This post was originally written in February of 2012 right after I’d gotten myself into self publishing. I decide not to publish it because it felt like I’d gotten on a soapbox, and I didn’t like how it sounded like I was ranting into the wind. Now, more than two years later, there’s been some progress made in attitudes — though not as much as I’d hoped for — and my thoughts don’t seem as out of line.
As you read the post I quote some numbers from indie musicians. at the bottom of the post, I have some updates that may or may not be interesting to you, but all the same I think it’s important to be accurate given all the time that has lapsed from between writing and publishing this piece.
I’ve found there is a lot of debate — and sometimes hostility — over the indie writing and publishing movement. While I realize we’re living in the midst of sweeping change, I still find the attitude confusing and, at times, downright alarming. Especially when it comes from other writers. I mean, aren’t we all supposed to be artists who support art, regardless if it’s exactly what we would produce or the way we would produce it?
No one who slams indie writing would condemn all indie music. No one would begrudge a band that wants to play smaller venues or those who eventually gather a following and go on to be discovered by a larger audience. So, why is there a different set of rules for writers?
I’ve heard all the concerns and, frankly, they annoy me. The, “Well, there’s going to be a lot of crappy books” and the “With so many books how will I ever find the ones I’d like to read?” and the “What about the writers who paid their dues, taking time and effort to gain the attention of agents and a publisher?”
It seems to me that this last statement is at the heart of where the hostility comes from. But, honestly, why should that matter? Every writer today has the ability to make their own choices. Let’s again use the music metaphor, because it’s so relevant.
Whether you like her music or not, we’d probably all agree Madonna is a huge music megastar. She performed at the Superbowl this year and what an incredible show that was! She’s also playing in Paris this summer and from a quick search on the Internet, I find that tickets are priced at $238 and $471. That’s steep and outside of my personal budget, however, so I’m left to watch her half-time performance on a big screen TV, surrounded by commercials, wishing I was there.
Now on the other end of the spectrum is A Great Big Pile of Leaves, a new-ish indie band that I have a huge crush on. Huge. About a month back, I posted a video of their song “Alligator Bop” right here. On YouTube this song has been viewed somewhere in the neighborhood of 43,000 times over the past year, which is decent but no where close to the 6.7 million times Madonna’s half time show has been watched over the past two weeks. For what it’s worth, I’ve viewed Alligator Bop on YouTube at least twenty times and never watched the halftime show except when it was, y’know, halftime.
My point is this: that as much as I enjoyed Madonna’s performance, I enjoy “Alligator Bop” more. I’m probably in a minority, the disparity in the numbers alone would support that claim, but should I care? Or should the band care? And do you suppose Madonna has spent one minute of her life complaining about A Great Big Pile of Leaves, or any other indie band for that matter?
So, you might be wondering, what does this have to do with writing? Well, I’ve read a lot of indie books over the past six months and think the overly harsh criticism of these books comes from people who haven’t read many of them. If any at all. Make no mistake, I’m not saying all of them are great, or even that they are all good, but enough of them are that I’ll continue buying and reading them.
If I’m honest, price comes into a play a little bit. I’m a voracious reader, so ten books at $1.99 versus one book at $19.99 (yeah, I know the math is rough and a little off) is appealing. But, let’s look at the Madonna concert example. One concert at $278 versus several concerts at $27.80. It’s easy to see how that price could play a part in someone’s decision. Still, I don’t want to get stuck on the money issue, because while it’s a part of the reason, it’s not all of it.
Recently, I found this definition of indie music and it again translates to my view of writing and why I’ve loved some indie books.
Allmusic identifies indie rock as including a number of styles that are: “too sensitive and melancholy; too soft and delicate; too dreamy and hypnotic; too personal and intimately revealing in its lyrics; too low-fidelity and low-budget in its production; too angular in its melodies and riffs; too raw, skronky and abrasive, wrapped in too many sheets of guitar noise; too oblique and fractured in its song structures; too influenced by experimental or otherwise unpopular musical styles.”
Q: And what’s wrong with all of that? Especially if you like soft and delicate or angular or oblique, not too mention skronky.
A: Not a damn thing.
Which brings me to the band for today’s post–BTW, they’re not in the least bit skronky– Young the Giant. Maybe you’ve heard of them, maybe you haven’t. They’ve been playing together since they were in high school in 2004. I heard their song “Cough Syrup” on one of the niche radio stations on Sirius and came home to look up the video on YouTube. This video has had 2.4 million views in the last seven months and while that’s not comparable to Madonna’s rock star exposure, it’s not too shabby either. Who knows if they were as good in 2004 when they started out? Certainly they weren’t as popular, and does that really matter today? Even if they weren’t any good at the beginning (and I find that unlikely) but even if they weren’t, then they have grown artistically and polished up their performance and have become better musicians. This is where they are now.
I hope you’ll take a minute or two (more) to watch this video, and then go back and watch A Great Big Pile of Leaves, too, because the production on these videos is cool, and the songs are incredible. Even if it’s not your style, can you really say it’s unprofessional crap? Maybe you will. But I’d have to disagree.
I realize my views (and this post) probably won’t change many minds. Most people find that hard to do. Indie writers who read this will pump their fists and scream, “Oh yeah, rock on.” Those who aren’t into indie writing will be baffled, or apathetic, or angry.
But, maybe a few will get the point I’m trying to make.
Maybe… if someone enjoys the music by either of these indie bands, they’ll understand in their heart of hearts exactly what is redeeming about indie writing.
Since this post was written,
Young the Giant was just at the beginning of their breakout. This video now has more than 13 million views.
I never made it back to the original Madonna video. There are now more than four pages of videos from her halftime show. The biggest one at the top of the first page shows 1.3 million views and it looks like there was a fracas over the rights.
A Great Big Pile of Leaves has 87,955 +1. I watched their video again and I still think it’s awfully catchy.