Every music scene is its own world, packed with locally famous venues, musicians, and history. It’s natural to want to develop within the music community that exists in your hometown. However, when musicians fail to evolve past their local scene, they limit not only their opportunities, but also their creativity. Forming an identity outside of your music scene isn’t easy, but it’s essential to connect with large audiences.
Don’t settle for local success
It can be incredibly exciting to find success within a local music scene for new and unestablished bands. Opening for national artists, getting written up in local media, and headlining shows at local venues are all signs of momentum within a scene. The problem comes when bands get addicted and comfortable with the notion of being the big fish swimming in the small ponds of their local music scenes. It’s completely possible to be a well-known and beloved band to the music fans in your hometown but no one else. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this. Yet, if your music career ambitions are bigger than being locally successful, you’ll have to plan to be active outside of your hometown.
Plan smart, sustainable tours
Touring is one of your best shots at breaking out of your local scene, but it’s not easy. Tour too little, and your efforts probably won’t make too much of an impact. But tour too often, and you’ll run the risk of getting burnt out, going into debt, and being unable to write new music. The key is to create reasonable long and short-term goals for your music. After you do that, match those goals with smart, sustainable touring. Smart, sustainable touring means surgically routing tours around the cities that your music is likely to perform best in. You shouldn’t be staying on the road for months on end playing at any venue that will host you. Breaking out of your local scene won’t happen overnight, but throughout a period of years. Keep this in mind when you create a long-term strategy for building a presence outside of your hometown.
Create great music consistently and pitch it nationally
You won’t have a chance of breaking out nationally without great music. Touring can be a powerful tool for building a presence in your region and beyond. However, it will be a waste of time if your music isn’t unique, compelling, and memorable. Creating great music should be your top priority. Pitching your work to the people who can connect you with career-changing opportunities should be far up the list. This can be sync agents, music directors at radio stations, playlist curators, etc. It takes time, and you’re going to get deafening silence for replies far more often than yes’ or no’s. Just understand that this is a crucial part of finding a national audience for your work.
The truth is that you could create excellent work, tour, and pitch constantly and still never be able to break out of your local scene. You might never find what you’re looking for in music if what you care about most is conventional success in and outside of your music community. This is why finding true joy in creating music is the only guarantee for success we may ever have. But if you’re strategic about creating great work and sharing it with people, you’ll give yourself the best shot at building a meaningful career outside of your local scene.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.