Monday, November 12, 2007

The iTunes Side of Indie

iTunes semi-recently started a playlist series called "The List," where a list of 20-or-so-songs are compiled that represent a theme. Past themes have been sports, money, and summer. Currently, the list's theme is "Independent Artists." The accompanying description:
Need a break from the onslaught of mainstream pop music? iTunes has whipped up a nice batch of indie pop/rock/noise/etc....drawing from artists who are just on the precipice of going huge, off the radar, or are just plain awesome. Take a big bite out of Band of Horses classic rock revisionism! Witness the preppie posturing and African highlife/indie pop hybrid of Vampire Weekend! Behold the power of White Williams minimal glam/electro pop! Dare to sing with the Fiery Furnaces elaborate wording! The List, as they say, goes on and on.
The playlist goes on to include such "obscure" and "off the radar" artists as Spoon, Iron & Wine, Animal Collective and Stars. If these iTunes folks paid an ounce of attention to blogs, or music periodicals, they would realize that these bands are no longer "on the precipice" of success. They are indie musicians, yes, but they are the mainstream indie musicians. These are the indie musicians that are everywhere, that could very well get radio play if only the radio weren't a dying creature. These are some of the most popular bands on sites such as, where many true-blue music fans flock. Not to sound like a music snob (and I can tell I am coming off that way, so my apologies), but I would appreciate it if companies like iTunes stopped acting like the discoverers of indie, "obscure" music.
When iTunes used Feist's "1234" for their new Nano ad, the song shot up the online charts. It became known, at least from what I heard at school and from friends who hadn't heard it before, "that iPod song." While I think it is great that Feist should get so much success (she by-all-means deserves it), it irks me when a song becomes known by the ad in which it appears. I don't want to think of a product when I am listening to a song, I want to think of my own, special, personal connotation. The same thing happened with Badly Drawn Boy's "All Possibilities" (Campbell's Soup) and Of Montreal's "Wrath Pinned to the Mist and Other Games" (which was annoyingly butchered and re-worded for Outback Steakhouse).
I do not oppose artists selling their music for advertisements, on the contrary I think it is a natural checkpoint of success for emerging artists, but I do not like when a band is pinned as "emerging" simply because never before had their song been playing in the back of a Volkswagen commercial. Feist is not a new singer, Spoon is not "on the precipice" of success, and Iron & Wine is not "off the radar" (unless by "radar" you mean Top 40 charts, in which case, I guess). Each of those artists is established, respected and quite successful in the music world, if not in the music business, by which I mean Top 40 charts, and ability to sell dolls of their likeness (actually, Wilco does...).
Anyway. By all means a great playlist, iTunes really irks me how it labels the bands on their "Independent Artist" list as breaking. "Just plain awesome?" Yeah in most of their cases. "Off the radar?" Not quite...


Sarah said...

Feist's version of "1234" is actually a cover. Sally Seltman (New Buffalo) wrote the melody and lyrics and suggested that Feist cover it. To be fair, Sally says that the song was inspired by Feist's "Let It Die" record, but I don't think she's gotten enough recognition.

Nina said...

interesting, i didn't know that. thanks! :)

Janet said...

I didn't know that about Feist either. I have to be honest, I'm having a hell of a time finding new music to get excited about these days. I think you hit the nail on the head with the indie classification though. It's like alternative a few years ago. Suddenly anything and everything was wrongfully lumped into that category, too. I need some new music advice, pronto.

Any suggestions?

Nina said...

i just posted a mix on my most recent post ("Nature Appreciation") so try checking those out :)