simple, totally unscientific method for determining whether a band or record label is “indie”. That test?
Is their music available on Bandcamp?
If the answer is "yes", then I consider them “indie”. If the answer is “no”… then maybe they are not as “indie” as they may seem (or maybe they have graduated from “indie” to whatever level is above that). I mean, why wouldn't they have their music available on a channel that is highly regarded by music lovers AND takes a smaller cut than iTunes / Amazon etc.? The answer to that question probably involves some not very “indie” logic. The only asterisks I would add to this rule is if they sell their music directly from their own site (although… pretty much everyone I've seen that sells from their own site still has it available on iTunes / Amazon / Spotify and etc., so the fact that Bandcamp is not considered in ones “cast a big net” online strategy still boggles my mind).
So with this test in mind, I was really happy to see that Shakey Graves upcoming album will be available on Bandcamp. Yes, it is also available on Dualtone and directly from his own site… but his rightfully rising star hasn't seen him kick Bandcamp to the wayside. And for anyone that has followed Shakey Graves career over the past few years, thinking of him as anything but “indie” would seem insane.
But I have to admit… I was a little worried that we'd lose him from Bandcamp too. But we didn't. Which I guess totally validates my “Are They Indie?” litmus test enough to finally publish it and have it ridiculed by my peers.
[ ps - genre names are kind of silly any ways, so “indie” label / artist or not, could you all just put your music up on Bandcamp for me and anyone else like me who 1000x prefers buying it from there? And if you consider yourself "indie" but don't have your music available on Bandcamp -and hence, fail this litmus test- feel free to post in the comments below as to why you've gone that route. ]