What Is Alternative Music?: The Ultimate Guide
what is alternative music Young man listening music

Music is a universal language that has tons of genres. But what is alternative music?

Common mainstream genres include hip-hop, pop, EDM, blues, and jazz, among many others. Even in these genres, there are sub-genres. You’d be surprised to learn how vast and complicated the music industry really is.

When we talk about alternative music, some people refer to it as revolutionary, uncommon, or experimental.

However, the alternative genre is surprisingly very popular.

So, what exactly is alternative music? Where did it originate from? Is it a sub-genre of one particular genre like pop or hip-hop?

To answer all of your questions, we’ve created this guide on the ins and outs of alternative music. Keep reading to learn more!

What Is Alternative Music?

indoor performer playing music

Alternative music is of the most popular genres nowadays, but it used to be considered a subgenre.

It has rightly become a genre of its own. This genre is a paradox of pop music, and it is noticeably different from popular and mainstream music.

Many alternative artists became ultra-famous. However, alt fans love to gatekeep alt artists as they do not want them to be a part of mainstream music.

Nowadays, although people refer to alternative music as its own genre, it is vastly different from other common genres like rock, hip-hop, and R&B. For one, alternative music has so many different elements to it. It also has many subgenres, including alt-rock, alt hip-hop, indie, indie rock, indie pop, and more.

More About This Genre

As we mentioned before, many genres can be made in an “alternative” way. This simply means that the genre is driven away from mainstream music.

We believe that people who like to explore different music genres and listeners who are open to new experiences tend to love alternative music.

The alternative genre is an art and a form of expression.

At the same time, this music is outside of the mainstream box.

While the music industry is highly motivated by popularity and business, the alternative genre does away with those structured ideas. It is all about expressing yourself in a way that eliminates classism, politics, and other social issues.

The way you are supposed to create music in this genre is a bit different from how you would make mainstream music. The producers use different inputs and effects when they are making most alternative songs.

Proper Explanation of Alternative Music

Although we have mentioned what alternative music is, it’s not really a definition and a proper answer to the question: “what is alternative music?”

Alternative music is actually a diverse concept, and there is no proper definition. This is largely because no answer is really wrong when you are describing music.

You can define music as being alternative in various ways. Not only that, it varies from person to person, and it depends on how a person understands music and its meaning.

An Alternative Artist Will Make Music in Their Own Way

The approach to making alternative music is to make it unconventionally, with the artist putting in elements that are not mainstream. This doesn’t mean that alternative music cannot be popular. In fact, it’s one of the largest growing genres. But the sounds are still largely unconventional.

An alternative artist will oftentimes draw from popular music and then build on it in an alternative and less mainstream way.

Expression of art on its own without being influenced by society is how an alternative artist is supposed to make music.

A Music Movement That No One Can Control

alternative singer plays guitar

Alternative music represents rebellion and artistic expression. Even though it is unconventional, we highly recommend giving it a try.

For example, if you love pop, you can try listening to Indie Pop. You might come to find that you like the irregularities of alt music far more than you would’ve thought.

We’d like to note that if an alternative artist becomes famous and mainstream, it doesn’t mean they’ve stopped producing alt music.

For instance, Tame Impala is a popular alt-indie rock band. There’s a good chance you’ve heard of them.

Some people might consider them mainstream, but being popular doesn’t change the fact they are an alternative indie band.

A Mixture of Genres and Styles

Alternative music is all about expressing the artist’s personal definition of music. It doesn’t have a particular style, which is the main reason alternative music has so many subgenres.

You can mix a hint of alternative with every genre of music that is available. From punk rock to pop to hip-hop, anything can be made alternative.

Alternative music also refers to the artist’s style and how they sing and make a song. Generally, it is very different from a mainstream artist. The guitar melodies, instruments, etc., won’t be what you’re used to.

Public Opinion

The general public does not love alternative forms of music. This is essentially the point.

Usually, people choose to stick to what’s basic and mainstream. Many people have never thought to try and listen to this genre.

This genre of music is usually enjoyed by people who love to explore music and are more experimental.

Alternative artists are different from the norm. They produce different styles of music and often have more eccentric clothing and lifestyles as well.

These alt artists are not afraid to try something new. Naturally, they do not play it safe by satisfying the general public.

What is Alternative Music?: Qualities and Characteristics

There are specific qualities that make up a music genre.

For instance, you would expect hip-hop to be either fast rap or melodic rap. You can say the same thing about pop music, which you would generally expect to be more upbeat. So what are the qualities and characteristics of alternative music?

No Proper Definitions of This Genre

Even though the alt genre has become a lot more well-known recently, it was established decades ago.

It’s a forgotten genre that was revived by people who wanted to experiment and try something other than mainstream music.

As you know, rock music has many sub-genres and styles. In the early 2000s, alt-rock started to appear as a rock sub-genre.

But the mainstream public wasn’t really a fan of this new twist on classic rock music.

Later, in the late 2000s, people started appreciating alt-rock. Ultimately, the genre became popular and was termed “indie.”

Now, there are a lot of people who love the indie genre. There are many popular indie bands such as Peach Pit, Cage The Elephant, Boy Pablo, and more.

Unique Style and Vocals

One way to separate mainstream music and alternative music is by the artist’s style and vocals.

“Good” singing typically involves music elements such as vibratos, significant vocal range, and more. However, artists of the alternative genre do not really care about these specific elements of music.

As long as you have a good voice and you are able to express yourself, you could be a good fit for the alt music genre.

Different Instruments, Effects, and Structures

Music band rehearsal

Alternative music has a different structure than most songs. This genre is a lot more about the melody of the instruments.

You’ll still find basic features that most songs have such as the verse, chorus, and bridge.. The melody, though, is different.

Alt songs tend to use different instrument effects without a lot of repetition. Every alt song has a distinct sound, unlike pop music.

Different Song Lengths

Usually, a typical song will be between 3-4 mins. Alternative songs can be as short as 1 minute and 30 seconds or as long as 7 minutes. There is no exact estimation.

Alternative artists take their whole song to express themselves and their message. In psychedelic alternative rock music (a specific genre of alternative music), you can expect some songs to be longer than 20 minutes.

Is It Worth Listening to This Genre?

Alternative music has been in the industry for the last 6 decades. Even though it wasn’t popular before the late 2000s, it has now become a large part of the music industry.

Although it is still considered to be a part of the underground music scene and not a part of mainstream music, overall, it is a popular genre.

Multiple Sub-Genres

You’re definitely not sticking to only one style when you listen to alternative music. There are multiple styles and sub-genres.

If you have been listening to popular music your whole life and want to try something alternative, we suggest giving indie pop a try. Similarly, rock lovers might love to branch out and listen to alt-rock.

The best part about this genre is that there are so many ways to find a specific subset of alt music to love.


Some people consider the alternative music scene to be a supreme and superior genre. This is mainly because of how versatile the genre really is.

It has various styles and sub-genres. An artist doesn’t have to stick to a popular and mainstream style in the music industry to be famous. Many feel this makes the music more authentic.

Because alt artists tend to not cater to the general public, their music is more genuine and true to themselves. This is part of what makes alt music so special.

Unique Tones

Notable bands in this particular genre have different styles and tones. You can find heavy and slow bass, guitar licks, and different types of electronic and classical piano parts.

Early alternative artists loved slow alt. However, newer artists have played around with various alt elements such as voice distortion, electronic synths, loud instruments, and more.

Good Taste in Music

People who listen to alternative music are often thought to have better taste in music than the general public. This is because alternative music is so specific that users who listen to it tend to actively seek out higher-quality songs.

Instead of sticking to one popular mainstream genre, try listening to alternative! You might be surprised at how much you like it.

Alternative music has so many styles, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t like the first few songs you listen to. You’ll definitely find a style of alt music that suits you.

Various Sub-Genre of Alternative Music

Singers playing music

Alternative music is not only about one main genre. A combo of different styles and sub-genres make up alternative music. Examples of sub-genres include:

Alternative Rock

Alternative rock is a subgenre of rock music that emerged from underground alternative, independent labels.

It is very different from mainstream rock, which is all about loud, hyped music.

Alternative rock can be more calming, but some songs are more typical rock and roll as well.

Indie Rock

Indie rock can also be considered a part of alt-rock, but it’s termed as a different sub-genre because of its style. Compared to alt-rock, indie music is characterized by more slow guitar solos.

Indie Pop

Indie pop is not your typical pop genre. There are more bass and guitar instruments.

It is less energetic than regular pop music, but it is still lively and fun.


Shoegaze is a subgenre of alternative music. Simply put, it’s a combination of indie and alt-rock.

You will find distorted guitar tones and obscured effects and vocals.

Do you know the difference between clean and distorted guitar tones? Check it out here.

Alternative music is vast. There are many other subgenres, and certain styles also take birth from these subgenres.

Here are some other subgenres and styles:

  • Nu-metal
  • Post-rock and gothic rock
  • New wave
  • Grunge
  • Emo
  • Industrial
  • Gothic
  • Alt hip-hop
  • Dreamy pop
  • Alternative country
  • Brit-pop
  • Alternative folk

Top Alternatives Music and Artists You Should Check Out

Male Singer in Casuals Performing

Many styles and types of music fit in the alternative genre, and you will have to find the best subgenre that suits your specific music taste.

Alternative music is such a wide and varied genre that it’s impossible to not find something you like. Below, we’ve listed some of the most popular alternative musicians you should give a listen to.

Peach Pit

Peach Pit is an indie pop and indie rock band from Canada. Their music is different from the mainstream pop and rock genres.

Their music can be described both as surf rock and sad pop, and their songs are characterized by soft vocals and guitar melodies.

Listen to their famous songs such as Peach Pit, Tommy’s Party, and Black Licorice!


Brockhampton is not your typical boy band. They are a hip-hop group that makes alternative hip-hop music.

If you are curious about hip hop mixed with pop and R&B, you should check out Brockhampton.

Iridescence, Saturation III, and Ginger are some of their albums worth checking out.

Omar Apollo

Omar Apollo is an indie pop artist that’s most definitely worth checking out. Most of his songs are a combination of R&M, soul, and pop.

His songs are all blended with an alternative touch, and his music is unlike your typical pop songs.

Some of his songs worth checking out are Go Away, Erase, and Stayback.


Clairo is among the most famous alternative female artists.

Her songs tend to be more comforting and sad but beautiful at the same time.

Some of her most popular hits are Feeling Something, Pretty Girl, and Sofia.

These are some of the popular Alt artists today. Here are some more artists for you to check out:

  • Cage The Elephant
  • Numcha
  • Hyukoh
  • Summer Salt
  • Mild Orange
  • MyKey
  • Feng Suave
  • Dominic Fike
  • Dijon
  • The Marias
  • Dreamer Boy
  • Vance Joy

How to Approach Alternative Music

When we talk about alt music, we need to view it from two perspectives: the listener and the artist.


If you are a listener and you want to start listening to alternative music, the first thing you need to do is be open about your music taste.

If you haven’t listened to alt music before, we assume you have been listening to more mainstream music.

You need to prepare yourself to listen to some unusual sounds.

Alt music isn’t your typical blend of genres and songs. You will experience unique vocals and distorted instruments and effects.

Keep listening to alt music until you find the right style that suits you.

As there are many subgenres and styles, the first time you listen to alt music, it might not be your cup of tea. However, keep listening to different sub-genres, and you will find the right style for you.

Artists and Producers

Suppose you are an artist or producer who wants to start making alternative music.

The first thing you need to do is to find your own style. Don’t try to copy others.

It’s crucial that you don’t sound mainstream. Even if you end up going the mainstream way, add your own personal touch to it.

You need to experiment with your vocals and instruments. The best thing about alternative music is that there is no right way to make a song. There are absolutely no guidelines except to be true to your style of music.

Add percussion, kicks, electronic piano, or anything you want.

Curious about some tips and tricks for producing alternative music? Watch this video to learn more.


What is alternative music?

Alt music is a genre that is outside the mainstream box. Alt artists make music that has a touch of their own personal style and is not considered “normal.”

Which subgenres are considered alt?

Many subgenres can be considered alt. These include shoegaze, grunge, indie rock, indie pop, alternative rock, alternative folk, alt R&B, alt hip hop, and more.

Alt music is vast, and it has a ton of different styles.

Can alternative music be mainstream?

The main point of alternative music is that it doesn’t follow the same methods as mainstream music. Thus, it is very different from popular music.

However, this doesn’t mean that alternative music cannot be popular.

Many alt artists become popular and mainstream. But it still doesn’t mean that alternative as a whole has become mainstream.

Are indie and alternative the same thing?

Indie and alternative are the same but different at the same time.

Indie is an alternative music sub-genre. Alternative music has other sub-genres such as grunge and alt-hip hop.

Wrapping Up

So, what is alternative music? It’s a style of music that involves expressing yourself and not being controlled by the rules and expectations of mainstream music.

Alt artists express themselves through their music by making songs that are completely different from the norm.

You’ve probably come across many popular alternative songs. They might become mainstream, but the meaning behind the altness doesn’t change. These are still different from mainstream songs.

There are many alternative independent major record labels out there making songs for their fans and themselves. Sure, they aren’t as popular as the artists with major labels. But they are still recognized and are often able to express their true views through their songs.

If you want to learn how to make an indie song, click here.



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