Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Dallas Music... Movement?

It has been far too long since my first true post (MySpace playlists notwithstanding). There have been a multitude of factors behind this, some of which are personal in nature. I must, however, say that there is another factor. In recent months, I have become increasingly frustrated by the state of affairs in the music community. There are far too few people give a damn about the music that comes from the metroplex area. More importantly, almost all of those who do care are musicians, club owner, record label owners, etc. In other words, the local music scene consists almost exclusively of those directly in it. There are very few genuine fans of the scene. By fans, I mean people who have no direct investment in the success of a band or musician. These are people who support who regularly attend shows for the simple love of the music. I’ve tried coming up with a list of true music fans. Not people who like one band or singer, but make a regular effort to support a variety of musicians. The sad truth is I can count those people on one hand.

This should not be a problem for a city the size of Dallas. Many cities smaller in size (Seattle and Portland come quickly to mind) do not face this. The most obvious example of this, however, is a mere three hours south from us. Austin has been called the live music capital of the world, and for good reason. There are a number of tremendously talented musicians from that area: David Ramirez, Jaimee Harris, Jarrod Dickenson, The Criminal Kind, and Scorpion Child are artists that I have discovered in the past several months, all of which are first rate artists. These musicians, however, have something that acts from this area lack. Austin musicians live in an environment that is supportive and nurturing, that encourages and rewards artistic creativity. Dallas, on the other hand, is a city that rewards musical followers and not leaders. This is a city where cover bands rake in money, while acts that perform original material struggle to find an audience. The pool of talent is at least equal to that of Austin, and in my opinion overall exceeds Austin. Yet Austin gains the title of live music capital of the world because it CARES about its musicians, and based on the way they’re treated, this city does not.

That leaves the ultimate question hanging over us: how do we change this? I’m not sure that there’s a simple answer to this question. In the next few days, I plan to discuss this issue at greater length. I may not have an answer for the larger problem, but I do have some ideas that may be steps toward a solution. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will share some of these ideas with you, and I look forward to receiving input from my readers.

I would, however, like to leave you with one thought courtesy Jimmy Menkena (lead singer of the band Menkena). During a recent conversation, we talked about the problems faced in Dallas by musicians, and one topic that came up was the idea of a scene versus a movement. Scenes come and go, almost in the blink of an eye. A movement, on the other hand, has an energy and passion behind it and leaves a lasting legacy. Will changing the phrase “Dallas music scene” to the “Dallas music movement” truly change the state of things? Changing names does not make a long term difference. What will matter is if the attitude towards local music changes. I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again now: the problem is NOT a lack of quality bands. Within the past few years, I have discovered such first rate acts as Jonathan Tyler & Northern Lights, THe BAcksliders, Dove Hunter, Menkena, Hendrick, Iris Leu, Luna Matto, The O’s, The Monco Poncho, Nicholas Altobelli, Elkhart, and Damaged Good$, and I’m just getting started with the list. These are artists should be heard. Scratch that: these are artists that NEED to be heard and embraced. The music coming out of the metroplex right now possesses both the quality and the sense of urgency and vitality that it warrants the upgrade in title from “scene” to “movement”. The music also warrants the upgrade in attention from all area music fans.

If you feel like I do, then do me a few favors. Forward this article to your friends, both the serious and casual music fans. Comment on my blog. It doesn’t matter if you agree with me or not, so long as you can be respectful and thoughtful in your comments. My goal with Ghost of Blind Lemon has always been to encourage growth in the local music scene. I can only do so much on my own; I need your help.


Anonymous said...

Venues do NOT pay musicians enough. End of story. The state of the "movement" will not change until that changes.

"The Ghost" said...

I do not deny that most venues do not pay bands enough. Unfortunately, most venues cannot afford to pay bands more money considering the decrease in the number of shows. Until bands can bring more people to shows, venues will not bring in enough money to pay the bands more. The issues are interconnected, and by getting more people involved in the movement, bands will be paid more money.

Anonymous said...

if the venues can't afford to pay the bands, perhaps they shouldn't call themselves a live music venue. club owners also need to be a part of the movement.

KatieMac said...

The sad state of music radio in Dallas contributes to the apathy. There's little local music on the radio, so local bands are virtually unknown by the general public. I hope that KERA's new station 91.7 KXT - set to launch on Nov. 9, 2009 - will remedy this. Paul Slavens is a fantastic supporter of the local scene; he'll put the bands on the airwaves that have long deserved notice.

"The Ghost" said...

Anonymous, yes club owners need to be part of the movement, and there are certainly those club owners who intentionally short change the bands. Sometimes the problem is not with the club owner, but with the fact that a band brings too few people. I know of some bands that expect an amount of money that is outrageous considering their draw (or lack thereof). And if you go with the argument that venues that can't pay bands can't be live music venues, then that leaves even fewer places for bands to perform and gather attention. That will only further weaken the movement. The problem needs to be addressed from both ends: bands need a greater audience, and then club owners need to financially reward the bands that perform well.

Speaking of exposure, I am excited about KXT as well. I must also give a brief mention of The Local Edge show on Sunday nights, which it turns out is doing an excellent job of promoting local music of true quality.

Nick Nick said...

Well said Ghost my friend, obviously you know I agree. I also agree with your response on the pay thing. I realize we haven’t played everywhere but we play regularly and with the exception of one venue my band has never had an issue with payment, but no matter how much money a band makes that’s not what puts people in the venue. We need to get the word out some way. I’m not aware of any radio station that previously has really done much or played much local stuff. Another thing is that some bands work hard to promote themselves and some just seem to expect people to show up automatically. It takes both the club and the artist working together. You are right we need more, a campaign for Dallas music. There are great bands here and only a handful of people like you that are doing what they can to support them and I think everyone that is helping is to be commended. I’ll just say….. If we don’t all pitch in our part, pretty soon we won’t have a part to pitch in. Yow!

Anonymous said...

venue closures... economy... Consumers are finding it hard to support the habbit of going out to see bands and pay for parking, cover, beer, sometimes dinner.. All these things play a factor. ... but it's true, Ghost. It seems that the working original music/indie bands that are out there, are competing for the same small audience. -- I think you and Katie are on to something though, with the idea that maybe we a little extra push from respectable radio, bands can re-grow their fanbases by being exposed to them first for free in the comforts of their own homes.

Anonymous said...

Formula Is Broken

This is marketing 101: if you have a viable product, then you have to develop a marketing strategy for any successful results. Word-of-mouth only goes so far and a lot of local good bands rely too much on this tactic. Then add to this band mixture of business, the local club owners leave the entire marketing/advertising of these shows to the musicians. Placing a flyer at your local Guitar Center will probably not cut it in this day and age. (Not saying all musicians are inept in being a successful advertising machine, but the odds are generally stacked against them.)

I don’t think we have quite understood on a grassroots level how much the Internet and online media gateways have changed our way of listening and in purchasing music (if there are people out there that still buy music legally). It was just a matter of time before it bled down to the local music scene. It’s not a coincident that major music distribution plans literally change on a weekly basis. The music business is just trying to adapt and keep up with the new delivery methods. Local acts are not immune to this weird change in the music industry.

So how does the local band with talent break through? That seems to be the million dollar question. I can only come up with 2 ideas and they are feasible at best: a true internet presence (MySpace page is not going to cut it or geocities) and a true co-op relationship with local venues. Local venues and musicians are going to have to come to the conclusion that one entity cannot co-exist without the other successfully. So that might mean a local venue does more than place an advertisement on their website (which might get a few hits a week and those are usually the artists making sure the venue has them on the correct night and time)of what night your band is playing. Or a band email or text some of their friends and hope they will come out and support them. The risk/reward has to be evenly shared with the venue and musicians. The bigger the business/money at stake, people generally pay more attention and put harder work into making it successful. And don’t be fooled in thinking the cover-charge method works. It worked 20 years ago; these are different times we are living in today and we have to change in order to be successful.

1st Anonymous said...

I'm not talking about bands that are just starting out. I'm talking about bands that HAVE paid their dues in the "scene" and are generally acknowledged to be worth more than $50 for the whole band to play. Those bands have to go outside of Dallas to survive. The same bands work their asses off in marketing and rallying their supporters. Why should they play in Dallas if the clubs don't advertise or promote at all?

Also, I think there are too many venues in Dallas. For every show I go to, there are three I miss on the same night.

Decent radio exposure would be an excellent start.

"Formula Is Broken" says it the best when he/she says "The risk/reward has to be evenly shared with the venue and musicians."

Anonymous said...

I saw one big problem when I went to ACL this year. The Austin Chamber of Commerce had a booth set up inside the media tent with lots of info about the city and its music. They even had a free CD sampler of Austin bands to take home.

When is the last time that Dallas had that support?

-Jason J.