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Mainstream vs. Indie: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on October 7, 2023
Mainstream refers to what's widely accepted or predominant in society, while Indie is often related to independent productions or endeavors without major commercial backing.

Key Differences

Mainstream typically denotes ideas, products, or cultural trends that are widely accepted, predominant, or typical in society. Indie, on the other hand, derives from "independent" and usually refers to productions, music, films, or other endeavors that operate outside the major commercial systems or industries.
In the realm of media and entertainment, Mainstream often implies mass appeal, catering to a broad audience. Conversely, Indie creators or producers often emphasize artistic expression, originality, and niche appeal, even if this means forgoing the potential for large-scale commercial success.
Financial backing differentiates Mainstream and Indie significantly. Mainstream projects typically have significant financial backing, often from major studios, labels, or corporations. In contrast, Indie projects are generally funded on tighter budgets, sometimes through crowdfunding or personal investments.
While Mainstream offerings can sometimes be seen as formulaic or conventional due to the safer approach of major investors, Indie projects often take creative risks. This distinction, however, isn't absolute; there are Mainstream works with high artistic value and Indie works that achieve commercial success.
Both Mainstream and Indie have their unique strengths and audiences. While Mainstream dominates in terms of sheer numbers and mass appeal, Indie offers diversity, fresh perspectives, and can challenge prevailing norms.

Comparison Chart


Dominant cultural norms
Independent of major commercial systems


Broad audience
Often niche or specific

Financial Backing

Large corporations/studios
Self-funded, small investors, crowdfunding

Artistic Risk

Typically lower due to commercial aims
Higher, with emphasis on unique expression

Typical Perception

Mass appeal, commercial
Artistic, original

Mainstream and Indie Definitions


Having mass appeal or designed for a broad audience.
Superhero movies are a mainstream genre in Hollywood.


Pertaining to independent art, cinema, or music.
The film festival showcased several indie movies.


Conforming to or within established norms.
His political views are quite mainstream for his region.


Independent, especially from large corporations.
She released her music on an indie record label.


Widely accepted or practiced.
Yoga has become mainstream in modern wellness culture.


Emphasizing originality and individuality.
Her unique fashion sense is very indie.


Dominant in thinking or cultural trends.
Digital payments are now a mainstream method of transaction.


Funded or produced by individual or small-scale efforts.
The indie game developer launched a successful title on his own.


Relating to large-scale commercial industries.
He signed a contract with a mainstream music label.


Not being part of mainstream commercial systems.
He prefers indie bookstores to large chains.


The prevailing current of thought, influence, or activity
"You need not accept the nominee's ideology, only be able to locate it in the American mainstream" (Charles Krauthammer).


One, such as a studio or producer, that is unaffiliated with a larger or more commercial organization.


Representing the prevalent attitudes, values, and practices of a society or group
Mainstream morality.


An artistic work produced by an independent company or group
"[His film] showed that indies could ... take in millions at the box office" (Liesl Schillinger).


To integrate (a student with special needs) into regular school classes.


Of, relating to, or being an indie
An album of indie rock.
An indie film company.


To incorporate into a prevailing group.


Independent; from outside the mainstream.
An indie pop group
An indie video game


Used or accepted broadly rather than by small portions of a population or market.
They often carry stories you won't find in the mainstream media.


An independent publisher.


The principal current in a flow, such as a river or flow of air


A work released by an independent publisher.


That which is common; the norm.
Ideas outside of the mainstream


A type of rock music, generally soft-style without screaming or aggression, mixed with synthesized music and electronic.


(transitive) To popularize, to normalize, to render mainstream.


A person who listens to indie music and follows indie fashion.


(intransitive) To become mainstream.


A pop group not affiliated with a major record company


To educate (a disabled student) together with non-disabled students.


(of pop groups) not affiliated with a major recording company


The prevailing opinion or practise; as, the doctor avoided using therapies outside the mainstream of modern medical practice.


TO place (a student) in regular school classes; - used especially of mentally or physically handicapped children.


The prevailing current of thought;
His thinking was in the American mainstream


Is "Indie" always independent of major labels or studios?

Typically, yes, but some "Indie" projects may get backing later on.

Does "Mainstream" always mean it's popular?

Generally, yes, it implies broad acceptance or appeal.

Do "Mainstream" movies only cater to popular genres?

Mostly, but there are mainstream movies in diverse genres.

Does "Mainstream" always imply lack of quality?

No, "Mainstream" denotes widespread appeal, not necessarily quality.

Can "Indie" works have large budgets?

While rare, some indie projects can have significant funding.

Are "Indie" films only found at festivals?

No, they're often at festivals but can be elsewhere too.

Are "Mainstream" products always more expensive?

Not necessarily. Prices vary based on production costs and branding.

Are all "Mainstream" media products commercially successful?

No, while they aim for wide appeal, not all achieve it.

Can an "Indie" artist become "Mainstream"?

Yes, many indie artists transition to mainstream success.

Can "Indie" music be on popular platforms?

Yes, platforms like Spotify or Apple Music host indie music.

Is "Indie" limited to entertainment?

No, "Indie" can refer to any independent endeavor or business.

Is "Mainstream" media always biased?

Not inherently, but any media can have biases.

Is "Indie" synonymous with niche?

Often, but not always. Some indie works gain broad appeal.

Why do some artists choose to remain "Indie"?

For creative control, authenticity, or personal preference.

Can "Indie" authors publish on large platforms?

Yes, platforms like Amazon allow indie authors to publish.

Can "Indie" products be found in regular stores?

Yes, many stores carry a mix of mainstream and indie products.

Can "Indie" projects collaborate with larger entities?

Yes, some indie projects partner with larger entities for distribution or marketing.

Are "Mainstream" trends always fleeting?

No, while some are temporary, others become enduring cultural shifts.

Do "Mainstream" works have artistic value?

Absolutely. Many mainstream works are artistically acclaimed.

Are "Mainstream" views always majority views?

Typically, yes, they reflect dominant or widespread opinions.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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