Kailee Parsons discusses the increase of independent artists creating and producing music at home
Haley Blais, Whitney Ballen, and Sidney Gish
Growing up in Seattle, I spent the weekends of my formative teenage years at the Vera Project, an all-ages concert venue with the aim of providing young people access to live music. It was volunteer-run. Its dark walls were covered in band posters, framed merchandise, hand-painted designs, and a magazine rack full of zines from the nineties that always fascinated me. Most importantly, it was cheap, so for the low price of five to ten dollars, we could go along to hear whoever was brave enough to step on stage. We always hoped to discover something new and enchanting. Barring this, we hoped for someone hilariously bad, and I can think of few nights that failed to deliver on at least one of these dreams. Though not all the bands were local, most of them were, and almost all of them were fairly unknown. They were garage bands, lo-fi (wherein imperfections in the sound quality may be considered an aesthetic choice), with albums produced independently on the internet. Recently, most of these might be labeled ‘bedroom pop’.
The term is exactly what it sounds like: bedroom pop artists create and produce music independently in their bedrooms rather than in a professional studio. The artists are usually, though not exclusively, young, tech-savvy, and creative, and quite a few of them are female. Though their voices are better than mine, I fit otherwise into this demographic, and so I’m interested in hearing from artists who sound, at least lyrically, like me.
The genre of bedroom pop has become increasingly possible as its creation has become increasingly accessible. Like it or not, the world is moving online, a fact that should be evidenced by this year’s Zoom takeover. With apps such as GarageBand, YouTube, and SoundCloud, essentially every part of the creating and sharing process is reachable from one’s bedroom. Because of this, virtually anyone can make music, which has opened up a new world. It is talent alone, or at least “enjoyability”, that controls an artist’s popularity, without the need for major labels or producers.
Although the genre of bedroom pop is just what it says it is, it is not easily defined. It includes immensely popular names such as Rex Orange County and Billie Eilish, just as it includes smaller local bands that often play at the Vera Project. Despite varying levels of popularity, there is nothing to say that one artist is better than another. Art is subjective, and there is beauty in that diversity.
It is this diversity that makes bedroom pop such a frustrating term. Since it’s more about how the music is made rather than the kind of sound it produces, and because new technology means that the sound is not necessarily lo-fi (the quality achieved by some YouTubers should teach us this), I begin to wonder if the label means anything, or if it’s as vague and non-descriptive as the term “alternative”, a term that has essentially come to mean “uncategorised” or “not top 40 hits”.
The term is not highly favoured among artists themselves. Not only is it vague, but many believe it also paradoxically limits the perception of their music. Though recorded through amateur means, many artists categorised as amateurs are anything but, and do not want to be confined to such a sound.
This makes sense since one of the most appealing aspects of bedroom pop is the feeling of total freedom, confined only by the limits of imagination. On her album Ed Buys Houses, Sidney Gish hits chopsticks together and bounces a ping pong ball against a wall for percussion. With a few editing tricks, her guitar becomes a bass and her voice becomes a one-woman choir. Another typical feature of bedroom pop is the use of highly personal and specific lyrics, usually focused on themes of adolescence and imbued with a sense of humour. To use Sidney Gish as an example again, she sings not about her love life, but about imposter syndrome, feeling out of place at a party, and wanting to take a high school math class again to boost her failing self-esteem.
The ability to connect online has never been as important as this year, which sees the human race relying on the internet for… well, just about everything. Along with going to class, attending a society meeting, or catching up with friends, our ability to listen to a live-streamed concert or catch a new film relies highly on WiFi connection, as concert venues, theatres, and cinemas are currently closed. Furthermore, it has been noted how much we need art in times of uncertainty when we need hope, distraction, or alternative means of human connection. No matter what term we want to give the genre, I’m glad that the internet has opened up new possibilities where DIY music is concerned. Now, there is nothing to stop us from making or discovering something impactful and new.