By Bailey Mount Editor-in-Chief
Being a liberal arts major, I encounter a lot of creative types. I find myself surrounded by student musicians and filmmakers. I have the opportunity to be on sets. I get to be around small-scale concert shoots. What I notice is usually the same ten people helping out in multiple projects, often passion-based or GoFundMe supported. There’s no hope of reaching a wide audience. But that’s all a part of independent, or “indie,” culture.
The indie scene fosters a sense of camaraderie and community. There’s a closeness, a sort of intimacy that simply isn’t found in mainstream content production. Independent creators support one another. They hype each other’s projects up and view each other not as competition, but as collaborators.
Whether it’s in the music or the filmmaking industry, there’s a gritty charm to independent content that can’t be captured in its commercial counterpart. Independent content is something that either doesn’t receive an initial wide release or necessarily garner immediate mainstream attention. Think “The Florida Project” or the musical stylings of Arctic Monkeys.
Entertainment in this genre is more grassroots, creators are usually heavily-invested in both the process and the project itself. There’s more creative freedom without the pressure to please a distributor. Content is passed on through word-of-mouth.
That’s where the charm comes in. Most of us aren’t superheroes, spies or people living lives that warrant one too many bad sequels. Our lives are pretty boring and low-budget. We use movies like “Justice League” or Camila Cabello’s latest bop to escape them for a while.
Indie entertainment takes the mundane and makes it more magical than it really is. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” takes a standard murder story and turns it into a mother’s valiant struggle for justice in an apathetic town. Hozier’s lyrics create stories imbued with intricate imagery and language not noticed in an initial listen.
There’s more to unpack in independent entertainment. It’s harder to digest than commercial content - and often more creative.
Independent film is easy to classify. An indie film is produced outside of a major production company. It typically has a small-scale limited release in theaters. If it’s well-received, the release can be expanded nationally or even internationally.
Right now is the best time to be an independent filmmaker. They’re clearly doing something right; five out of the eight Best Picture Oscar contenders this year are indie films. “Get Out” had a budget of $4.5 million and made over $255 million at the box office. “Lady Bird” received a nation-wide theatrical release following its success and is slated to go international this month. What sets their stories apart is the ingenuity. Most of the nominated films feature original screenplays or new takes on common stories. They present something familiar in a new way.
Indie music follows a similar model. Independent artists often produce an album either with a little-known label or by themselves. There’s an aesthetic, however, that makes it harder to pin down than film. It’s hard to argue what exactly makes music indie.
An artist can be indie and still have a commercially successful hit. Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” and Of Monsters and Men’s “Little Talks.” An artist can be classified as indie and still widely known - Florence + the Machine, Lana del Ray and Lorde. It’s the lyrical content and the overall sound of the artist, marketed in a way that is otherwise inaccessible to a wide-scale audience normally exposed to pop and hip-hop, that makes them indie.
Look, Nirvana can even be argued to be an indie group. Now an international pop culture icon, the band started off in the blooming Seattle grunge scene.You can recognize Kurt Cobain’s voice, but it’s the lyrical style and the themes addressed in the music that makes it exclusive to a smaller group. It connects strongly with a smaller group of people. Ed Sheeran connects on a superficial level with a larger group of people.
When it really comes down to it, the difference between indie and commercial entertainment is the emotion. There’s a love and care put into this genre that seems largely missed by mainstream production. To independent content creators, their project is their passion, not their profit. They focus on the romanticism found in reality. Commercial content creators just capitalize on something already proven to be popular.