Your Local Music Scene Doesn't Have To Suck

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Ari's Take

Your Local Music Scene Doesn't Have To Suck


Last night I performed at what's now become ground zero for the LA singer/songwriter scene: Monday Monday.

The Monday Monday series at The Hotel Cafe was originally started by singer/songwriter/FOH mixing extraordinaire Joel Eckels at Room 5 in January of 2013 (after filling the place of the long-running songwriter in the round series). When Room 5 closed down last year and the 2nd Stage at the Hotel Cafe opened, the series moved on over.

Every week about 10 singer/songwriters play 3 songs. Once a month for the "Hootnanny” there is a house band backing up the songwriters. This series is more than just a glorified open mic. Every songwriter is hand picked and the night features some of the best emerging songwriters of Los Angeles.
Some have major publishing deals. Some tour regularly with their own projects. Others freelance with superstars. Some were highly ranked contestants (or winners) on the Voice or one of the other shows. Others are artists on the verge of popping (with heavy-hitting backing).

The room is mostly made up of fellow musicians and songwriters checking out the talent and supporting the scene. It’s not a very publicized evening as the lineup isn’t typically announced until a day or two beforehand – or sometimes not until the night of.

And the night isn't necessarily a glamorous event. The room's capacity is only 80 and it’s usually pretty comfortable in there. On the Hootnanny evenings it nears capacity, but I don’t think any Monday has ever “sold out” per se.

It costs $5 for everyone - unless you’re performing - and this is just to cover the costs. None of the songwriters get paid, but it’s not about the money in this case. It’s about community. This is where future co-writes and collaborations are born. This is where future tours and shows are conceived. This is where players get known and get gigs. It's where acquaintances become friends.

Most Monday’s I find myself gravitating here without checking the lineup because I know I’ll discover some beautiful souls, reconnect with old friends and new acquaintances. It’s my safe space where I walk away inspired and invigorated. It’s my reminder why I chose such an unstable career path and why I will never give up and get a "real job" - whatever that means.

Because life without music and community would be a mistake.

On my book tour the past few months I always had a Q&A directly following the reading. I got asked a few times for ideas on how to break into the local scene or how to build a local following or how to get booked locally at respectable clubs. It was so surprising (and disappointing) that so many were so surprised or dumbfounded at my answer of simply “go to more local shows and become a member of the local scene.”

Nothing worth anything happens overnight.

If you want to build a local following or play the local clubs you have to get out to local clubs, meet other local bands and meet the music lovers who regularly attend live local music. And this doesn’t just happen at one show. Or 5.

When I was just getting started in Minneapolis, I was out nearly every night seeing a show (when I didn't have one myself). Oftentimes I went by myself. Sometimes I left without really talking to anyone. But I took mental notes. Who was the bartender? The bouncer? How did it sound in there? Who was running sound? Who in here is enjoying themselves? Who in here is bored? Do I like this band? Why or why not?

When you go out to shows use the experience to figure out how you can improve upon your entire operation. Eventually, you’ll start to see the same faces and strike up conversations. You’ll get to know the other local bands who you dig (and continue to see around town).

The worst thing you can do is email a buzzing local band and ask to open for them.

That’s the mistake nearly every young band makes. That signals to them that you have no idea how it works. You have no intention of being a member of the scene. No intention of being a supportive member of the community. You have no draw. And you can offer nothing in return. Never send a cold email to anyone who you don’t know asking for a favor. Why would they do a favor for someone they don’t know?

Everyone would do a favor for a friend though.

So make friends. And make these friends in your local scene.

The single most important thing you can do to support your local music scene is to show up.

You know, Joel who runs Monday Monday rants on his Facebook occasionally about how if you live in LA and email him asking to get booked on Monday Monday but you’ve NEVER BEEN to Monday Monday he ain’t going to book you. That’s just disrespectful. And it shows a complete lack of understanding what Monday Monday is.

This can be applied to every venue in every city around the world. The bookers take pride in their venue. And their community. In what they have built. If you’ve never even been to the venue and are a local artist don’t ask for a gig. Get out to the venue. Often. Meet the staff. Meet the regulars. Meet the bands. I understand that if you’re an introvert this doesn’t come as naturally. That’s totally ok. You don’t need to be bopping around from table to table shaking hands with everyone. Maybe stand by sound board and when the FOH engineer has everything dialed in real nice, you give her a compliment. Or ask about the compressor or reverb she’s using.

Your goal can be to walk away from every night making just one connection. Or taking away five things from the evening: How was the sound? Who was the FOH engineer? How did it feel in there?

+This Is How I Got a Licensing Deal

After awhile, you’ll know the venues you enjoy going to. The bands you like seeing. The regulars you constantly run into. (I get more in-depth with this technique and strategy on how to work this in my book. I call it The Book Sheets.) And you’ll start to share bills with other bands. Get in free to shows because the door people like you. Get hooked up at the bar. And start to build the local community and your local base.

It starts with that first show where you aren’t going as a favor or an obligation, but because of a deep seeded desire to enrich yourself and join your fellow musicians and music lovers establishing community and appreciating the beauty in live art. The soul connecting power of music.

It’s not about you. It’s about us. Together. Now go do it.

Like these tips? Get my new book How To Make It in the New Music Business.

Enroll in the How To Make Money in Music course with me and Cathy Heller. Enrollment ends June 19th.

"How To Make It in the New Music Business might well be the best 'how to' book of its kind." - Music Connection Magazine

Ari Herstand (pronounced Ar*ee Her*stand) is a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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