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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Why Local Music Scenes Don't Matter

     Let me make it clear that is NOT an article about a specific city/place, just general statements about local scenes anywhere.  The American Music Industry is concentrated in three major locations:  New York City, Nashville & Los Angeles.  New York is the historic home of the music business-going back a century, Nashville is the counter-pole that arose mid century, also home to all of country music, and Los Angeles is the second largest market in the country, and a historic home to the rock music business.

    So here is the danger of being big in a local music scene. Roughly 100% of the music industry professionals who can take an artist from amateur to professional status live in NYC, LA or Nashville.  That means roughly 0% of the music industry professionals who live OUTSIDE those three markets can help out a specific artist.  Every local market has its own music industry professionals: FM radio personnel, local weekly journalists and would-be booking agents and managers.  The problem is that, by definition, if they are operating outside of the one of the music industry centers, they are either wanna-be's or never wases, and therefore, useless from the perspective of an amateur artist seeking professional status.

   I'm not claiming that music industry professionals are the only people that matter in a local scene- the other group is amateur music enthusiasts- people who spend 5-10 hours a week giving a shit about new music- either by reading pitchfork, taking in the matinee at anthology or going to see Pierce the Veil at SOMA. In any local music scene, there will be a certain amount of feedback between local music professionals, and local amateur music enthusiasts, creating a relationship of influence between the two.

  The problem is that amateur music enthusiasts don't have particularly good taste- in fact, they have taste EXACTLY like the REST OF THE WORLD.  Therefore, for an Artist operating in a local music scene, the easiest path to viability is mirroring the tastes of the market at large.  However, on a national level this is a road block, because all of the Music Industry Professionals in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville have a different set of criteria from the tastes of the general public audience.  Music Industry Professionals tend to be intense consumers/fans of music as a necessity/side-effect of their job SELLING MUSIC.

  Thus, for an amateur music Artist in any local market, the audience you want is the amateur music enthusiasts of the cities where the Music Industry Professionals congregate. You can accomplish this by either living in that city (bands that move to Brooklyn after college) or by participating in a regional touring circuit and passing through Los Angeles, New York City or Nashville on a more or less regular basis.

    Examples include San Diego's own Crocodiles, Wavves & Dum Dum Girls, San Francisco acts like Ty Segall and Fresh & Onlys, as well as numerous country and traditional rock artists operating in a swath of territory from Austin to Nashville.  Historic examples include regionally centered "Scenes" from areas outside LA/NYC/NASH:  Austin outlaw country, the Bakersfield Sound, San Francisco 60s rock bands, Seattle Grunge bands, Motown, Stax, etc. etc. etc.)

  Therefore, the reaction of music professionals and amateur music enthusiasts in a specific local scene is irrelevant, provided that the artist can spark a similar interest in like groups in New York City, Los Angeles, Nashville.

 A significant way that local music success can HARM an amateur artist's chances is that Music Industry Professionals in Los Angeles and New York thrive on secrecy, exclusivity and contractual relationships.  An Artist active in a local scene is more likely to accumulate "encumbrances" from the local music scene- often local music industry professionals trying to go national.

  From the perspective of a nationally active Music Industry Professional, the preferred artist is "clean."  Local activity is either irrelevant or actively frowned upon.  This is not merely the perspective of "major label" institutions, it also represents the attitude of centrally located indie institutions- record labels, journalists, etc.

   The rituals of any local music scene are essentially a farce, shadow puppetry, kabuki theater, meaningless-in-and-of-themselves.  This is not to say that new Artists (I'm using the term in the sense that the Billboard New Artist Chart uses the term- has sold less then 5k records of whatever) don't come from somewhere: Every Artist comes from somewhere.  But as far as the music industry is involved, they will hook up with partners located in New York, Los Angeles or Nashville OR remain amateurs.

        The fact that local music scenes do not matter is also their saving grace:  You can "practice" "develop" or "fine-tune" as an artist, literally FOREVER in a local scene without anyone taking notice.  Considering how amazingly cut throat the Music Industry is, that is a blessing- good music doesn't develop under the microscope, it develops in isolation.

      If more local Artists would treat the local music scene as a laboratory instead of a god damn toddler beauty pageant, more local Artists would inspire interest from the Music Industry Professionals in Los Angeles, New York or Nashville.  Instead, Artists engage in petty self-marketing and an endless procession of poorly attended live shows- neither of which inspire local music enthusiasts, let alone central music industry professionals.

       Let me tell you something- music industry professionals in the big three markets think local music scenes are pathetic and ridiculous. They don't respect "local music" at all- it's like the opposite of what they do.  Anyone who says different is literally trying to make money off of amateur artists- I'm talking about SonicBids and CD Baby here, but also insitutions like "battle of the bands" events and mandatory ticket sales by the band for live performance.

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