Beer, music industries have same indie history

Kyle Seasly

What does one do after the end of a particularly arduous day? I like to kick back and put on some familiar tunes. If I were 21, perhaps I would crack open a bottle of that fizzy amber stuff we call beer, and put one back.

Beer and music are indeed ways to help one relax, and perhaps more related than one might expect. From what I can gather, there are two reasons for striking similarities between beer and music, and both of these lie in the way they are made. The first is that we live in a Do-It-Yourself era. For example, if one is not happy with the beer one is  tasting, or the music that is playing on the radio, one can relatively easily go out and get a brew kit, or pick up some recording equipment and start whipping up new creations.

The second is that we all want our tastes to be as specific as possible: “No, I only like Wavves’ first album because after that they lost the lo-fi aesthetic that really pleases my lobes.” Or, “Yeah, the Ninkasi IPA is all right, but I much prefer the Two-Hearted Ale because it’s a little hoppier and has that hint of honey that I so crave.”

This trend started, like all things great, in the year 1978. The Rolling Stones had one solid record left in them, and, thanks to giants like Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller, there were only a total of 48 breweries left in America. There were also scant independent record labels around the country, with giants Universal, Sony, EMI and Warner controlling nearly all of the market share.

These giants had advertised their competitors out of the market, and one could taste the lack of creativity within the beer industry. The three companies were producing basically the same lager, and whoever spent the most on advertising on television, got the biggest market share.

Thankfully, Jimmy Carter, my favorite peanut farmer of all time, legalized the brewing of beer in one’s home in 1978. Some people, in response to this bland market, began to think, “Hey, I can make better beer than this,” so they went out and got a brew kit, and began to stir up some wort, which could potentially evolve into them getting a small brewery started.

With the principles of creativity and a DIY attitude, microbreweries have popped up everywhere. Today, there are about 1,400 microbreweries in the United States, a drastic shift from the 48 total breweries in 1978.

At the same time, Greg Ginn, future bandleader of Black Flag,  was also sick of a stale music industry. He wanted to produce something original and creative, without the corporate strings attached. Ginn, like so many others who would follow in his footsteps, had the DIY aesthetic, and believed that creativity should lead the way, rather than sales.

He then went out to found one of the best independent record labels ever, SST Records. SST then began to circulate records by Ginn’s own Black Flag, Meat Puppets, Dinosaur Jr., the Minutemen and many others. These artists, and the whole independent label idea, brought creativity to an otherwise generic market. With complete creative control, and no advances in their wallets, they could produce what they wanted, rather than what the large record company thought would sell. In addition to this, smaller labels (as well as breweries) can be more nimble and appeal to specific tastes, rather than large companies trying to force a particular brand down our throats.

Following SST’s example and work ethic, small independent labels began to pop up all over the United States: Dischord records in D.C., Sub Pop in Seattle and Touch and Go in Chicago.

Although these small independent labels have had a massive impact on the music world, independent labels still only account for five percent of all records sold. Guess how much of the market share microbreweries account for? Around five percent.

My best guess for why these two seemingly unrelated industries share a timeline and similarities is the age that we live in. We live an age of hyper-specialization.

Instead of sitting down with a Budweiser (a mediocre beer with some nice moments) and listening to Foghat (a mediocre major label sponsor band with some nice moments), today, one can sit down and enjoy “citrus accents from abundance of dry hopping, while malty undertones shake hands with the hop character,” and listen to “post-punk art rock with Dylanesque tinges and reggae vibes.” See what I mean?

The fact is, small labels and breweries can specialize and not focus as much on profit as their corporate peers. This allows for more creativity and more risks to be taken, and at the end of the day, more enjoyment. Cheers.