What is a music scene?

                  Hello Phoenix! Christopher here with a question for you: What is a music scene? So, what is a music scene? Unsurprisingly, this is something a lot of bands and music fans get wrong. The common definition of a music scene is a city with a good complement of bands and clubs for them to play in – well, they’re right, almost. Like in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, Capt. Jack Sparrow points out what a ship is and isn’t; “It’s not just a keel and a hull and some sails; that’s what a ship needs. Not what a ship is.” The ship is the notion of freedom that is afforded its captain and crew; In that same vein, a music scene isn’t a collection of promoters, clubs and performers – it’s an ideal, a community, a collective of like-minded individuals striving for the same goal who want to build something that’s more than the sum of its parts. Good examples of real music scenes are Gothenberg, Chicago, Seattle in the mid to late 90’s and Florida around the same time. What you had were bands that eschewed the ‘every man for himself,’ philosophy in favor of “A rising tide lifts all boats.” And that’s what Phoenix desperately needs – we’re known for many things, but a cohesive network of bands helping each other isn’t really one of them. But it should be.

                I think it’s safe to assume that we all want the same thing – to cast off our day jobs and make a living playing music, our music. I’m not talking about making a living in a cover or tribute band, if that’s your deal and that satisfies the fire in your belly to play music, well, that’s fine but then this post isn’t for you. I am speaking to everyone who busts their ass to write great original music and then ventures out in the night to play it live – if that’s you, please keep reading.

                “So, how do we get there?” you’re asking. Simple. Do unto others, it’s just that easy. I can throw clichés all night, “One hand washes the other.” Or, “You scratch my back..” Go out and find bands with similar interests and a sound that’s compatible, but not the same as yours and start talking. Go to each other’s shows, buy each other’s records (again, if you like their music), slap a sticker on your ride and show your support. Even if you’re low on dough just showing your face is showing support – it’s another ass in the seats and it shows you’re concerned about more than just your bottom line. Because, let’s face it – no man is an island and even a group of four or five does not a good scene make. And the odds of making it out of this valley and on to bigger and better things are almost insurmountable – but there is strength in numbers; with more people in your corner it cuts the job down to a more manageable size. Now, just to be clear, I am NOT talking about aligning yourself with a popular band just to poach their audience – if this sounds like you, punch yourself in the balls, right now, sock ‘em hard because you’re a leech, a remora, a bottom-feeder who doesn’t deserve an audience. I am describing real friendships, real alliances and real support. There are various local musicians I’ll hang out with and it’s because I genuinely like their company, not because of what I believe they can do for me – it’s because I think they’re cool people.

                One thing I hear a LOT is, “I don’t wanna play with Band X – they’re so much better than us.” Yep, with that attitude, they are.  If you fear looking stupid or ‘less than’ next to another band – what does that say about your art and your belief in it? You’re probably better off learning the Steve Miller Band songbook and playing weddings or bar mitzvahs, or something. You should aspire to play with bands you perceive as better than you – it’s a challenge, it forces you to up your game and truly bring the thunder. And it exposes you to those you really need: people who know and appreciate good music. Every band I’ve ever met sees opening for a national act as a tried and true way of building an audience, and it is, but if another band at your level shakes your confidence, try to imagine what a seasoned headliner will do to it – there won’t be enough of your fragile little ego left to soak up with a sponge. The reality of our chosen profession and collective situation is much harsher and painful than any words I could put on paper, by trying to go it alone only makes it that much harder. This is a tough business, probably the toughest around and that’s why the rewards are so high – because they’re worth it.
                Second point: ANY time a band is signed to a major label out of a particular area others will come sniffing around to snap up any band that remotely resembles whoever just got signed.  If you’re on friendly terms with a grip of bands in your hometown and each are helping the other out this practically ensures you will be seen and heard and be in the right place at the right time. Think about it, band ‘A’ has attracted some attention and you’re honest to goodness good friends with band ‘A’ so you regularly play shows together. ‘The Label Almighty’ comes to check out band ‘A’ – and who else do they happen to see? You. Another side benefit of this is that musicians talk. A lot. And by surrounding yourself with talent you can’t help but improve, and not just musically. How many times have you been to a show and seen a band pull something off that you’ve never thought of? You ever ask someone about their gear? Ever learn something good? It’s all well and good to listen to what the salesperson has to say but when you can speak to a cat in the field that actually uses that gear you are reaping gold, my friend. They don’t have an axe to grind or a bottom line to protect – but the sales guy does. In addition, you’ll find out who to go to, and more importantly, who NOT to go see when you need something. And all it cost you was a few minutes time and showing some class. Can you spare a minute to help your career along? I thought so. Let’s not forget the other professionals who populate our field, photographers, promoters and distributors – if someone’s a stroke or a rip-off artist wouldn’t you wanna know? Conversely, if there’s a good photog or blog or ‘zine out there don’t you wanna know also?
                So now what? Well, get your ass out there, see bands – find bands you like, both for their music AND for who they are, not what you perceive they can do for you. If there’s one thing we musicians eventually get good at is sniffing out bullshitters – don’t be that guy. If you’re going out to a show – post something on Facebook – what else is it there for? What does it take out of your day to sling some ink someone’s way? Be honest, tell them what you appreciate about them and their music and why and see if you can reach some common ground and play some shows together.  Now talk. Talk, talk, talk, talk to your friends, talk to the public –and not just about your band; talk about your friend’s bands. Tell people what you like about them and why and why they should come to see the both of you. Not only is this a HUGE solid for your buddies, but it reminds the potential audience that you’re a fan, too – hell, that’s why we started playing isn’t it? Because we love music so much we forsake just about every comfort to carve out some kind of career. Besides that, if you did this right and for the right reasons, they will be out and about doing the same thing for you. Put them on your posters and web adverts, and don’t screw them by making yours 90% of the thing and making theirs looks like the fine print on a car commercial, don’t be that band – bands like that suck.

 

STAY FOR THEIR ENTIRE SET.

 

                 Nothing grinds my gears more than a band that splits as soon as their amps are in the van. Does everyone have to be up early for work? Doubtful, but if this is the case – man up and tell the other band/s that you can’t stay and then stay next time. Showing your face is support. People will do as they see others do – so be that good example and lead. Besides every other reason I’ve listed, here’s one more – you never know who’s watching. Be professional, be courteous, be helpful.  A rising tide lifts all boats.

Until next time……

 

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