Let's see what the cool kids are lining their merch tables with.
Independent bands, huh? Well, perhaps we should begin by collectively admitting that the definition of independent is a little murky these days. People often mention bands like the Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse, The Strokes, Death Cab for Cutie, Franz Ferdinand, Neutral Milk Hotel and even Oasis as being independent. What - you haven't heard of any of those? Oh god, where have you been? Living under a rock I presume.
No, I'm just kidding. Chances are good that you've at least heard of most of those even if you haven't listened to their music (who cares about snooty hipster indie music anyway). So yeah, I guess if you don't have a major label contract or if at least some facet of your band operation is completely DIY, you could be considered independent. It seems like fewer artists are really relying on record deals anymore anyway (strange, I thought vinyl was resurging). Then there's also a difference between being independent and the genre classification known as indie. We could be here all day. Let's not even go there.
So yeah... whatever. We'll just pick out some of the cool kids that have done some cool things and we won't worry too much about consistency or indie cred. If you think of some bands worth mentioning, leave a comment later and we'll maybe work those in next time. Maybe. Oh yeah, and you can check out the merch of the bands I mentioned earlier. What? I'm not lazy.
Pomplamoose popularized the "video song", which is kind of a permutation of the music video. With video songs, there is never any lip-syncing or motion-syncing. If you hear the voice or instrument in the mix, you see it onscreen at some point. It's confusing to explain (why do I even try?), but if you were to watch one of their videos, you would understand the concept and appeal (actually those videos are outright addicting). The video song has since been emulated by many other musicians and bands. Copycats.
As for their merch, well, it's mostly made up of their music releases, but they also have organic T-shirts (yes, you heard right; organic), posters, and perhaps most interesting of all is the handmade organic grapefruit soap made by Jack Conte's sister. Now that's indie cred.
2. I Fight Dragons
So I Fight Dragons' shtick is that their music, merch and website are 8bit video game themed. So basically their music contains classic video game style sounds alongside real instruments. Otherwise they just play catchy rock essentially. How could a band like that not have a few interesting merch items, right?
Wrong. Their merch sucks. No, I'm just kidding.
They've got CDs, T-shirts, wristbands, buttons, posters and even a USB dog tag that contains their full discography. I've heard people say that they don't really care for the USB sticks, but maybe when it's as cool as this it's a different story altogether.
3. They Might Be Giants
Okay, this probably isn't even fair, because not only is this experimental duo ridiculously prolific, they've also been around a while. At various points, TMBG has employed a unique service called dial-a-song that allowed callers to listen to a new song, alternate take or work-in-progress. They've done some really interesting things throughout their career, so their creativity has gone beyond the confines of their music.
On their store, they have a lot of apparel, from various T-shirt designs, sweatshirts, hats, to jackets and kids shirts too. They also have stickers, guitar picks, travel mugs, magnets, mouse pads, tote bags, postcards, and vinyl records too (see, I was right about the vinyl). Some of the more interesting items they carry are air fresheners, playing cards, and 8bit shoelaces. Huh. Shoelaces. Interesting.
4. Jonathan Coulton
I guess Jonathan Coulton isn't really small time anymore (nor is he a band unto himself), but when he first got started he was spending a lot of time just chatting on MySpace with his fans (oh god, can you imagine?) and making all of these funny and quirky novelty tunes that seemed to strike a chord with people (see what I did there?). "Weird Al" Yankovic has made a long-lasting career out of it, so what are you staring at?
So I guess the cool part about his merch is that, yeah, he's got CDs and digital downloads and T-shirts and all that stuff, but he's also got karaoke versions of a lot of songs. If that didn't grab your attention, his merch offering also includes fan-made items like coloring books, card games and album-themed art books.
Wow, that's awesome having your fans do all the work on your behalf. Why didn't you think of that? Seems like those hours on MySpace weren't wasted.
5. David Nevue
David Nevue plays compelling solo piano pieces. It kind of sounds boring, but you'd probably fly out of your pants if you were to listen to him. I don't know if that's an expression; I just made it up.
If his 14 CD discography wasn't impressive enough, one of his big sellers, at it turns out, is sheet music. If you play interesting atmospheric music or music that is technically complicated, this might be an angle to explore. It does work well for piano, because pianists are usually real musician that actually read standard notation. Of course, you might have to pay someone to get the transcriptions done, but it looks like it paid off for Nevue.
Oh, but that's not all. Nevue also started The Music Biz Academy and wrote the book, How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet. This guy is hardcore.
What cool merch have you bought from independent bands? Leave a comment before you jet.
Cover image by Kodamakitty