Indie vs. Pop; Bear Country, Dim Light tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 5:10 pm June 15, 2010

by Tim McMahan,

Hot shot Saddle Creek Records executive Jason Kulbel is quoted in an article on the Green Shoelace blog that asks the burning question: Is Indie Turning Into Pop? From the article:

Jason Kulbel, label manager for Saddle Creek Records defines the mainstream as somewhat positive. It’s simply “What the majority of people listen to,” he said. “Every band has its own unique circumstances; I am sure it applies to some bands and not others. Each band has different goals and ways they shape their career,” states Kulbel.

As with most indie record labels, Saddle Creek Records leans toward not conforming to the mainstream, yet “[the] mainstream doesn’t always mean ‘bad,’ just that it’s the most popular,” Kulbel said. The general philosophy of Saddle Creek Records is that “the artists must dedicate their lives to the music they love, which represents the band personally and musically.”

The problem with the article’s premise is that it never really defines  “Indie” or “pop.” Pop means popular, right? You could argue that indie “turned into pop” in 1992 when Nevermind broke through and became a nationwide hit. In fact, you could say that any indie band that busts into the Billboard top 20 — such as Bright Eyes — has turned pop. But no matter how you look at it, the premise is absurd.

The real question: Is the artist 1) making music primarily to satisfy himself, or 2) compromising his/her artistic vision in an attempt to write a “hit record.” The former historically has been associated with indie artists; the latter typifies commercial shlubs (many of whom never had any artistic vision to begin with). Jake Bellows, for example, is going keep to writing and recording music no matter who listens to his songs. The only thing keeping him from becoming the next Jack Johnson is a few million dollars in marketing. It has nothing to do with quality (Jake’s music is obviously better than Jack’s). But if one of Jake’s songs ever became a hit, well, he’d be considered a pop star (and is there anyone more deserving?).

If Saddle Creek poured a couple million bucks into marketing the latest Mynabirds album I promise Laura Burhenn’s name would become a household name alongside any other MTV/VH1/CMT diva.

So is marketing the only difference between indie and “pop”? We’ll find out with the new Crystal Castles album cited in the article — something tells me that it would sound the same whether it had been released by Universal or their first label, Canada’s Last Gang Records.

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Two shows on the radar screen tonight:

At Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St., Bear Country is playing as part of the garden’s Tempo at Twilight series on the green. Bring your lawn chairs and something to eat. The performance starts at 6 p.m. and runs until 8. Admission is $6 (but free if you’re a Lauritzen member). I saw Brad Hoshaw do a solo set (opening for Orenda Fink) as part of this series last year, and it was a lot of fun, though no one seemed to be paying attention to Brad. The Mynabirds will be playing the series Aug. 17 and Outlaw Con Bandana plays Sept. 14.

Afterward, head on over to the Waiting Room for Dim Light, DJ Kobrakyle and Brave Captain. Get this: It’s some guy named Alex’s birthday — so there’s no cover charge! 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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