Music Scene: Part 1
This article is the result of a written brainstorming session I had in an attempt to better understand what allows for the growth of a music scene. During the writing of this article I realized the expanse of topics related to this idea and decided this will be part one of an ongoing analysis. This article is based on my personal thoughts and is intended to provoke some thoughts in others and initiate the exchanging of ideas. I'd love to hear your guys' thoughts and opinions on the matter.
Music Scene, a term we've all heard and used many a time before. Although we have a solid grasp of the concept its rather difficult to give it a precise definition. This I believe is due to the many ever changing variables that give rise to what we call a music scene. In part I think it's safe to say that the idea of a music scene is tied to a physical location most commonly on the scale of a city or town. But that isn't enough. A music scene is more importantly defined by the community of people, the culture, and the social contexts within a given area. It is a transient energy or vibe that resonates among a community at two different but equally important levels, an artistic level and a social level.
At the level of the art and music itself a music scene may be thought of as an overall mood, feel, or style that the music of a community seems to encompass at a specific time and place. It is the collective force of the music being created by the artists within a community of a given area during a given time period. An artist's music may consciously or subconsciously be influenced by a music scenes culture, idioms, and the sound of other artists within the same community and overtime a common theme may be observed in the music. For example when you think of Nashville, country (and more recently various forms of rock) most likely comes to mind. The music scene of Chicago is heavily associated with blues, Detroit had the Motown soul, New Orleans is known for its jazz; you get the idea. These are some examples of music scenes that are well developed and thought of in strong regard to the prominent sound of the various artists who all knowingly or not gravitated towards a common style or theme. This style arises from the culture, feelings, social influences, and perhaps trends in instrumental arrangement during that time. These artistic trends can give rise to distinct genres and less distinguished sub genres of music.
Even though there are times when the mood of a scene's music can easily be distinguished by the unique sound of the music itself, other times this common theme might be more easily felt or understood rather than heard. A particular music scene may be comprised of a bunch of individuals who have an interest in creating and listening to music that conveys a certain message or incites particular emotions and behaviors. In these ways certain music scenes seem to develop their own unique sound and feel. Put differently, a music scene may revolve around particular genres, or it can cover a broad spectrum of genres and a particular energy or undertone is what ties things together.
But is it possible to have several music scenes within a music scene? This thought supports my argument that the idea of a music scene is sometimes hard to define or that at the very least it's a loosely used term. It can be used to describe the musical involvement of a community as a whole or it can be used in reference to the activity of a particular genre within a community. Within a given area there can be several independently influenced scenes both artistically and socially. For example there can be a strong psych metal scene and a heavy going hip hop scene but not much else that gets any attention. Each of these “scenes” may have overlapping audiences and artists to some degree but they likely each have their own community within the community. If the psych metal scene began to sizzle out over the years it's possible, and likely, that it would have little to no direct effect on the hip hop artists and concert goers of the same community. So which is the more appropriate way of viewing this concept? Do music scenes arise within a community which has a focus on certain genres or do several genre specific music scenes exist within a community?
I believe both are correct, but does it matter which way we choose to perceive this concept? Possibly, I suppose. I like to think of a music scene as a single community within which there may be several predominant genres. My train of thought for this reasoning is that if we consider the entire community of artists from all genres as a part of a single music scene it creates a sense of unity and builds a foundation that supports the overall growth of the arts. Pretend for a moment that the earth is a “music scene” and each country's population is interested in a certain genre. A few countries could be thriving while others are not. If we considered everyone from all countries as part of one closely related community we'd strive to create circumstances that allow for the well being of everyone, or at least we should. I believe we should try to form the same kind of relationship between sub-communities within a music scene. If we consider ourselves united and work together we create a better support system and open up avenues for collaboration and growth. Whether its our cup of tea or not, we should appreciate the art form and respect artists of all sorts.
On the other end of the party there's the social aspect of a music scene which requires the engagement of the community in appreciating and supporting artists. For a music scene to flourish it requires the support of an audience, financial opportunity, and a stage. With any art form, the audience can be as equally important as the artists themselves. Art, including music, is a form of communication and expression. Often times art is created with the intention of connecting with the audience or allowing the audiences to relate to the material. Certainly there is value in creating art for oneself but I believe the sharing of ones artwork with others is essential for the growth of both the artist and the art form.
I believe art is inspired by our urges to creatively communicate complex ideas and emotions to others in ways that simple words cannot. We all desire human connection and music has the exceptional power of bringing us together.
Creating relationships and connecting with people on an emotional level has a fulfilling effect and gives us a sense of purpose. In the same way, one may feel their music is more purposeful and meaningful if others are able to relate to the message within the music. In this way, audiences act as a source of inspiration that motivates artists to continue or begin creating music in the first place. Further more, without the support of the community their would be no marketplace for music so to speak. Without support their would be nothing to drive the business and financial aspects of the music scene. Any business must be lucrative enough to financially support those who start it, and anyone who wants to commit to a career of creating art must be able to support themselves while doing it.
The financial aspects of an art form can have some precarious interpretations. I truly believe that art has intrinsic value in and of itself and that its creation should be solely for the purpose of expression and creativity. But with that being said we live in the 21st century and money is a very important aspect of our lives. It's how we put a roof over our head, buy food, receive healthcare, and procure the resources we need. Many artists including myself treat art as a hobby. Its something many of us enjoy but it is secondary to some other purpose that we have or job that we do. But for those who have a deep passion for creating music and feel that it is their life's work, there needs to be opportunities to create income to support themselves. To truly master a trade one must fully invest themselves in its practice free of distractions and unnecessary obligations. Although it is possible to become a successful musician while bringing in income through some other line of work I believe that the more your source of income enables you to keep your focus on music, the more realistic your chances of truly mastering the art become. In other words, we give ourselves the best chance at excelling in our passion when we are able to align the way we create income with said passion. I believe that among today's youthful generation, most musicians have the goal of, and would be content with, making a humble salary as long as they're able to do so through their music. The idea that you need to pull in a large record deal and become famous at a national level to have a career as a musician is fading out. I think its important that we start realizing the fact that a musician can still have a successful career on a smaller scale. Success at a local or regional level would be fulfilling for most musicians and as long as the community and businesses of that community support this notion, a supportive career as a musician can become a reality for a large number of people.
Okay so we have an interested audience and the potential to generate income because of their interest which brings us to one other requirement of a thriving music scene, a stage. In order to share ones music, artists require some sort of spotlight to showcase their work. Aspiring musicians need outlets through which they can perform, produce, and distribute their music in order to expand their reach and get the bills paid. These outlets come in the form of music venues, local music stores and other businesses who facilitate public involvement in the arts.
Before I go any further on this topic I feel it's necessary to mention the growing role of the internet when it comes to reaching audiences and distributing music. Now a days the internet provides a global stage and market for artists through social media and digital music services. Long gone are the days where one required a record label to leap the hurdles on the path to becoming a successful musician. It has become both realistic and affordable for artists to record, produce, market and distribute their music through their own efforts and on their own buck. Social media has made it possible to connect with the world and allows musicians to market their music on their own basically for free. On top of that, digital downloading and streaming services allow for the distribution of music without the costs of producing and distributing physical copies. It's easier and cheaper than ever before to produce music and have far reaching means of marketing and distribution, but this comes with a cost of its own. The ease of obtaining music online has created a financial problem within the music industry. People no longer purchase music the way they used to making it difficult for artists to generate income and leaving them with the need to be creative in finding ways to make money. The internet has created a classic catch 22 situation where artists have a tremendous reach to their audiences with much ease, but it's also made it much more difficult to make money from music sales. This is a relevant and rapidly developing topic that deserves an article of its own, I just thought it needed to be mentioned here so you can keep it in the back of your mind. It also emphasizes the importance of having opportunities for paid performances as this is how many artists generate the majority of their income.
So people want to hear your music, great! Now you need several options as to where you're going to perform it for them. Putting on a show requires a good deal of work, and as much as we love a good house show in the damp basement of a decaying campus house, we need legitimate venues willing to house our events. We need venues that create the right atmosphere and bring in a crowd that you see as your niche in the marketplace. Established venues with professional equipment (and permits allowing for those elevated decibels), a stage, and area for larger capacities are a must for any music scene. Venues act as the bridge between the artist and the general public. Distributing recorded music is great but live performances are the true form of music. We've all experienced it at least once, that feeling when the whole crowd is connected by the web of emotions pouring out of the artist on stage. Each performance is unique and creates those magical moments in time that will never happen again in quite the same way. Live performances bring people together in such a beautiful way and for this to happen, we need a place to do it.
A thriving music scene should have a variety of venues all with their own niche in the marketplace. Each one develops its own atmosphere creating an environment and drawing in crowds with specific tastes in genres or attitudes of music. This is important because you want venues available to you that bring in people who have a taste in your musical style or attitude allowing you to reach your target audience. With that being said, you still want those other options too so you can perform for various crowds expanding your reach to people in other areas of town or those with different interests in music. Lastly, a larger pool of venues allows for more frequent shows. Distinguished music scenes are successful because of the high density of events within it. Having numerous venues that host events several nights a week allows artists and spectators to constantly engage with the music community and ultimately keeps a certain level of focus on music at all times. With opportunities always available the momentum is never lost. The same holds true from the artist standpoint. When it comes down to it, live performances are the penultimate factor when it comes to building a fanbase and gaining some traction. People remember great performances. Opportunity for frequent exposure is a must for any aspiring artist and having a solid selection of music venues makes this a possibility.
Again we must return to the idea that artists gotta make money. As mentioned earlier, music sales aren't what they used to be. If you're an upcoming artists you most likely have your discography available for free or damn near it on streaming services and social media. Live performances are a major source of income for artists at all levels now a days so having venues who are willing to pay you is essential. It's a “I scratch your back and you scratch mine system”. Live performances bring them more business and thus they should be prepared to compensate you for it.
For any artists with hopes of upward trajectory it is important to understand and become involved in your music scene. By understanding what comprises a music scene and how the individual variables interact we can come to realize its importance. Anyone who loves music whether you're an artist, consumer, or a business owner, needs to understand the conditions that are required for a thriving music scene. If you're a fan go to the show, buy the T-shirt or vinyl. If you're a venue, pay fair compensation to the artists who bring you business. If you're an artist, collaborate with others, support other artists, and expand your reach. Working together as a community we can create a culture that appreciates music and an economy that supports those who create it.