For the past eight years I’ve observed, reported on, participated in, facilitated, and otherwise dedicated a considerably decent part of my life to supporting the local music scene here in Jacksonville. It started right here, writing show recommendations, album and show reviews, interviews with touring bands, and features on local artists. I’ve been in at least six bands that I can recall, some you’ve never heard of, some I’m quite proud of, and most importantly, I started a venue downtown with some friends that I booked and promoted for the first few years. By the time you are reading this, Burro Bar will have held its final show, which may or may not be the last I ever play and this town will have lost what could have been an enduring institution. I won’t rattle on about my feelings on that, nor I will deny any part I personally had in its demise but on the occasion of my final column, I felt it appropriate to pull back the curtain and offer this advice to the bands, the promoters, the supporters, and namely anyone who gives a shit about the future of Jacksonville’s music scene.
Although the mentality seems to be improving somewhat, this little issue has long plagued anyone who has promoted a show in this town. While it seems no one balks at upwards of $30 a ticket for a mid-level national touring band, the same people groan about a $5 cover to see some locals or a DIY act. By refusing or even simply complaining about a cheap cover, you’re sending the message that live music has no value, even when it can cost as little as a single beer. Unless you’re watching a cover band at a cheesy sports bar, you should always expect to and be happy to fork over some cash to support live music. In fact, you should be paying two to three times as much and you should be happy to do it. You’ll give the bartender a buck a beer just to pop a top or pour a draft (no offense, bartenders) but you have to think about paying what amounts to sometimes $0.25 per person to perform for you all night? I’m not the first to criticize this mentality, but it makes my skin crawl anytime someone questions the value of a cover charge that hasn’t been adjusted for inflation in probably twenty years. If you want to support local music, pay up, buy some merch, and if you find yourself particularly entertained, throw the band a tip, especially if they are touring. At least buy them a damn beer!
Seek it Out
One of the hardest parts of writing this column every month is running down all the shows. Even in 2016, there isn’t a way to actually know about every show that’s coming up, and even though that isn’t your fault per se, you should make it a point to seek out what is happening. Many smaller venues simply can’t afford to pay for calendar ads in every publication, and the bands themselves certainly can’t either. While I won’t fault anyone for not doing their homework, because it is a giant pain in the ass, you’re only missing out on a ton of great stuff that’s happening under the radar. Some of the best shows I’ve seen have been things I’ve stumbled upon at places like Shantytown, or house shows you’d never know about unless you’re in the right place at the right time. I wish I could advise you more on how to better infiltrate the quagmire that is our underground music scene, but all I can say is that, as a complete stranger and newcomer, if I could do it, anyone could. But that brings me to my next point…
This one is for the bands and promoters. Facebook has become a powerful tool when it comes to promoting events, but it’s made everyone lazy. I, for one, have removed myself from it and my quality of life has improved as a result, but even those who do participate on the daily won’t necessarily know about your show. The powers-that-be have done a tremendous job making it so that if you want any exposure outside (or even within) your close network, you’re going to have to pay up to do so. I’m not saying stop using it, just stop depending on it. Throw some bones to a creative friend to design a poster, print some flyers, and talk to people face-to-face. An “Interested in” or “Maybe attending” isn’t a commitment, and there are literally thousands of people out there who wouldn’t otherwise know about it.
Talk about it
Again, even though I’ve sworn off Facebook, it’s a powerful tool not only for promoting yourself, but giving a little boost to those you appreciate. Instagram and Twitter are there too. Show these fools what they’re missing next time you’re at a rad show. Very few shows are better when no one else is there, and a rising tide raises all ships. Find a way, without being an annoying groupie, to build up the bands you like and get others on board so that one day, you can talk about how you used to watch them before they blew up.
Jump on ALL THE SHOWS
These last two are for the bands. After you’ve become a thing, it’s ok to put some space between your performances to build some anticipation, but until then, you need to be playing out every opportunity you get. This is about equal parts working on your act as it is being seen. Not everyone who is into punk goes to every punk show, not everyone who digs metal goes to every metal show, and sometimes people who think they only like indie rock can be surprised by a hardcore band (or vice versa)! When you’re just starting out you should take every opportunity to be seen. You’re not only developing your act and building confidence, you’re doing the venues and promoters a favor that they absolutely will return. I have personally booked many bands who were unknown at the time but have since made a name for themselves and had legitimate trouble finding local support. Those guys and gals return favors too, and you just might be setting yourself for an opportunity to meet touring bands from other cities who will help you get shows when you are ready to…
It’s okay if you are in a band just for fun, but if you have any ambitions whatsoever, you are fooling yourself if you think you can accomplish anything in music without touring. The internet has made it possible for anyone, anywhere to hear your music but that means everyone is doing it and it’s nearly impossible to cut through the noise to get someone’s attention these days. The answer is and has always been touring. It isn’t the easiest thing in the world to book even a short regional tour, but it can be done. Like I said, make nice with the bands that come through and hit them up for contacts in their town when you decide to take it on the road. Chances are they at least know a promoter or have a connect at a venue and will likely play with you or suggest someone who can. Start small and try to establish a following in the region with some weekend mini-tours before you head across the country. With time and hard work, it will happen for you.
Look, this town is a tough one, there’s no two ways about it, and only a handful of people know this better than I do. Very few local bands break through, and most of the ones that do aren’t the best representation of what’s really happening. I like to think I’ve done my share and contributed in some way to building what we have today (for better or worse) but it’s up to you now if Jacksonville’s best days are to be ahead rather than past. If you genuinely care about improving the local music scene, take my advice, but more importantly, do something about it. Whether it’s joining a band and doing it the right way, starting your own blog, taking over this column, or just ponying up some cash at a show, the only way things will improve (and I legitimately believe they can), is to act. You can start now, by checking out some of these upcoming shows:
Excellent read. I’m sharing this everywhere.