The Lumineers, who are currently getting booked almost everywhere in the wake of their Grammy noms for Best New Artist and Best Americana Album, are one of the stronger examples of the path many young artists are now taking from DIY to indie team building to indie label signing to the top of the charts. Their decision to move from Brooklyn to Denver sounds like it was somewhat haphazard but ultimately allowed them to find their path to success without going through the gatekeepers who dominated much of the late 20th Century.
Earlier this month Jon Pareles, writing for The New York Times, sketched out the tale of two young men from New Jersey who moved to Brooklyn to seek fame and fortune as a folksy duo and then found that fame and fortune by relocating to Denver and building from there.
Though the path from Denver to fame probably seems new to some, its current form can be traced back to the 1980s, when musicians like my friends and friends of friends in North Carolina helped create what became known as "indie rock."
Starting with DIY approaches, artists and their friends and family became business people and spawned indie labels, developing professional skills and building businesses such as Merge Records, some of which continue today.
The Lumineers perform "Darlene" from the balcony of Denver's Bluebird Theater on Saturday, May 12, 2012.
"Mr. Schultz was initially suspicious. 'People would come up, they’d give you feedback or talk to you about what you were doing...I was just so used to having my guard up, and someone wanting something if they were going to be that nice. I didn’t understand the social norms."
But somehow they managed to adjust to the locals who helped them build from a 2 man DIY unit to a 3 person emerging act (with cellist and singer Neyla Pekarek) to a world touring indie powerhouse with additional players (bassist Ben Wahamaki and multi-instrumentalist Stelth Ulvang).
According to this quick take on "Ho Hey", their signature song was written in Brooklyn as they were busily establishing themselves as failures. As they told Pareles, they moved to Denver to rid themselves of distractions and lower their bills.
From Denver Immigrants to International Stars
They found themselves in a supportive community where they self-released an EP and then began a process of leaving DIY behind while staying indie. This process included signed a management deal with Onto Entertainment who advanced the funds to cut their first full-length album.
The release of "Ho Hey" was followed by their signing to Dualtone Records who released their album "The Lumineers." And thus, after years of hard work, they embarked on what is likely to be more years of hard work including tv appearances, increased touring, a Billboard cover (see above thumbnail) and their first Grammy nominations.
It's an interesting tale of failure leading to success based on a move to a community that strongly embraced them as you can see from the above video of a local performance that occurred the month after the April 2012 release of "The Lumineers."
There are still many good reasons for artists to move to big cities, if they're not already in one, and for an extremely small number there are still good reasons to sign with a major label.
However, for an increasing number of artists, the indie route is no longer second best and, no, it's not your daddy's indie rock. But it is the route that defined indie rock before the phrase became locked into an aesthetic intertwined with an ideology.
Though I briefly maintained that I was giving up the term "indie," I recognize it's just too useful to let go. Instead I'm going to ignore archaic uses of the term and focus on its current use to cover a wide range of acts that are foregoing major label contracts in order to make their own way whether by maintaining a hardcore DIY approach or learning to work with others in order to achieve one's goals.
- Dualtone: A Small Label Makes Big Moves By Taking It Slow
- A Fiendish Conversation with Lumineers Producer Ryan Hadlock
- The Major "Exposure" Of Macklemore And The Myth Of The Indie Artist