Chair and Microphone, vol. 1Now on to day three of our “Intro to Indie Music” segment here at The Blah Blah!  I hope you’ve been enjoying the posts and even learning something while having fun.

If you’re just tuning in, I’m in the beginning of a couple weeks’ long exploration into what makes indie music “indie.”  Is it the instruments?  The attitude?  The often strange names of bands?  The faded jeans?  Or something much more… sinister?

Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts and/or questions.  Indie music is hard to define, so give me some feedback.

After I discovered indie music in general (read more on that here and here), I found out that Sufjan Stevens was a Christian.  I had been listening a lot to the song “Chicago” and told a friend of mine, also a fan of Sufjan, “I keep listening to that song and get so encouraged every time; he’s gotta be a Christian or something!”  My friend, Benjamin, just looked at me and said, “Uh, yeah, he is.”

From there, he introduced me to mewithoutYou, Colour Revolt, Page France, and Anathallo.  I delved into those groups and found others.  I showed him Denison Witmer, The Listening, The Psalters, and The Violet Burning.

So if you’re reading this, Benjamin, thanks for helping my music collection suck a lot less.  You will forever be the king of music, but I can fake it now thanks to you.

Now for the hard stuff.  What makes indie music “indie?” Two days ago I gave you #1 and yesterday I gave you #2, so today, say “hi” to #3…

Qualifications of Indie Music
1) It must be on an independent label
2) It’s about the music
3) Lo-fi good, over-production bad

In the world of indie, a lo-fi sound is considered really good while an over-produced sound is really bad.  This idea of indie music having a lo-fi sound is really a carry-over from the days of yore (wow, I never, ever thought I’d use that phrase) when a hi-fi sound was hi-expense and your average upstart band couldn’t make an over-produced sound without an over-padded budget.  With the ease and inexpense of modern computer recording / production equipment, this distinction is more arbitrary.  You can have an over-produced indie album, but that’s definitely not the norm.  Previously, this was out of the reality of recording expenses, but now it’s more out of a choice to promote a certain style and attitude in music.

To indie fans, an over-produced sound says, “I’m a popular band with major label support, radio play, and desires for stardom, and I need all this extra production because I’m really not that great at music,” while a lo-fi sound says, “I’m into the music for it’s own sake, and I just want to play it for people, regardless of whether I get famous or not, and I’m good enough to make good music without the help of computers.”

A lo-fi recording doesn’t have to be perfect.  Your voice might crack.  Your guitar strings might buzz.  Your bass might sound flat and crunchy.  You might get an echo in the background.  But that’s all part of the draw to it.  It’s not a perfect sound, just like we’re not perfect people.  It’s a real sound, full of flaws and imperfections.  It’s a raw sound, before all the life and realness of it has been sucked out in the ovens of over-production.

With a real strong distaste for over-production, indie guys hold up a lo-fi sound proudly, as if by imperfect recordings they can declare to the world that they are the true bearers of the Music that the major labels are trying to crush.  Anything that’s over-produced is treated with skepticism.  If it’s over-produced, then the group is obviously catering to the record labels, and they obviously aren’t very good musicians and need to cover it up with glitter.

I love a raw, lo-fi sound, but I admit it’s kind of a stupid idea that if you’re not lo-fi you must be a sellout.

For today’s MP3s, check out 2 songs by Ben Pasley from the Chair and Microphone series:
Answer Me
Dead Man

Chair and Microphone is a series put out by Enter the Worship Circle which tries to capture the realness and rawness of worship music, espcially by exploring the Psalms. From Enter the Worship Circle’s website:

One instrument and one voice. Recorded “in one pass” this recording bleeds out the heart of Ben Pasley in conversation with God. There is compliment and complaint, loving anthem and stiff argument – it is both polite and brutal. 

I actually like Volume 2 with Aaron Strumpel better (check out my post here), but my recordings from Ben Pasley are better quality, so I thought you’d enjoy that (cuz who likes a lo-fi sound, you know).

I first heard “Answer Me” about a year ago and loved the raw sound of it.  No extra production.  No glitter.  No multiple recordings.  Only one microphone, one guitar, and one voice.  “Dead Man” is a song Ben recorded spontaneously; he doesn’t even remember the chords he played.  You can’t fake that with computers.

I realize these recordings of Ben Pasley are actually a very good sound, considering the low production values, and they’re not as lo-fi as some of the stuff I could have put up, but the theory behind the Chair and Microphone series demonstrates the raw, lo-fi, anti-production ideals of indie music better than anything else I have.  With Chair and Microphone, the whole idea is to make a raw, real, un-touched-up sound.  They have the capability to produce an over-produced sound, but they go for low production on purpose.

Most indie bands of today could also put out a really good, hi-fi, over-produced sound, but they go for the realness of low production on purpose.

With that said, come back again tomorrow for more on indie music.

Ben Pasley Official Links
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