Two of the top ten selling albums last week are on independent labels. I don't have any stats, but I would assume that is a pretty rare occurrence. Spoon's "Transference" debuted at No. 4 this week, and Vampire Weekend's "Contra" dropped a few spots from its No. 1 debut last week (only the 13th indie ever to go No. 1 since the advent of Soundscan) to No. 6.
Is this another sign of the "mainstreaming of indie," or more representative of how far major label record sales have fallen in the past decade, allowing the little guys to catch up? I'm leaning towards the latter — major label record sales can't hold a candle what they were just 10 years ago.
The top selling album of '09, Taylor Swift's “Fearless,” has sold 2.4 million copies, less than half of what a hit album sold in 2000. That reflects the larger trend in record sales, which have declined 45 percent since 2000, according to the NY Times.
But, music fans of the indie persuasion are still buying music, because, this is gonna sound arrogant, they appreciate and value the craftsmanship and artistry more than the mainstream zombies downloading the majority of their tunes, and buying the god-forsaken Susan Boyle album in droves.
As I'm writing this, E! is spraying inane chatter all over the red carpet pre-Grammy Awards. (What are the Grammys?)
Should an album-buying, music-obsessing record nerd like myself be the prime target of a music awards show (glorified recording-industry commercial, back-patting contest)? If the teens and mainstream listening public are buying enough fewer albums that indie labels are creeping into the top ten with rising frequency, why pander to the fading purchasing power of the pop demographic? The awards are, of course, not awarded for the quality of the actual music but for the size of the celebrity receiving each award (the abominable yet ubiquitous Black Eyed Peas received several nominations). Then again, fans of Spoon and the indie/alternative canon (supposedly) don't really care about gold-painted statues with a history void of any credibility, and the awards show would fade into even further obscurity if it deviates from its current path of comedic irrelevancy.
Basically, the Grammys are fucked. The music it trumpets no longer sells like it used to, and the underground music that has always had the most artistic integrity is slowly eating up more of the sales pie and would shun the awards if it halfheartedly and (now) belatedly tried to embrace it.
Note: The upcoming cover story for Paste Magazine is an essay entitled "Indie is Dead." I haven't read it yet, and don't know what the argument is going to be, but my interest is piqued.