Terry Tolkin, the music industry veteran believed to have coined the term “alternative music”, has died

Tolkin was an A&R exec who signed bands like Stereolab and Luna to major label deals in the 1990s

Music industry executive and journalist Terry Tolkin – the man frequently credited with introducing the term “alternative music” into the music writing lexicon – has died at the age of 62.

On Friday (January 21), a representative for his family confirmed the news to Variety. The next day, musician Dean Wareham, founder of bands Galaxie 500 and Luna, revealed that Tolkin had been dealing with sepsis and organ failure. In 2015, Wareham had released early Luna demos to fundraise for Tolkin’s medical bills.

“His brother Daniel has been watching over him this week,” Wareham wrote in an Instagram post. “Terry has been through a lot in recent years, I honestly think he is now in a better place.”

He continued: “He was a key figure in my life, for Luna and many other musical artists he believed in. Maybe some of you know our ‘Chinatown’ song was about Terry. Will have more to say soon.”


As an A&R representative for Elektra Records from 1992-1996, Tolkin signed several independent bands to the major label, including Luna, Stereolab, Afghan Whigs, and Nada Surf.

However, it was as a journalist for publication Rockpool in 1979 that Tolkin is believed to have first made his mark – while describing the underground bands he covered, he’s believed to be the first to use the term “alternative music”.

Prior to his position in Elektra, Tolkin worked in A&R for independent label Touch & Go Records and founded his own label, No.6 Records, which was a subsidiary of Rough Trade, in 1989.

American indie rock band Superchunk paid tribute to Tolkin, tweeting that the figure “ushered a lot of great music into the world.” Mark Lanegan wrote that he “was a larger than life character” and someone with “great taste in music”. Read those tributes below: