Another Talk About The Scene

As always when I get a chance to hang out with Tony Janicki (of Black Earth and Conniving Cadavers) we talk about the scene and possibilities for improving it.

So there’s this idea of over-playing which I don’t entirely subscribe to. The idea that if your band plays every week you ruin your attendance at shows because some fans come to each show instead of all fans coming to one. It’s not wrong exactly but in my experience as a fan I’ll see a band a few times a month if the whole line up is good but what I won’t do is pay fifty bucks between cover and drinks to watch one band I like play a forty five minute set between three or four other bands I don’t.

So the solution as I see it is to play less but not for the sake of treating your band as a rare and precious commodity but just to hold out for better bills. It’s more ruthless than I am comfortable being mostly, but I think if you get offered a show and there’s a band on the bill you – or more importantly your fans – think is shit then I say turn it down and tell the promoter why.

I’ve been thinking today about bands I like and bands I don’t and I’ve come to point where I can start to clarify. Let’s start with Thrashadactyl, a band I very much like. They’re young and when I first saw them they had some chops and little-to-no presence but they clearly had a love of music that resonated with me. Now I’ve seen them a bunch over a few years and I’ve watched their chops grow and their presence become explosive. What they do musically is rooted in the 80’s but it’s not tongue-in-cheek, it’s really done with love and they’re still evolving and incorporating other things.

Now I’ll be a gentleman and not name a band I dislike but I will say they also have an 80’s sound. An 80’s punk sound. Because they were playing in bands in punk rock in the 80’s. And they still haven’t gotten any better, the singer has had twenty five years and still hasn’t learned to hold a mic or have any breath control and as a band they’re still writing the same three chord anti-anthems about the establishment and serial killers and nonsense. It all reeks of having been done and done better a long time ago. Worst of all, and this is what I figured out really bothers me, they’re still doing it because they have nothing else to do. They’re not evolving as a band and they’re just going through the same tired shtick on stage every time. Rather than actually doing it for love they seem to be desperate to get drunk enough to live out a fantasy at the expense of our good taste. They don’t want to stop but they don’t want to grow either.

I feel the same way about a lot of young bands too, I see them not having fun, not being artists, not evolving, not improving, just pick a style and play it, and I wonder why they’re clogging up our venues.

But sadly in some cases I do know why they’re allowed to clog up our venues, they bring people. Some shitty bands have a lot of drinking buddies that will come out to shows. This brings me to the next thing Tony and I talked about, the difficult situation of venues.

In my opinion venue owners are usually making a big sacrifice for us by being a live music venue instead of an easily profitable sports bar. Mostly they do it for love. And like most things done for the love the delusion fades and turns to bitter cynicism then a drinking problem. I know it’s tough to keep the lights on though with the profits of fledgling passion bands building their audience.

Sadly though what’s good for us doesn’t always look good to the venue. Mark was not thrilled when I pitched the idea of Greystone and an unknown out-of-town band playing at Distortion. I put in some nights hauling gear and busing tables to win him over (and for a t-shirt and to see 9 bands for free and we got wasted every night. Anyway…) In the end he was pleased with the turn out for the October 22nd show. I’m glad it paid off ’cause even though we’re friends Mark still scares the piss out of me.

So Greystone has a good relationship at the Distortion.

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Before that, the first time the Magnettes were in town over the summer it was originally going to be a Vern’s show and Clint was the one not convinced the bill could draw, so he wanted to add a fifth band of his choosing. We discussed it and moved the show to Nelson’s to keep our hand-picked line up and the attendance was delightful. We wound up with a good relationship there too.

I hate that bands and venues have to have different goals and priorities when we have a purely symbiotic relationship but I can’t see much else to do when there are so many bands, so few of whom are good, and the audience – the entertainment market – has dozens of sure fire options for having a good night out.

We can’t bring cover down because then bands don’t get paid, we can’t have the few great bands in town playing every night because duh, and… I  can’t even think of a third obviously bad idea. I can’t offer an owner-oriented solution because I am not a venue owner and don’t have any legit insights, I can say that on our end the shows need to be better, not just individual bands but the whole bill.

At the last punk vs metal Jim put Cadavers up first because it would set the bar and push the other bands to be better because you can bank on Cadavers to put on a good show. Meanwhile I’ve been feeling a similar way since playing with Cooper Collective, I used to love opening because I hate the nerves of waiting around to play but now I just want to play after bands that have killed it because it brings out the best in us.

One myth or at least outdated idea among bands is that playing live is the first and only step to getting fans. In this day and age we need to be doing a lot more to garner fans in between shows. Recording, videos, blogs, merch, whatever we have to do to stay relevant. Think of it like promoting shows before they’re set up. I’ve sold more shirts since the last show than we sold at that last show, just by having awesome shirts and getting people hyped and I’m certain a few more of those work friends and acquaintances will be at the next show, whenever that may be.

Speaking of the digital age, I always hate it when I see one casual mention of a show on Facebook but not as much as I hate a dozen faux excited mentions. We all hate advertising and that’s all that is, why does anyone think that helps?

When Mark agreed to set up the show he said “we’ll have to see what kind of a campaign we can set up” and the word Campaign resonated in my ears. I  really loved it and that’s when I decided to tell people about our gang colours thing on stage a few weeks in advance, and then announce Chris being our substitute guitarist a week after that, including a picture of him practicing with us, and then new merch a week after that.

Firstly, I think you should always be adding information when you talk to the audience because we all hate nagging, meaningless reminders. Secondly it creates build up to the show, so audience is now thinking in terms of a story that finishes at the show and they’re much more likely to go.

In wrapping this up I’ll admit I often have moments of hesitation when letting you in on my inner workings. I’m afraid of seeming crass and I hate it that it seems crass to want to do everything you can for your band. But also because sometimes if I see someone actively taking my advice on songwriting I’ll worry I’ve given away something that makes me special. And now I’m worried by telling you what I’m working on to set Greystone Gardens apart it could take away some of the magic. But I always tell myself that it’s not my place to horde insight or information, always better to share it and let others rattle it around then gain some of their insight. Plus giving away ideas leads to new innovations on my part rather than stagnant intellectual protectionism.

So hit me back and keep the conversation going. Let’s hear some ideas from bands and venues about how to achieve a flourishing scene.

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Singer/songwriter, jerk.

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Posted in Pop Culture, Songwriting

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