The Year in Tastemakers

Every indie artist, band and label is independent in its own way. The strategies for success are as varied as the styles of music, the executives and the attitudes -- these are the very states of independence. Labels and artists from Texas to Denver to Missouri to Los Angeles; genres from folk to metal to hip-hop to country to jazz are all serious about amazing music, engaging with fans and doing the most forward kind of business. Synchs, indie record stores and the resurgence of of heritage artists -- it's all a part of the indie universe. Everyone's paths are different -- but the goals are the same: figuring out ways to have the most people experience the most music.

The Head and the Heart


One day last spring, Tyler Williams lost his cell phone on the streets of Seattle.

The drummer for folk band the Head and the Heart never expected to get it back, let alone within the prophetic series of events that followed.

Williams' bandmate Charity Thielen got a call that day from a stranger who found the phone. Thielen connected the two, and they arranged to meet at the man's office, around the corner from Seattle's Pike Place Market.

What seemed, at first, to be a chance encounter with a good Samaritan instantly became something more, when Williams found himself on the doorstep of Sub Pop Records.

"I had to hold back from saying, 'My band is recording an album right now, let me get you a demo!' " Williams recalls with a laugh. "I called Charity the second I left the building and said, 'This is an omen. My phone was just picked up by a Sub Pop employee.' "

He held his tongue at the time, but the drummer's Sub Pop premonition materialized several months later, when the Head and the Heart signed with the seminal Seattle label, after a veritable feeding frenzy in which both majors (Warner Bros. and RCA among them) and indies (like Glassnote) vied for their affections. Still, it's no accident that got the Head and the Heart where it is now, with 45,000 units sold (according to Nielsen SoundScan) and slots on national and international tours opening for the Decemberists, Iron & Wine and Death Cab for Cutie.

Nor is the sextet your average flash-in-the-pan buzz band. Though the group had every opportunity to blow up-by the end of 2011, it'll have played Sasquatch, Bonnaroo, Newport and Austin City Limits, not to mention the late-night trifecta of "Letterman," "Conan" and "Fallon"-the Head and the Heart prefer to play low- and mid-capacity venues. The band tours small towns and chats with fans on Twitter and at its merch table. The act concentrates on local, noncommercial radio stations and plays in-store sets to support independent record shops. The Head and the Heart is taking care to leave no stone unturned, and this grass-roots approach-coupled with a hotbed local scene and a universal appeal-has enabled the band to realize an uncompromising, independent career path that works-and works well. -Devon Maloney