The blog is a few months old now and has some slowly growing roots, so what better time to upset the ecosystem a bit. This is one of those articles that could help me gain readers or lose readers. When it goes on social media it could have the same effect, I could gain followers or lose followers but what good is writing opinions if you don’t live on the edge a little bit. Let me say to start off, while I may reference musicians in the article, I am in no way passing judgement on them or their fans for that matter. I am simply taking some facts and research and putting it out there for us to think about, share, and maybe take to heart after reading. Also, I am not in any way saying social media is bad or is not helping us as musicians. Without it many of us wouldn’t be where we are now. It is a great tool that can be utilized, but are we utilizing that and efforts in the right way. This all is truly intended to be a conversation starter for music communities everywhere.
“Support Local Music” is the battle cry heard ’round the scene. Not just our local scene, but every local scene you become a part of as an artist. Every state in the U.S. every city or town across the globe undoubtedly has someone every night on a stage saying “make sure you support local music”, but who are we saying it to? Often times it is the same group of people. It could be those 10 people that show up to every gig, it could be your 100 biggest fans that make every single show that you post. But how about those thousands of followers you have, how about those friends that give you the “thumbs up” but never show up at a show. “Looks like fun”, “Wow, you are doing great”, “rock on” are familiar quotes we get from fans and followers. But as a struggling artist, what does that translate into for you as a band? Would you prefer a pat on the back via the virtual world, or a sold out venue at your next big show that you quite possibly spent money (that you may or may not have) to promote? Stupid question for those of us in bands right?
But have we explained to all of these followers what it means to us to have REAL and tangible support? Do they know what you put into being in a band, what it costs to make and record music (both in time and money), what you may sacrifice to get your art out there, most importantly, what it makes YOU feel like when you do see that support. It’s probably a real dick statement that will get me in trouble if I said it out loud to fans, but computer clicks don’t equal band success, we all know that. But how do we educate our fans on what real support is? Let’s take some examples of scenarios and generate some real discussion.
You recorded an album? How cool was that?
The finished product, that is cool. That day you pick up the printed EP or full length, sure there is nothing like that. Hell, even listening to the tracks as they get mastered is awesome. But the process leading up to that is blood, sweat, tears, time and money..in some cases lots of money. Our fans see the shiny new disc before them with a price sheet next to it at your show, or a “buy here” button on your website. What they may not know is depending on where you go, you could have paid anywhere from $100 to $1000 or more to have a SONG recorded and/or mastered. Not an album, a SONG. They may not know that that beautiful CD took you a year to make because as a band you went in and recorded a song at a time because you had to save money between sessions just to pay for the next one. How many of us have families, girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses that endure the “gotta go rehearse” or “gotta go record” mantra we chant endlessly while perfecting our product. Every one of those things have value, either monetarily or emotionally that people have no concept of when struggling to decide whether to spend that 5,10, 15 dollars on your latest release. Ahh..if we could only get that Starbucks mentality to trickle down to the arts. Five bucks for coffee, sure! Five bucks for music..hmmm..I don’t know. But how to we get that message across that coffee takes pennies to make and music takes hundreds, sometimes thousands? Your guess is as good as mine.
Your music is online so you must be doing well!
It’s a safe bet that when talking about your music you get this inevitable question, maybe even when you have music for sale sitting right in front of you at your merch table. “Where can I find your music online?” Sometimes the intention may be pure, maybe they don’t buy physical copies of music anymore because they don’t have a CD player so they really do want to go home and download your music. Personally, I prefer to buy a physical copy of the hard work done by my local peers. But I also do that because I know that it costs money to record your music, it costs money to have that EP or LP made, have the disc printed, the artwork done, the jewel case it goes into, it all costs money. I want to respect every bit of that process, but I KNOW the process. The average person coming to the show may not know any of that. They think it is cool that you have music available but we live in a world of instant internet gratification and going online and getting music via legal or illegal means is just easier. Even by legal means, I think the general public has no idea how little comes back to us. “You are on iTunes? That must be cool” have you heard that? You can insert anything there; Spotify, Tidal, BandCamp, Google Play Music, it’s all the same. Sure it is cool to see your music there, but does that same person that thinks it is cool know that as an unsigned artist, for you to make the equivalent of minimum wage for a month you would have to get 180,000 plays per month on Spotify. To get the same amount of money via your YouTube if you are monetizing plays you would need 700,000 views (Source listed below), those numbers are PER MONTH. This is why most of us have real jobs in addition to band pursuits, it simply is almost impossible to survive as a musician if that is all you are doing.
Band merchandise? That must be cool to see people in your shirts!
The next step that you’ve “made it” right? Shirts on the table, stickers on the table, maybe wristbands, guitar picks, bandannas surely mean you are successful. Successful or you have a credit card, rich benefactor, or music label. Much of this falls into the same scenarios I’ve listed above. That $15 shirt isn’t just a piece of fabric to us, it is a bonafide risk that we hope gets us some advertising. But it is a risk we take nonetheless. No one can see your iPhone playlist and know which band you are listening to walking down the street. But if they see a band logo on a shirt, well that is a whole new story. A cool graphic or font can be the difference between someone looking up a band or asking that person about that shirt and someone just walking by saying or doing nothing. But with reward comes risk. That same band that had to shell out money to make that record also had to make a decision to spend money on something they HOPE people will buy. Like I said before, this isn’t the daily coffee fix being taken care of, we actually have to convince people to buy our “swag” for lack of a better term. What we need to make sure people know is that for us to continue to make a product, we need to sell that product. I think there is no shame at all when performing for you to say “check out our merch booth, help us continue to make music” Or if you travel with the band, tell the fans it would be great to have gas money to get home and buying a shirt sure would help. Again, it’s all about the mindset that pervades the patrons of the arts and music community. They want to be entertained, but not at too much of an expense to their wallets, even while sipping a $10 cocktail in the process.
The local scene is more than just music
So I just finished chastising you for sipping $10 cocktails at a show and now I am going to tell you that the scene is more than just music, it’s about where you see shows. Yes, this is the hypocritical portion of the article. But it does need to be mentioned that of all places you can go to sip those expensive cocktails, or cheap beers, we need to encourage fans to support venues along with artists. These venue owners are taking a chance by booking bands, they don’t know how many people are showing up on any given night and if they will even spend money at the show. As artists we need to talk up these establishments that go out of their way to let us showcase our art and encourage people to not only spend a little money on a drink or food (at some venues) but to also come back and see other shows there! If we can’t get people in the doors then soon those doors may be closed to all of us. It’s happened far too many times to far too many cool places to play music.
Wow, it must be great exposure for you playing all of these places
The most hated phrase in the music scene, exposure. I just talked up supporting venues and now I’m going to call them out, what a jerk huh? But this isn’t just for venues, it is for promoters, booking agents, PR people, everyone involved in putting a show together. I won’t spend a lot of time here because it is first and foremost a point of contention with all artists and second it gets talked about all too often. Unfortunately people just don’t listen all the time. Lets just make it simple, we work long and hard to make music and many times spend money to get it to the public. This includes things as small as gas to get to the venue, which in some cases may be the difference in being able to play the show or not. It what other profession can you ask someone to do something for free and get away with it on the premise of “exposure”. If I owned a venue and my toilets stopped working the day of a show and I can’t have the show without working bathrooms, am I going to call a plumber and ask them to fix my toilets as soon as possible but tell him I can’t pay? But wait, I WILL tell everyone at the show that he fixed the toilets so we could open, so he gets good exposure for his business. It doesn’t fly in the business world, why should it fly when people are showcasing a product? Sadly however, we will still all end up playing shows for free until the paradigm shifts.
You have a show coming up at _______. That must be awesome.
This is where it gets touchy, getting people to take that extra step. This is also where we as bands experience our greatest amount of frustration. We can say “support local/independent music” till we are blue in the face but the truth remains that our hardest task is getting people to buy tickets or walk in the door. I left the blank above for you to insert a venue name in your locale. For the sake of my location we could say you have a show at Marquee Theater, Crescent Ballroom, local stage at Warped Tour, whatever it may be. Social media has made it so simple for that “support” I mention to be accomplished with a click of a button or turn of a phrase. Thumbs up! Great Job! Awesome news! We hear and read those every day don’t we? But once again, how do we turn those comments or clicks into real headcount at a show? As with most questions I am posing it is rhetorical. If I had all the answers then I would be representing bands and promoting shows across the country! I think however, that it once again starts with educating people on what it took for us to get to that point and what it means to be there and what is at stake. Social media is great to an extent but if we are being honest, I could care less what my organic or paid reach is on a Facebook post or event is if I’m not seeing people actually come to shows. If I am asking someone to spend $20 on a ticket to see my band play at one of those venues, do they know that if my band doesn’t sell a certain amount of tickets we don’t make a dime? It’s not the all too evil “pay to play” that still exists in some cities, but in some cases it is play and not get paid if there aren’t enough people in the venue. What fans also may not realize is that as a band you may have worked for YEARS to get to that point. It may be the current high point for your band, it could be the make or break point for your band. We love kind words online, but we are even more grateful to see your smiling faces in the crowd. The next time you hit up followers, friends, family, whatever it may be to come to what is a big show for you, let them know WHY it is so important to have them in attendance, and don’t forget that same thing when you as a musician get hit up to go to shows. Which leads me to….
Band support from other Bands
This is area in which I do think for the most part in the local scene here, we do well. But I also don’t want us to pat each other on the back too much. I don’t make it to half the shows I want to go see because of time, work, or family constraints and I know for a fact we all have constraints of some kind. But we should also all be aware of those big shows that our peers have, those moments that can be the start of something big for them and support them as best we can. We should also make a point as performers to make every effort out there to support at our own shows. No matter where you are in the set order, make an effort to check out your peers. Show up early or stay a little late, and encourage your fans to do the same. It could be as simple as telling them how much you’ve wanted to see the next band perform and that they should check them out as well. This is especially true for bands coming in from other states. I can’t be the only person in a band to travel hundreds of miles for an out of state show just to see the local band and fans bail after their set. We should respect other artists whether they traveled 10 miles or 500 miles, and encourage our fans to do the same.
So there it is people, A musicians perspective on what it means to support local music. Are we doing it, and if so are we doing it right. Most importantly, how do we get some of these points across to our fans out there. As I said, this was intended as a conversation starter, so let the conversations begin..