There was a time—not all that long ago, though it feels like forever—when searching for something to listen to meant physically pawing through a mass of vinyl, cassettes, or CDs. Visual cues helped you find what you were looking for. Then everything went digital, and it was keywords, not artwork, that helped track down your tracks.
Now, streaming services have brought back the option to eyeball, and Josh Smith, a designer at the Brooklyn-based studio Hyperakt (and bona fide infographic wiz), started viewing—not hearing—interesting similarities between indie stuff he was seeking out online. "Rdio collects my music into groups, which are sorted by album. As I started developing my collection, it became visually obvious that there is a trend for this genre," he says. "I actually began to get confused and clicked on the wrong album, thinking it was a different band." So, just for fun, he started pulling together a set that shows the connections.
"The ‘hipster’ scene now associated with indie music has an emerging aesthetic that blends '80s, vintage themes and colors with a DIY vibe and adds in quirky abstractions," Smith says. "This would explain the vibrant colors, dreamy abstract visuals, and a less-polished, non-corporate finish on the covers." Of course, it’s not totally new that certain types of tunes adopt and adapt to a very particular style to appeal to their target audience: Imagine heavy metal’s black-and-chrome motif, or the soft- focus glamour shots gracing many an easy-listening box set—then imagine switching them. Yeah, it’s weird. But add in a fast-paced and quickly evolving industry with continually less cash available for packaging, marketing, and promotion, and it makes sense that the still relatively new indie beats would begin to establish this element of their identity.