The Local Un-scene

Nick Feldman, Cactus Writer

Wolves of Winter. Crowning Thieves. Zobomaze. You probably have never heard of any of these bands, yet they regularly play concerts around us all, and are on a professional level of talent and tightness. So why haven’t you heard of them? The answer lies within the local music industry, promoters and their standard policies. When you think of a music “promoter,” you probably assume that this person’s job is to promote bands and their talent, using their resources to get the word out about said bands. You’d expect that they have made fliers, are aggressively promoting online, using the internet to their advantage, and otherwise doing whatever is necessary to get people out to shows when the bands play live. This, however, is not the case.

To form a successful band (by successful, I do not mean popular; instead, I mean a band that creates tight, talented music that people respond to), it takes a certain level of serendipitous magic. First, you need to find like-minded individuals that play the instruments you need, with skill. They need to have similar influences and/or a similar artistic vision, but mostly, they need to have chemistry when playing music together. This means that all the musicians need to TRULY feel comfortable when playing with each other. If one person is off, it can ruin the entire sound. To find 3-6 people who have this level of musical chemistry is a magical and rare thing. But no, that’s not it. Next, everyone’s schedules need to align well enough to be able to get together regularly (at least a couple times a week) for practice and writing (this is much, much harder than it sounds), and not only that, they need a space to rehearse. Bands are LOUD, especially the scene that I’m describing. Thus, finding a location to rehearse without disturbing neighbors, landlords, parents, etc., is hard enough on its own.

So, let’s say we finally have these pieces in place; now we have to get to writing. Most non-musicians don’t fully or actively listen to the music they like, but if you do, you realize it takes a great deal of precise planning on every member’s part in order to form a coherent song. Structure must be perfectly organized and timed. Creative decisions need to be made, as to melody, rhythm, lyrics, chord structure, etc. Members need to decide if they want to use certain effects, and they need to decide what they want the song to be about. There are infinite combinations and possibilities when it comes to music. After hours upon hours of sitting in a hot room together, sweating, arguing/debating and playing music, they will finally come out with a song they are all proud and happy to have created. Wash, rinse, repeat. Eventually, the members have enough material to record an album or play a live show (most local bands only get around 30 minutes of stage time). Next, it’s time to create profiles with pictures, information on the band, something that shows the world what your band is about. Finally, the promoters step in.

If you are lucky enough to have made it this far (this is a very hard feat in and of itself), this is where things tend to go sideways. Promoters will contact a band, offering them concerts. Oft-times this will overjoy the band: finally! A chance to show people our art that we’ve worked so hard to create! The only problem is, instead of actually promoting, the “promoters” will simply book the venue, then send each band a certain number of tickets (normally around 50-75), and expect the band to sell all their tickets on their own. When you are in a new band that no one has heard of, it is HARD (if not impossible) to get a large number of people to spend their time and money to come out and see you. Many times, friends and family are the only ones that will come to shows, just to show support, but they already knew about your band. If you don’t end up selling enough tickets, no matter how amazing of a show you put on, promoters will no longer contact you. If you do sell a lot of tickets, they reap all the monetary benefits, with just a small amount of the profits going to the band. So, they basically make you do all the leg work and do absolutely no promotion whatsoever.

The hardest part in the band’s struggle is getting listeners, or fresh blood. How do you do it? If I had the answer to this question, I would use it to my own advantage, being in a band myself. At the moment, we are only active online, as we have become completely jaded when it comes to “promoters” and their shows. We are lucky enough to have somewhat of a global fan base, thanks to the internet (Pandora, Spotify, YouTube, iTunes, etc), but if we were to get in contact with a promoter and wanted to play a show, it would be a serious struggle for us to get enough people out to see us.

So, what is the moral of this story? The moral is, there is an enormous amount of talent, right in your backyard, that is going ignored, thanks to a broken industry. There are many bands and artists out there that could very well be one of your new favorite bands, but you will probably never discover them. For us, promoting ourselves online has proven the most fruitful of tactics, but we would love to have a larger local following as well. Putting on a concert for 15 people vs. putting on a concert for 100+ people can make such a huge difference in the quality of a show. Not to mention, each new person is a potential new fan. So, the next time someone in a band offers you a ticket to go see them live, give them a shot. Just because you haven’t heard of a band, doesn’t mean they will disappoint. A lot of time and energy goes into creating music, and if we all give each other a shot, maybe we can create our own support network for local music, that is non-dependent on the vampires that call themselves promoters.