Photo credit: Lee Hoffman
Written by Thom Bieler (I’m From the Government and I’m Here to Help)
If you’ve ever been asked to “support the scene” I would like to take this opportunity to apologize. Telling someone to support a music scene is a terrible thing to do, a hand out looking for a handout. It shouldn’t be that way and it doesn’t have to be. The scene is a market, a place of business. A music scene lives and breathes on its own without your charitable show attendance. It’s up to all of us to build a music scene that people will choose to support without the constant guilt trips.
Every music scene has common elements within it, the usual suspects. Let’s take a look at the players and analyze their roles in the scene. Some want to strengthen the scene but cannot; some are able but refuse to. The important thing is to understand the difference.
The first ingredient to any music scene is…wait for it…bands! For most of us, these guys and gals are hobbyists doing what they love. They have little to no expectation of major success. They’re practicing in someone’s basement with terrible equipment, writing and rehearsing songs, perfecting their craft. They work full-time and have families. They are, for the most part, good people. A band’s only responsibility to the scene should be playing and promoting the shows they are booked for. Expecting bands to be fans of your band is counterproductive. This is not to say that you can’t gain fans that happen to be in other bands, just that it should never be your primary focus. Let band members focus on their own projects without guilt-tripping them into “supporting the scene”.
The second ingredient to a music scene is show promoters. The basic function of these types is to secure a venue, build a lineup of bands, and collect entry fees. You’ll rarely see a show promoter actually promoting shows. That task is left to the bands. In the event that a show is unsuccessful the promoter will never take the blame. They will give commonly used excuses for the show’s failure. Maybe the bands didn’t promote hard enough. Maybe there was another show that split the local draw into two directions. Maybe not enough people “supported the scene”. They will never swallow their pride and admit that they booked a shitty bill. The fact remains, live music is a business. Supply and demand are the laws that determine one’s success as a promoter. Offer a product that people want and you’ll never go wrong again. A store owner would never expect someone to give them money to “support the store” so what makes a music scene any different?
The third ingredient is the venues. Most live music venues will not host metal shows so it’s important to love and respect the ones that do! Be courteous to the staff, clean up after yourself, be punctual and work well with the sound engineer! Bands that encourage attendees to destroy the venue or break the rules are rarely welcomed back. This can also ruin the fun for everyone if a venue owner decides that metal shows are a problem. Although most venues are bars that doesn’t mean fun can’t be had at an all ages venue where alcohol is not served. Chances are, there are some young metalheads that would LOVE your sound if you only marketed yourself to them.
The final ingredient that makes up any music scene is the fans. The fans might be your friends; they might be your family. The most important thing to realize is that these people attend shows for THE MUSIC. Play your best set whether there are 3 or 300 people in the crowd. These people came to see you play songs, not bitch about the turnout. Don’t EVER blame the show-goers for your failures or a failed show. We see too many complaints along the lines of “You assholes pay $80 bucks to see Lil Wayne but won’t pay $5 to watch 6 local bands!” Maybe your band sucks. Maybe your band is good but lacks marketing. Maybe your band is great but everyone thinks you’re an asshole (ouch, that hits home). Musicians are constantly making excuses for why we don’t have enough fans to pack a room but we rarely point the finger at ourselves. We blame the lack of “scene support”, essentially admitting that the only way we can play a killer show is through the false pity of local metalheads. It’s sad and it will never solve anything. Let the fans be fans!
At the end of the day, the only people asking for “scene support” are terrible bands and terrible promoters. Instead of putting IN what they wish to get OUT of something (it really is a Bernie Sanders world), they simply play the blame game. This is a toxic trend that is killing the local music scene, not saving it. Bands are businesses and should be treated as such. If your product is not marketable, get a new product or a new market. Work hard, make smart moves, and don’t let anyone exploit you. I firmly believe if we all work together we can never support the scene again.