Stop Ignoring Your Local Bands
*Note: They picked the title, not me. I would never have phrased it so negatively. It’s meant as a pick-me-up.
By Andy Gallagher
This month, the band I am in will release its fourth album of original music written and recorded in Columbus, Ohio. If our own past releases and those of our Columbus musician friends are any indication of what the four of us should expect, the release will go a little something like this:
We will go a few thousand dollars into debt recording the album and printing a few hundred copies. We will get most of our friends to come to our release show, and some of them will buy the album—more out of social obligation than a recognition of the music’s quality. If we’re lucky, we’ll sell about 30 of these records at our release show, 30 over the course of the next year, and 30 in Australia.
We really don’t stand much chance of breaking even.
Without a bank that would trust our band-slash-startup company with a much-needed $10,000 loan to allow us to adequately record, promote and distribute this record, we’ll instead spend another year juggling part-time jobs, unable to squeeze in the six hours of daily practice needed to advance in the entertainment industry. We’ll frantically keep writing more music in every spare moment we get and go to fewer and fewer of those still-empty local shows, becoming ever more jaded with the scene until we finally put our guitars in storage and become mothers and fathers.
Obviously, this situation frustrates us to no end. And it isn’t only our own paltry record sales that frustrate us; it’s also that we see so many other great Columbus bands that have been here longer than we have and are still stuck, still asking the same question—why can’t anybody seem to make it in this town?
Those three words—“in this town”—are the most important ones. You simply cannot make a living selling Columbus music to Columbus people. If you want to make it, they say, move to the big cities where all the other great bands came from.
And most likely, they are absolutely right.
But before we all hit the road and flee to our happy artistic enclaves, let’s try to figure out why our capital city cannot support its local musicians. Some possible reasons:
► There does not exist a market of music fans in Central Ohio large enough to support its finest musicians.
I refuse to believe this is true. Look at the robust ticket sales for local appearances by nationally touring acts; look at the endless music collections of our friends (with nary a local disc among them); look at how many band T-shirts dot the college campuses in town. The purchasing power of music-listening Central Ohioans is immense.
► The music coming out of this town just isn’t that good.
Once upon a time, before I started frequenting local shows, I thought the same thing. I wasn’t hearing Columbus bands on the radio, I wasn’t reading about Columbus bands on the hip music blogs, and I wasn’t seeing Columbus bands on the television. I was left to assume that nothing great was happening in this town, because if there had been, I surely would have been aware of it.
Now consider this list: Nick Tolford. Ghost Shirt. Karate Coyote. The Liquid Crystal Project. Wing & Tusk. Andrew Graham & Swarming Branch. DJ Moxy. Flotation Walls. Envelope. Two Cow Garage. saintseneca. The Compressions. The Alwood Sisters. LES Crew. Super Desserts. Locusta. Greenhouse. Blueprint. Old Hundred. The Black Swans. Shin Tower Music. (If any of these groups don’t come up in your discussions of modern music, I strongly encourage you to check them out.)
I started discovering such groups when I started showing up in those empty bars on weeknights and seeing if there was anything to fuss about.
There was. Fuss.
Of course, the woes of the Columbus music scene may simply be symptomatic of a larger trend. To wit:
► The writing and recording of music is not an essential service in the new economy and will soon be eliminated.
If so, the problem is far more severe than originally thought, and my fellow musicians and I need to focus our efforts immediately elsewhere. But I doubt that this is the case.
To borrow a tired line, things don’t have to be this way. Whenever we choose, we can start giving a few of our favorite musicians in this city the real financial opportunity to keep writing their music and playing their music and further honing their music until they are finally granted a rare gem in these modern times—the chance to truly explore the limits of their own potential.
And it doesn’t require a complicated equation for this to work. If you haven’t checked out the local scene lately, do five minutes’ worth of research (for newbies, start with donewaiting.com) and find a local band you think you’d like. Then go to one of its shows. If you like the music, buy an album. If you don’t, don’t (both of these are equally important). This practice, repeated over time, guarantees the city at least the scene it deserves.
So the next time you decide to pick up the new album with the five-star Rolling Stone review, take that money, instead, over to a local music show and give us Ohio musicians a shot. Because some of us are extremely dedicated, hard-working individuals who are trying our absolute hardest to make it in this industry, and we’re going to keep on trying as long our bodies and wallets allow us.
By simply paying attention, we can help these dedicated and hard-working musicians actually support themselves and their families by creating and selling their own art. And if we can make that happen, we’re not just supporting the local scene. We’re creating jobs.
Guest columnist Andy Gallagher is a member of Columbus band Trains Across the Sea.