The Difference Between Alternative Music and Indie Rock

difference between alternative music and indie rock

Alternative music artists who are signed with an independent label tend to fare much better financially from their releases compared to those signed to major labels. This difference lies in how likely an indie band is to make money off its releases compared to if they had signed with one.


Alternative music and indie rock are two genres of music that differ significantly from mainstream rock and pop, defined by distinct styles and origins – though both terms can often be used interchangeably.

Alternative music refers to any style that does not adhere to mainstream musical standards. Usually it does not follow a rigid formula for its production, which allows musicians to explore various sounds and emotions without fear of becoming “mainstream.”

Alternative is defined in its broadest sense as anything that differs from mainstream culture; however, over the years its meaning has expanded significantly and now refers to anything nonconforming. Unfortunately for artists labelled alternative by mainstream music industries they may get overlooked as “different.”

Throughout the ’90s, various subgenres of rock music emerged; among these was indie rock – an emerging sub-genre marked by its DIY spirit and eclectic combination of musical genres.

Indie rock stands out as being unique because its melodies frequently combine with emotive themes, such as love, anger or betrayal.

Indie rock tends to utilize an extensive repertoire of vocals and guitars, enabling a singer to explore a range of emotions even without possessing American Idol-level talent.

Indie rock remains an accessible genre that remains rooted in DIY ideals and an eclectic combination of musical styles, while remaining relatively noncommercial, enabling bands to remain independent while exploring their interests freely.


Alternative music’s roots can be traced back to the 1970s, with punk rock’s rise. Bands started taking on various styles at this time and some groups even signed with major record labels; this eventually gave rise to various genres including alt-rock.

The initial alternative rock bands, often referred to as post-punk, had a profound impact on music history – such as The Smiths, Radiohead and Morrissey.

These artists were heavily influenced by punk music, while still creating unique sounds of their own. Some had an acoustic-distorted style while others could produce melodic tunes.

Although this genre was immensely popular during the 80s, its appeal began to wane in the 90s as mainstream music became more commercialized and bands could more easily get their music played on radio stations.

However, some alternative artists remained underground and shied away from mainstream success – which led to the indie movement’s growth. These musicians are recognized for their creative musical expression and thus classified as alternative.

Today, many indie rock bands have emerged as popular and influential acts. Some artists have been around for an extended period while others have gained prominence through their distinctive music style.

These bands combine traditional music with modern sounds to produce something quite distinct from your average alternative music group, creating something truly memorable that stands out. Their unique sound has earned them widespread praise among their listeners – contributing significantly to their success within the music industry.


Alternative music can be an ambiguous term to those unfamiliar with its definition, as its definition can include many distinct subgenres ranging from alternative rock and alt-pop to folktronica, rockabilly, jazz blues and garage.

Alternative rock has its roots in the 1960s and 70s punk rock movement, wherein DIY ethos meets catchy melodies to produce alternative rock. This bred an entirely new genre known as alternative rock which encompasses DIY energy with catchy melodies.

Nirvana brought alternative rock back into fashion during the 1990s through their unique brand of grunge music, with loud guitar riffs combined with Kurt Cobain’s gritty vocals creating a sound more in keeping with contemporary culture.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” was an outstanding example of alternative music with lyrics that addressed social issues and was an instantaneous hit, giving alternative music its first big break on mainstream radio.

Alternative music stands out from mainstream music by featuring unusual and innovative musical structures that stand out. This contrasts sharply with mainstream songs that rely heavily on similar tunes and sounds for decades on end.

Alternative music often sends provocative or subversive messages through its lyrics and tone, such as Vampire Weekend’s “Diane Young,” which references politicians and political leaders in its fast-paced, distorted anthem form.

Alternative music has long been a favorite genre among creatives, as it helps set the perfect atmosphere for their projects and separate themselves from competition. Indeed, alternative artists typically experience higher rates of success when licensing their songs for commercials or other uses.


Alternative music is a musical genre that stands in opposition to mainstream culture and commercialism. It traces its roots back to punk rock in the 80s, which helped define it as an independent subgenre. While alternative music covers various styles, each subgenre also has its own sound and aesthetic signatures.

Early alternative bands typically performed in small clubs and recorded for independent labels before spreading their fame through word of mouth. Bands from this era generally stood outside of mainstream music scenes and their lyrics typically addressed social issues that needed greater consideration.

As the music industry expanded during the late 80s, many new bands entered the alternative rock scene. This phenomenon can be largely attributed to the success of Nirvana in 1991 which introduced alternative music to new audiences while creating a vibrant underground music scene that eventually led to hundreds of alternative rock acts signing major label contracts.

Alternative genre music tends to be guitar-driven and heavily influenced by 1970s and 80s rockers, often using jangly or distorted guitars with songs often featuring dark lyrics with emotional themes.

Early influences for punk rock include 1960s psychedelia, folk rock, and the punk movement; well-known bands include R.E.M., The Feelies, Violent Femmes and Paisley Underground.

Alternative music emerged in local scenes across both America and Britain, with Boston, Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York being at the epicenters. Furthermore, numerous provincial American towns and college towns provided fertile ground for this musical revolution.

Signing with a label

Signing with a label can be an exciting part of pursuing a career in music. It can help you create a better sound and reach a wider audience, but it is crucial that you choose one that suits you and your musical goals.

Alternative rock is a subgenre of rock music that first emerged during the 1990s as an alternative to mainstream rock bands of that era.

This genre is considered more eclectic, original and challenging than most mainstream popular music genres; often distributed through independent labels instead of major ones.

Music spans across a variety of subgenres that can be found worldwide, from alt-rock and alt-pop to garage alternative, punk rock, grunge, new wave and beyond.

Finding a record label should depend on your goals and genre of music you are creating. Some artists may prefer major label security while others might benefit more from indie labels that give them more freedom to craft their own sound.

Major labels boast teams of experts to assist with marketing, promotions, playlisting and radio tracking. Furthermore, these labels boast top-of-the-line studios and producers that can coach you on songwriting and composition.

Indie music may still be relatively young, yet its influence can already be felt throughout the music industry. One notable indie record to achieve significant sales success was Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch EP.

Rock music has long had an influence on modern music industry; bands such as The Strokes and Linkin Park are responsible for helping rock become an inherently mainstream genre with huge followings that has made its mark across mainstream media platforms.