Why You Should Listen To Indie Music

Originally posted on This Music Blog Sux, Apr 4 2021

If because I said so isn’t a good enough reason for you, which is an admittedly reasonable stance, then I guess I must convince you, that’s right you [insert name here]. Before we get there, we’re going to have to define what indie music is exactly, or at the very least try. To be highly reductionist, indie music is any music made outside of commercial record companies. It might be published by some dudes in their basement, a chick in their bedroom or an independent label like Ember or Dead Oceans. In a more general sense, it’s a musical genre that includes music from bands like The Sonic Youth, The White Stripes, and Dinosaur Jr. to indie or alt pop artists like Phoebe Bridgers, Belle and Sebastian, and under some genre assignments, Billie Eillish. “Indie” music is about as useful of a term as organic or free trade, so I will focus on the more strict definition. Here’s a spoiler list of the reasons why you should listen to indie music:1. Diversity Drives Creativity in Music2. Listening to new Music is Good For You, Probably

3. Bragging Rights, and Your New Favorite Band

4. Supporting Local

Diversity Drives Creativity in Music

This one you feel in your gut. Similar people, using similar production methods, using the same formula, make music that sounds the same. Take every single Mumford and Sons song for example, or how a group of sad brits in Coldplay keep trying to make the same Radiohead song. Different backgrounds can provide completely different ideologies to the church of music. Two people from differing backgrounds may have completely disparate approaches to making music, they may even have differing ideas as to what music is. New musical genres are formed under the influence of the existing musical landscape. When Rock n’ Roll classics like Chuck Berry are interpreted through different lenses, we get the likes of Cannibal Corpse and The Cure. Previous studies investigated the correlation between diversity and music, finding that periods alternated between homogenized and seemingly stagnant music production styles with phases of more intense competition and creativity, often heralded by new production or distribution methods.3 To put it plainly, people start to shake things up and we get new genres. This is good news for anyone not still listening to Gregorian chants. 

These periods of musical innovation don’t just benefit the musical landscape, they have massive impacts on the culture at large. New genres blast through the walls and years later become cultural cornerstones. One of my favorite genres, indie rock, had and continues to have a massive impact on culture. With guitar innovation at the forefront and drawing heavily from punk rock and counterculture, indie rock helped drag Rock n’ Roll music back into the limelight with MTV, dive bar performances, and record store culture4. Indie brought in the age of the new rock gods with the likes of Kurt Cobain, Kim Gordon, and Black Francis, and stays through every distorted note in a sick Screaming Females solo. We simply would not be living in the same world without musical movements and their ability to shift culture. 

Listening to New Music is Good For You, Probably

A no longer so recent study used MRI technology to study the reward center of the brain as volunteers listened to new music. They found that the reward center of the brain responded to the anticipation of music similar to the way it would respond to food or sex.1 Imagine waiting for a new song to come into the bedroom in “something more comfortable,” all in foreplay for an awaiting eargasm. Since I haven’t found any other studies supporting this theory or replicating their results, I’m somewhat skeptical of their findings. Long story short, the study’s usefulness is kind of meh, but when you listen to a new song that hits you just right, the concept makes sense, and music in general can do a lot of good for you, with previous studies demonstrating positive health effects on your health like lowered blood pressure and improved sleep.2 It seems Drugs, Sex, and Rock & Roll might be tighter cohorts than we thought.

Bragging Rights and Your New Favorite Band

Admit it. You want to be the prick that was listening to Gotye before “Somebody That I Used To Know” came on the radio, and gets to smugly talk about how you’ve been listening to that song for the past month. It feels good to be a pioneer amongst your peers. It feels good to show somebody music they’ve never heard before and see a smile bloom across their face. It feels good to go on a weird related artist hole and find your new favorite song. Finding music that feels new and fresh can turn a bad day into a four hour album hole of bliss, and you’re probably not going to find that listening to Billboard’s Top 40.

Supporting Local
The easiest way to lend support directly to your local art community is to listen to and support independent artists. When you support independent artists, you are giving less of your money to corporate assholes and talentless hacks, and more to your community. Specifically whoever in your community you enjoy listening to. Especially now, during our Covid-19 hellscape, you may be looking for ways to support music production and creativity. Support the kind of people that aren’t producing music just as an excuse for a new international tour. Now’s the time as well, with Rolling Stone reporting independent artists are making more music than ever.5 I plan to write further on how to support indie artists, but starting can be easy. Listen to your sister’s roommate’s brother’s band that you think is going to suck. I mean, they probably will, but maybe after that you check out your cousin’s best friend’s mixtape and it fucking slaps. You never know ‘till you try.

References

  1. https://www.nme.com/news/music/various-artists-2072-1252300https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/keep-your-brain-young-with-music#:~:text=%E2%80%9CIf%20you%20want%20to%20keep,%2C%20mental%20alertness%2C%20and%20memory.https://www.hugoribeiro.com.br/biblioteca-digital/Tschmuck-Creativity_Innovation_Music_Industry.pdfhttps://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/06/how-indie-rock-changed-the-world/392057/https://www.rollingstone.com/pro/features/independent-artists-making-more-music-tunecore-cd-baby-982708/

Other Research

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independent_music
https://macfineart.com/how-you-can-support-your-local-art-community/
https://www.artworkarchive.com/blog/why-local-art-matters-now-more-than-ever
http://beckventures.com/the-importance-of-supporting-local-artists-in-an-urban-community/

Mental Health and Music

I’ve been trying to figure out what I wanted to do for mental health awareness month for, well, the whole month. Mental health is a pretty important subject to me (we’ll get into it), so I wanted to take care. Then Trevor Strnad passed, and that through me through a bit of a loop, (National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-8255) and I thought maybe I’d do something about The Black Dahlia Murder, because Trevor is a very influential songwriter, even to me as a mostly folk musician. However, a lot of people have written a lot of better articles than I would about them, and about his influence. I started to realize the main thing I have to offer is my perspective, my journey (excuse the cliche). The main thing I have to offer is to talk about how my mental health has affected my music. So here we go.

I’m going to tackle this a bit scattershot, so we’re starting with today. There’s a stereotype about creatives and their difficulty with mental illness, The 27 club and Kurt Cobain being a pretty common example of that. You can go on reddit and see someone ask if most writers drink when they write. To be honest, I think a lot of people give themselves and high achieving creatives a pass with their unwillingness to tackle their own mental health issues. Overall, I don’t think mental un-wellness is a prerequisite for creative ability, and have personally felt like my mental health issues, namely depression and anxiety, have had mixed affect on my ability to create. There are certainly times when the pain and experiences of coping with mental illness have prompted me to write. “A Great Pretender” is probably one of my best written songs, and it is written about the idea of faking happiness in a society, as well poor coping and self destruction. I frequently use the feelings of sadness and dread and channel them to create more compelling art, I mean The Existential Dread band name is essentially an homage to this nihilistic pessimism. My anxiety has driven me to expect more perfection out of my musical performances and mixes, and has elevated my work as a producer. My depression has also sapped me of all energy, and stopped me from recording and practicing for days. It’s driven me to obsess over a video game for a week straight because of the addictiveness of the utter escapism. My anxiety has made me have panic attacks when I can’t do the perfect drumline for a song. It makes my heart flutter every time I make a mistake, and usually drives me to make a bunch more. Hell, my mental illness basically stopped me from creating for three years.

For reasons that will become obvious the timelines for the following are all pretty fuzzy. To start I’ve struggled with depression in some form or another since around 16. I remember going to somebody and talking about how much the world sucked and made me sad. My senior year, I developed a weird tick in my neck where my neck twitched to the side. My guess is this came on due to stress from school, sports, and working (so, anxiety most likely?). In college again I struggled with depression and remember seeing someone during the summer on campus.

When I graduated, it all got a lot worse. I went into teaching, and my first job out of college was a charter school in Benton Harbor. For those unfamiliar, Benton Harbor has struggled financially for quite a while. Its majority black and poor, across the river from the majority white and more well off St. Joseph. The schools are bad there. The public school was almost shut down a few years ago. It was not a good place for a new and young teacher, and I did not have the necessary background and experience to win the respect of the students. My principal was not a good man. He frequently expected more of us than he did of himself, and often encouraged us to do labor for the classroom that was not our job, or paid. He cheated on state tests and altered test scores. He couldn’t spell for fucking shit. He scared the hell out of me. Inevitably, this environment worsened my depression. I began to feel completely hopeless. I missed days of class. My students began to notice, and to be honest, I was happy to have them pitying me instead of yelling in my face. I did not know how to escape. Teaching is what I decided I was going to do with my life and I had failed at it immediately. To be honest I didn’t see any other way out than a permanent one.

I began to think increasingly about taking my own life. It is all I thought about. I could not get out of bed in the morning, and one night I got drunk and sat in the bathtub with a razor-blade. I called the suicide hotline (800-273-8255) and got talked down.I told my then girlfriend, and one way or another ended in a doctors office where I told the doctor what happened, and got strapped to a gurney and shipped by ambulance to a psych ward, where I stayed for two days. To be honest, I don’t want to go into great detail. I didn’t like being there against my will, and all I found in there was that it could be way fucking worse. Schizophrenia is terrifying, Mania is terrifying. Also that food was really fucking bland. What I learned is that I was happy there were people who loved me on the outside, and I was happy I could at least function on a day to day basis, and there wasn’t a voice in my head I could actually hear telling me to kill myself every day. That didn’t mean I was happy. I remember listening to “This Year” by The Mountain Goats in the car with my mom after. It’s still one of the most important songs to me.

I left that place with a too large dose of prozac and for the next few years, I felt numb. I don’t want to blame this entirely on the medication. I was still deeply depressed. I was no longer suicidal, but I fundamentally lacked direction and purpose. I worked in a factory for my first job back. It wasn’t ideal. I was always tired. I’m sure I played music, but I don’t remember it, and I don’t really remember writing at all. In college, music was so important to me. You’d always find me on the sidewalk somewhere on Grand Valley State University with my case open, playing my acoustic guitar in the sun, mostly playing songs I wrote. I played at a farmers market one year, I went to open mics frequently, and played for meal tickets at the cafe. I wrote songs for my students when I was cooperative-teaching. Suddenly, it just wasn’t really there anymore. Not for a long time. I don’t remember what brought me back either, at some point when I was living with my good friend David I just had enough songs and decided to record, and “Bleeding Gums and White Lights’ ‘ came out in late August 2019. At some point I dropped my Prozac cold turkey. It was a bad idea ultimately because the side effects kept me out of making music for a good couple of weeks but since then I’ve  basically recorded basically nonstop since. I want to make sure I’m not demonizing medication either. I was on zoloft for quite a while and it never affected my creativity (although I am off it now). I think it’s more important you find the right balance, and that’s different for everyone.

Ultimately I think music has had a pretty massive positive impact on my mental health. A lot of people don’t seem to understand how important habitual creativity is. Like any skill, creativity improves with practice. I think music, and doing it as a habit, has become one of my ultimate coping mechanisms for my mental health issues. It provides me with a sense of purpose on a day to day and practical basis, and gives me an outlet to express my emotional pain. Quite frankly I’m not sure what I wanted to accomplish here. I think it gave me an excuse to be open about something that I’ve held very close to my chest for a long time. Hopefully some of my perspective can make music or mental illness make more sense, I don’t think I have a point I want to prove other than, music probably saved me.