Column: Mainstream music drowns out indie alternatives

Chris Duncan

After The Strokes and Arcade Fire sold millions of albums in the early 2000s, the indie genre’s fan base has become one of the largest and most dedicated in music. To capitalize, labels brought pop influences into the mix, resulting in even larger sales and a diversion from the genre’s roots.

Artists from all genres have adjusted their sounds to appeal to a larger audience — Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran are just a couple of examples of musicians who forgo their influences for a more profitable album. Many music lovers have chosen to avoid the mainstream all together, seeking out lesser-known acts to become their newest favorite band.

UT music librarian and curator David Hunter said mainstream is a term used to describe music an artist’s label writes and produces. The label intends to
maximize profits and take advantage of people who haven’t fully decided on one type of music. Even if people have set their preferred tastes, Hunter said it is still difficult to avoid manufactured songs.

“People have the buying power, but they don’t always have the brain power,” Hunter said. “A lot of smaller labels have been bought up by larger parent companies, meaning that all genres are dominated by artists associated with major labels. Even with the help of services such as Spotify or Pandora, finding that gem amongst the sea of clutter can be difficult.”

Hunter said although some songs might be critically acclaimed, music is still a matter of taste. A certain song shouldn’t be avoided just because of who created it.

“Personally, I don’t like Bob Dylan,” Hunter said. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t respect his music. I also don’t enjoy music that removes an artist’s skill. But consciously avoiding mainstream music just because it came from a major label isn’t a good practice.”

Mikey Wheeler, general manager of Austin music venue Parish, said focusing on local acts helps ease the process of finding exciting music to listen to. He said these acts are usually recently formed and tend to write without the pressures of a record label.

“Try searching for a group in Austin within a genre you might like,” Wheeler said. “The indie rock scene is huge here, so there’s likely a band you could find there that you
connect with. Going to smaller local concerts is another great way to discover new acts at a pretty low cost.”

Electrical engineering sophomore Ryan Rock said the thrill of discovery makes finding new music worth someone’s time.

“I want to hear something cool I haven’t already listened to,” Rock said. “And seeing as how mainstream music is repeated a lot and commoditized a lot, I have to seek out
non-mainstream songs.”

Other students disagree with this counterculture trend. Chemical engineering freshman Atul Nayak said if popular music fits someone’s tastes, there’s no need to discover something different from their usual choice.

“Everyone has their own taste in music,” Nayak said. “If that lines up with mainstream pop, then it’s fine if someone doesn’t go looking for their own music. Why go looking for newer or lesser known artists when everything you like is popular?”

Music takes won a different role in every individual’s life, but Hunter said he recommends one simple rule of thumb when selecting a favorite song.

“For each person, it’s totally different,” Hunter said. “And that’s fine. So much goes into the question of taste. Just make sure you enjoy what you listen to.”