In my decade of experience playing music around the country, I’ve noticed a strange similarity in many of the musicians I’ve encountered. Lots of active musicians I’ve met firmly believe their music scene is bad or that it used to be good and has somehow lost its luster over the past few years. Being in a young, ambitious band, I used to relate to these negative sentiments as it can often feel hard to find acceptance and support from a music scene when you’re new and trying to prove yourself. But over the years, I’ve come to realize that no, there’s not a widespread worsening of music communities across the nation, but instead a problematic issue with the jaded attitudes often found in the musicians who form music scenes.
What makes a music scene great
What constitutes a thriving music scene? From where I sit, a music scene worth its salt is filled with enthusiastic artists intent on making meaningful music and supporting other musicians within their community. The lines become blurred between fan and band in solid music scenes because musicians in these communities make a real effort to go to other band’s shows and to act as advocates for music they’re making, even if it doesn’t benefit themselves in any way. Over time, enthusiasm for music being made within a scene infectiously spreads outward and people outside the music community take notice and begin getting involved by attending shows and buying music. That’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway.
Why you might be the problem
What often happens in music scenes is that bands become isolated by adopting an “us vs. the world” mentality, which makes total sense due to our flawed human nature. “Why should I go to that other band’s CD release show when they’ve never been to one of our shows?” is a completely fair question for a band to ask, but it’s not helpful in terms of building or sustaining any sort of music community. If you think your music scene is bad and you don’t make an effort to see other band’s shows, why in the world would you have the expectation that other local musicians should be supporting you? You’re probably a small reason behind why your local community isn’t everything you want it to be.
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Leave your baggage out of it
I get the feeling that many musician’s complaints about their local scenes are rooted in years of pernicious frustration and disappointment when it comes to making music, and I completely relate. When you devote so much of your life trying to make good music and getting the world to take notice, it can be tempting to blame your scene for why music hasn’t given you everything you’d hoped it would when you were younger. But you know what makes a scene bad? Musicians bitching and complaining rather than making real actionable strides to improve things and make better music.
If you want your city to have a great music scene, then go and become that great music scene. See other band’s shows and buy their music. Stop complaining and start completely devoting yourself to making and performing music. Instead of obsessing over how other bands from your city get opportunities that you don’t have access to, build and develop the ones you do have. If you do these things, you’ll be too busy building a meaningful legacy in your scene to sit on the sidelines and complain.
Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.