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Old 10-31-2009, 10:45 PM   #1
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Why is indie music so respected compared to indie publishing?

I was reading a discussion on another board about music, and basically the question was 'how do you find great new music?' And a lot of the replies were 'I listen to indie music' or 'I listen to radio stations/podcasts/twitter feeds that play up and coming indie music.' It seems indie music is a well-respected way to discover new artists and uncover great hidden gems.

Contrast that to the attitude about indie publishing, which most people seem to think is amateurish, poorly edited and full of authors who only publish independently because they are not good enough to get a 'proper' contract with a 'real' publisher. Why do people not believe this about indie musicians? Surely there is just as much bad amateur music on the internet as there are bad amateur authors. Surely those who slog through the equally vast internet slush piles of amateur music and amateur authors will find just as many hidden gems. And yet, indie music has 'cred' and indie publishing does not. I wonder what's going on with that?
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Old 10-31-2009, 11:26 PM   #2
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I was about to say the amount of time involved-- with a song, you'll know in a few seconds whether you like it or not, and figuring that out about a book takes longer. But then I realized that isn't true. If someone can't write, you know it within a few sentences.

But at least with indie musicians, you know that they have spent SOME time working on their material. They actually have learned to play instruments (somewhat) and write lyrics, and work together as a band. They are likely to have played in front of SOME number of people before, and seen their reactions.

With writing, all you need is a writing medium (word processor, type writer, notepad) and the conviction that you know how to write well and tell a compelling story. Most of the people who think that are wrong. And the more mentally imbalanced you might be, the more false certainty of of one's own skills you are likely to have.

The majority of PUBLISHED writers don't actually write very well (see Law, Sturgeon's) so what are the chances that someone who is incapable of getting a book through a publishing house is actually worth reading? Maybe 1 percent of the time, it will fail muster because the publisher/editor/"slushpile diver" can't recognize the hidden brilliance of the writing. The other 99 percent of the time, it is because it is crap. (Sturgeon was an optimist.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon%27s_Law
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Old 10-31-2009, 11:34 PM   #3
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I do not think that Indie music corresponds to self publishing. It seems more similar to niche publishing.
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Old 10-31-2009, 11:58 PM   #4
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It'll happen (respect that is), once we have a Sonic Youth of writing or a NoFX of indie publishing (I'm nominating Moxie for that honour). Just a matter of time. At the moment, most indie writing is just a pale mirror held up to the timid catalogues of the mainstream publishers.

Just a matter of time

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Old 11-01-2009, 12:22 AM   #5
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Fifteen years ago, Indie music wasn't respected either.

But as the internet provided it with a method of wider distribution, and hosting sites with user rating mechanisms provided for identification of better performances, it bulldozed its way to respectability in spite of the best efforts of the RIAA and their battalion of lawyers.

Remember the well funded RIAA suit against the original MP3.com? That was an Indie site, not a Napster clone. Losing that suit sealed the RIAA,s eventual doom. They no longer get all the new artists.
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Old 11-01-2009, 12:26 AM   #6
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Sure, indie is a popular and basically respectable scene now but remember that it wasn't always so. I remember when more artists started using cheaper recording systems to make their own sound and how badly a lot of them were received because they were "inferior" since they were self published instead of being picked up by one of the big boys.

Yes, a lot were...less than stellar but it was also easy for them to play around to find what worked for them. With the addition of online distribution (Napster and MP3.com are remembered for pirating but they were also big sources of new voices as well as immediate feedback for their efforts) more and more bands found less and less call to need major labels for anything more than CD placement. A lot of groups coming out now won't even work for large labels since they almost always demand all music rights and offer nothing in return for the long run. (In fact often they will work against artists interest by restricting performances, sample and music distribution and collaborative efforts as well as demanding final "creative" control.)

Replace "band" with "author" and you will probably see the same thing. The limits for new bands share many of the same limits that writers have: perception of product quality, availability, common format.

With the introduction of portable readers (not necessarily dedicated, just usable and quick), the slow (oh, how painfully slow) standardizing of format, and probably most important the establishing and growing popularity of smaller electronic publishing venues not tied directly to major houses but instead more author driven, small and self publishers now have a better chance to show their work and gather feedback.

Remember that indie music has been around since the mid-70s but until the means came about to share the unfettered sound with a lot of people it was always considered something for only the truly fanatical to find and listen to. The net, MP3s and a growing base of technical adept users allowed everyone to find what fit them. We're just now staring to see that same convergence with the written word. (It would be a lot faster if we could get them to quit messing with formats.)
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Old 11-01-2009, 12:35 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by ficbot View Post
I was reading a discussion on another board about music, and basically the question was 'how do you find great new music?' And a lot of the replies were 'I listen to indie music' or 'I listen to radio stations/podcasts/twitter feeds that play up and coming indie music.' It seems indie music is a well-respected way to discover new artists and uncover great hidden gems.

Contrast that to the attitude about indie publishing, which most people seem to think is amateurish, poorly edited and full of authors who only publish independently because they are not good enough to get a 'proper' contract with a 'real' publisher. Why do people not believe this about indie musicians? Surely there is just as much bad amateur music on the internet as there are bad amateur authors. Surely those who slog through the equally vast internet slush piles of amateur music and amateur authors will find just as many hidden gems. And yet, indie music has 'cred' and indie publishing does not. I wonder what's going on with that?
To offer a slightly more cynical point of view, especially as a big music listener... I'd say it's because the general public will listen to whatever crappy garbage music their friends tell them to because they don't have the wherewithall to generate their own opinion on something as sophisticated as music anyway. All they hear is the growl of bad guitars and the thumping of overdriven bass guitars and pawn-shop bass drums.

The people I know who are truly into music, the indie scene is as rife with disgusting specimen as the indie writing scene.

That said, some of my favorite music was independent at some point. It's obviously not all bad. And the same goes for reading. But, and this is paramount, the audiences are entirely inverted from one another. In the general audience of readers there is a higher expectation of structure and skill. In music, there is just the opposite, a whole subculture dedicated to caring nothing about the skill of the artists and focusing on the simplistic emotional response to what said artists are screaming and the basic beats they produce.

The one thing indie music has that indie writing doesn't have so much is a large network of people helping each other separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. I firmly believe this will come about for writing, around the same time people get off their past-attachment and forget about archaic concepts such as "book" and "novel" and focus on "story."
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Old 11-01-2009, 11:41 AM   #8
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I don't know what indie music or indie publishing is.
Does it mean that their origin is from India?
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Old 11-01-2009, 11:57 AM   #9
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As was mentioned previously, indie music isn't necessarily the same as self-publishing. In the indie music world, you still have a lot of labels that act as filters. And generally when you find a label whose sound you like, you'll tend to go back to them to see what else they have to offer. Not to mention the show promoters who tend to book similar types of acts together. This makes it a lot easier to find bands you'd otherwise never have heard of.

Contrast this to indie publishing, which largely means "self published". All semblance of a filtering system is removed with self publishing, and you end up with a whole lot of dreck floating around out there. Sure you have bands that self-release material, but many of them tend to have songs that wind up on compilations (another filtering system), or they release split singles with other bands they've played with or toured with (7" singles are still very popular in the indie music world). These would be similar to many of the short story compilations that you see. But again, the notion of an editor or a publisher (even if it's a single person) comes back into play to act as a filter.

By and large, the two worlds mirror each other, but because the "reading world" is so much smaller than the "listening world", everything is just on a much smaller scale, IMHO. But you can still find small publishers who do a great job of filtering and helping the authors edit/rework their material.
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Old 11-01-2009, 12:29 PM   #10
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I don't know what indie music or indie publishing is.
Does it mean that their origin is from India?
Silly rabbit... "indie" is just short for "independent."

I think the real question is: Why is it that independent music went from disrespected to respected (and successful in digital form) over the last decade (roughly), when digital literature has been around longer, and is still considered disrespected?

There may be too many factors to enumerate here. A 3-minute piece of music may be similar to a poem, but not to an extended piece of literature, so it's very hard to make a direct comparison. The audience is very different, their demands on the media is very different, and the intellectual and emotional (and rhythmic) response to the media is very different.

But there is also a different strategy employed by the literature publishers, which emphasizes their contribution to the literature perhaps more than music publishers are perceived to contribute: Music pubs actually want you to believe their bands are great, even if they're playing in a garage with unplugged equipment; whereas lit publishers work hard to convince the public that most writers are crap without their help to clean them up and package them. That's one of the reasons there are so many garage bands, who believe they are as good as the pros without all of the stuff; whereas authors trust their definition of "good" to be handed down to them by a publisher.

I think the publishers' ongoing efforts to promote themselves by declaring all un-published authors as "bad" have simply sunk so deeply into the public and professional consciousness that it is a hard message to forget. But as self-publishing through e-books grows, I suspect the message to lose its validity and acceptance.
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Old 11-01-2009, 12:30 PM   #11
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I don't know what indie music or indie publishing is.
Does it mean that their origin is from India?
Generally, it comes from "independent".
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Old 11-01-2009, 01:56 PM   #12
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I think the real question is: Why is it that independent music went from disrespected to respected (and successful in digital form) over the last decade (roughly)
I do not think it did. For example as far as I know the independent labels during the 1980:ies were respected.
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Old 11-01-2009, 02:51 PM   #13
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Sorry if I misunderstood something... I thought the discussion was about independent artists not on a label. If we're talking about artists on independent labels, we're talking about a false comparison to "indie authors," who are generally considered to be self-published authors. We should be comparing musicians on independent labels to writers under independent publishers (who, as far as I know, do not have respectability problems).

Otherwise, we should be discussing musicians who have no label, big, small, indie or otherwise... the kind of musicians who literally record themselves in the basement, burn it into an MP3 file and put themselves online... and compare those to writers (like me) who put our own works out there independently of a publisher.

Ficbot, which was your intent?
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Old 11-01-2009, 03:05 PM   #14
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A good comparison, Steve. It may be interesting, too, that I wouldn't buy a non-label indie musician's disc without hearing the person or group live. But I have been happily reading your works, and others' as well, without ever meeting any of you. Does that mean my musical tastes are more discriminating? - I doubt it, I think it's just me.

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Old 11-01-2009, 04:45 PM   #15
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Sorry if I misunderstood something... I thought the discussion was about independent artists not on a label. If we're talking about artists on independent labels, we're talking about a false comparison to "indie authors," who are generally considered to be self-published authors. We should be comparing musicians on independent labels to writers under independent publishers (who, as far as I know, do not have respectability problems).

Otherwise, we should be discussing musicians who have no label, big, small, indie or otherwise... the kind of musicians who literally record themselves in the basement, burn it into an MP3 file and put themselves online... and compare those to writers (like me) who put our own works out there independently of a publisher.

Ficbot, which was your intent?
I think that this relates to the point I made earlier about the music scene having a greater network of support. You very rarely have a band or artist without a label at all because literally every random jerk and his dog has a label to apply to the next remotely listenable band around. When I was in High School I kid you not that three different friends of mine ran a "label" and managed local bands. Each one could not have managed more than 5 or 6 bands total but they did the legwork of getting gigs and promoting (by way, mostly, of extremely cheaply made xeroxed squares of paper handed out whenever they could get away with it.)

As best as I can tell from my point of view, these microscopic band managers derived as much joy and satisfaction out of the act of managing and promoting for a few bands as any of the bands did out of performing. You can look at them as an analog to a publisher but I don't think it's quite the same thing. To me it would be more like a few authors working cooperatively to promote each others' works. Not much more than listing 4 other independent authors in your own forum signature, for example. So with that small of a scale I don't think it negates them from a comparison to authors who do not have publisher contracts.

In both writing and music there are varying levels of independence and various methods of discovery. I believe that the real asymmetry is between the methods of discovery. I find it much more difficult to learn about a new author I'll enjoy than a new musician, independent or otherwise.

And finally you can't ignore the difficulty levels involved. An author can type up a manuscript in 30 days and publish it through lulu without much difficulty or resistance at all. An independent musician has to impress someone before they can do a show. They have to put out a decently large amount of money for a good recording. And if they decided to go all-out garage, there's a really good chance nobody will hear it ever because it's still harder to promote and distribute music online than it is a little bit of text. Add to that the fact that a song will take a few minutes to digest entirely, an album perhaps an hour or less, and a book could take 10 hours or longer depending on the writing. Surely that makes a big difference in the scheme of things especially regarding recommendation networks and promotional volunteerism.

I suppose if I had to guess on a single primary cause for the disparity I would have to choose the time investment required leading people to be much more discerning on books from untrusted sources vs. music from the same.
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