In the recent article "Indie-spensible" [Sept. 24-30 2009, p. 45], I noticed several inaccuracies that were used to make a bigger point about the state of indie music today.
Specifically, suggesting that band like Oasis, Hanson and Bloc Party are signed to major labels shows a lack of research and doesn't take into account the difference between being a major-label band and independently produced albums being distributed by a major label. To say that they are the same thing would be akin to calling Guinness an American beer because it has a large US distributor.
When Oasis were originally searching for record deals, they wanted to go with Creation Records, which at the time was a highly successful independent UK label. Around the same time they were finally signed, Creation was undergoing financial troubles and had to sell to Sony. So while it is fair to say that their albums from 1994-2000 were released as imprints of a major label, that is no longer the case. In fact, since 2000, all Oasis music has been released under what was originally an imprint of Creation -- Big Brother Recordings. Their older albums now have Big Brother catalogue numbers.
Big Brother records has a distribution deal with Sony in the UK, and with Warner Bros./Reprise in the US, though it remains an independent label. In addition to releasing their own material, old Creation standbys Happy Mondays also released some of their more recent music through Big Brother.
(sources: 1, 2 and 3. And while Wiki isn't the be-all end-all of sources, of course, these entries aren't full of conjecture either.)
Is it some tiny label with lo-fi everything? No, but I'm not sure why a band should be faulted for wanting the smoothest distribution process, especially when they move such a high quantity of albums (Just look at the sales from the last album, Dig Out Your Soul.).
You say that indie is a sensibility, one that means doing your own thing and sticking by your ideals. If that's the definition, and if Big Brother is an independent label, then what's the problem here? Too many people bought their album?
In the June 2009 issue of Q Magazine, Noel Gallagher was asked about loyalty, professional and otherwise, and he said, "[Creation founder] Alan McGee would tell you: he thought for six months I'd blow him out because we had bigger offers than Creation's. But I'm a man of my word, professionally."
Now, one can easily label me as an Oasis superfan (and I am, unabashedly), which is why I recognized the major-label assumption as incorrect right away. If one didn't know any better, they would read the list of names provided in the opening paragraph of your article and take it as fact.
But what about the bands I only like but don't know a lot about? Or ones I have no strong feelings for either way? I did a little further research.
Bloc Party, while they do have (again) distribution through Atlantic, their record company is the independent Wichita Recordings. And though I do not know what the criteria is for this award, their album Silent Alarm was given the 2006 PLUG 'Indie Album of the Year' award. (source)
Hanson, meanwhile, are on the independent 3CG Records. While they did begin their career on a major label, they left in 2003. Their distributor in the UK is another independent label, Cooking Vinyl. (source)
So if you want to quibble about major label distributors and say that makes a band ineligible for the 'indie' blessing, fine. We all draw the line in different ways. Saying that Hanson is not 'indie,' however, shows a major lack of research.
Also, I'm confused as to why you would refer to The Shins as having sold out. For most of their career, they were on Sub Pop records, and now are on the label Aural Apothecary. I don't quite understand the attitude that a band has to be only known by a few in order to be considered indie. If being recognized was besides the point, why would anyone want a record deal in the first place? If a band is creating just for the sake of creating, then why venture out of the garage/basement? Why is it so distasteful to some music fans that a band might want to succeed and go beyond only making ends meet?
As far as the subject of the article, The Most Serene Republic: What sort of face are we presenting to them as a city if the feature in the popular weekly essentially says, "Hey guys, we think you're great, but if you continue on this path to success, we'll have call you sell-outs. Have a great show!" I don't know that this was the intent of the article, but it certainly came across that way.
I agree that the term "indie" doesn't necessarily mean what it used to, but as far as I know (and I could be wrong, I haven't been to Myspace in quite awhile), Myspace doesn't have one option for "indie" and one option for "independent label." Because anything can be released on an independent label. This all could be a matter of bands clicking the best box out of the options given. Fault Myspace, not them. If you had your own label, but were distributed by a larger company, who would you show your allegiance to?
Feeling passionate about a certain era and genre of music is a great thing, and we all have our opinions on "the rules" of the music business. It is a debate probably as old as the music business itself. However, a dismissive attitude mixed with poor research shouldn't be the way to go about it. Success isn't a bad thing. Having your own label and asking for help getting it out there isn't a bad thing. Disagree? Well, all right. Next time, use better examples.
(This was an email sent to both the author of the article and the editor of The Inlander. I am a near-weekly reader of The Inlander, and while I do have the occasional passing complaint about their content, they're still a worthwhile publication and of great value to Spokane. However, for obvious reasons, I couldn't let this last inaccuracy go unnoticed.)