The bassline: Garage bands versus bedroom pop stars

A DJ wearing yellow headphones adjusts various multicolored dials on a soundboard.
Graphic by Eloise Magoncelli

A spike in solo artists has taken over the music industry, replacing bands and group projects that used to reign over the market. 

From 2003 to 2013, there was a 510 percent increase in independent full-time musicians, according to Techdirt, a technology website. The most logical explanation for this would be in the growth of digital software programs available to nascent musicians. 

Artists can download these programs, like GarageBand and FL Studio, on their home computers, needing only a strong WiFi connection and and aspiration to record a beat. Digital artists are often teenagers in their bedroom, channeling a different type of rebellion in their music than the old days of starting a garage rock band with high school friends. 

Through writing songs together and covering beloved ensembles like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the garage band was most commonly seen as loud and collaborative, a way to release all the inner turmoil of growing up. 

Bedroom pop is a much more introspective, private process of development. It’s released in the digital sphere, hidden from the world of adults and written from one voice — allowing the internet to connect personally to the vulnerability of an individual’s story or sound. 

Clairo has become a totem of the bedroom pop sphere. Claire “Clairo” Cottrill began releasing home recordings from her Boston bedroom on free sites like YouTube and gained popularity with her soft vocals, witty words and catchy choruses. In the bridge of her song “Bags,” she sings: “Tell you how I felt / Sugar coated melting in your mouth / Pardon my emotions / I should probably keep it all to myself.”

The bedroom is a place of isolation, but also often denoted as a sphere of intimacy. The bedroom pop artist unites these two notions, combining the introspection of a suburban high school experience with the intimate details of romance through storytelling lyrics and dreamy vocals. 

The garage band, on the other hand, may be thought of as more extroverted and better suited to channel the sense of community that music was founded upon. Think back to the origins of music, to the rituals and dances and chants that spanned many centuries and cultures. Garage band music requires a soulful presence that can only be heard in our ears and felt in the syncing of our collective human pulse. 

Elton John, an award-winning artist, said in a recent interview with Rolling Stone that “I think what Pro Tools and everything else did, they took the musicianship away from people, and people made records in their bedrooms instead of with each other in a bar.” 

John claims we are deprived of that feeling of togetherness and community with the surfacing of today’s digital projects. But perhaps solo artists just begin the process of development alone and use technology to spread their sounds, attracting connection at a later stage of the music’s life. 

After all, social platforms such as SoundCloud or Spotify allow users to develop relationships with and support artists from around the world. 

Both methods of music creation — with or without digital software — are valid and should be valued equally. The best music is usually personal to the artist expressing an inner desire that can be universally felt. It comes to us all in different forms and processes, but in the end, music has the same purpose: It’s meant to be shared and provides us with the gift of connection.

Kyla Walker PO ’22 is one of TSL’s music columnists. She loves playing guitar, reading any and all fiction and probably belongs in the 1960s.

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