Trends come and go, and the music world is no exception to that. In fact, the popularity of Spotify playlists and the never-ending entertainment cycle mean that songs go in and out of style faster than ever before.
But amidst all this change, some music styles remain as popular as ever. Indie rock is one of them, perhaps precisely because it is such direct contrast to the heavy trap beats and bright pop sounds that are popular today. The cultural impact of artists like Fleet Foxes and Arcade Fire also goes to show that there will always be loyal indie rock fans who will search this music out.
On that note, this article will trace the developments of the indie rock scene as we know it while also giving some tips for musicians who want to try incorporating aspects of indie rock into their sound.
Indie rock today
The term “indie” was used to refer to bands that weren’t part of a huge record label, but the advent of accessible music software and home-based music producers means that this division doesn’t necessarily apply anymore. What we can look at instead is how indie rock sounds, and what makes it so different from all the other popular genres.
Taylor Swift took the entire world by storm when she both hinted at and released Folklore in the span of 12 hours. Aside from the unexpected nature of this drop, what surprised both a long time and lukewarm fans alike was Swift’s sound with this new album. She collaborated with The National‘s Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff to produce an album that was more folksy and acoustic than her previous releases, with soft instrumentals and strong lyricism taking center stage.
Swift isn’t the only one producing this kind of sound. The Guardian’s review of Sufjan Stevens‘ The Ascension and Fleet Foxes’ Shore also praises both albums for their poetic lyrics and looping melodies that speak to the current anxieties of our time. Indie rock isn’t the hard and almost aggressive rock of bands we’ve featured before like Puscifer: indie rock is more muted but haunting nonetheless. This distinct sound is heavily influenced by folk melodies, which you can hear with indie rock’s simple melodies.
Creating the indie rock sound
With the popularity of indie rock today, it’s no surprise that budding musicians are eager to get into the scene as well.
Owing to the characteristics of folk music, it’s therefore clear that successful indie artists will need to buy the very best music equipment to fine-tune their sound, from quality guitars to music pedals. Having great instruments is the first step, but additional accessories allow you to play around with your sound and either strip it back or amplify it as needed. This experimentation is at the heart of indie rock and requires musicians to be open to trying out new sounds: case in point, Stevens’ “Sugar” discards the singer’s old brass-heavy and up-tempo beats for more somber drumbeats.
Such experimentation also comes into play when mastering any indie rock track. As mentioned earlier, music production software and other tech tools have made it easier for budding musicians to craft their signature sound. When it comes to indie rock, playing around with compression, clipping and distortion can help create the dynamic and warm sound indie rock is known for. The trick is to veer away from over-processing, as you want the raw power of the vocals and instruments to properly shine through.
Despite indie rock’s established hold on mainstream music, its focus on constant evolution is what makes it such an appealing genre for many musicians. It isn’t a question of how long indie rock is going to stick around, but rather what it’s going to sound like in the months and years to come.