Aug 14, 2013

It starts, and ends, with you.

Dear Ask A Punk -
You're always talking about how people should DIY things, but you never seem to get specific about how to do certain things, like I read where you told someone to start making their own shows if there are no punk clubs in their town. You make it sound like it is easy to just do that, and anyone can tell it isn't. So how does someone really really do that? - Wondering.

Dear W-
hmmm, I don't recall ever saying it was "easy" to put on your own shows and create your own scene, just that it is doable and worthwhile. Truth be told, most things that are doable and worthwhile actually are NOT easy. That is the difference between the talkers/complainers and the do-ers. Which are you?

OK, so you want some specifics. Here are a few ideas.

First, how big (or small) is your town? Is there any sort of pre-existing music scene? A metal scene? or a polka scene?  Are there a lot of bars/clubs and places for bands to play original material? ...or are you living in a land of cover bands etc? If you want to see a punk rock show on a random weekend evening, how far do you usually have to drive?  I know I promised you ideas, not more questions, but the first order of business is to see where you're at and what might already be in place that could help (or hinder) your establishing of a punk rock / original music scene in your home town.

I said "punk rock / original music" because you would be smart to include almost anyone who is open-minded and interested in creating new music - in all kinds of forms. It will also help you figure out your potential audience. Do you have a lot of punk rock friends who are always complaining that there is no place to see a show? Do you know people with bands who are always complaining that they don't have a venue to play at? -- if the answers to those questions are both 'yes' then a lot of your work is already done. If not, then you have to go out and find both your audience and your entertainers. 

I am going to assume you are connected to whatever punk rock scene there is in your town... no matter how small and scattered it might be. So here is the first concrete thing you should do: Imagine you ARE booking a show for a venue in your town, at the moment it doesn't matter when or where, all that matters is the WHO. Make a list of every local band you can think of. Are there any? Sure it would be easy to make a list of big-time headline bands you'd like to see, but those kinds of bands aren't what you need to create a scene... you need locals.

Make a list of every local band you can think of, and by 'local' I mean any band within say, a 50 or 100 mile radius of where you're at. You're looking for any band that is within an hour or two drive of you... anything further and it wouldn't be worth that band's while to drive in to play a set for (probably) no money. 

Once you've made your list, research every band on it. I am sure they'll all have a website or twitter feed or soundcloud account (or probably all three.) Next: contact every band on your list. Be honest with them - tell them what you're trying to accomplish and just ask them, in a general way, what it would take to make it worth their while to come to your town and play a gig. You might be surprised by the answers you get as well as unexpected and useful advice. Most new, local and struggling bands are just dying to find new places to play and new people to play for. Sure, you're bound to run into a few jerks and egomaniacs, but you'll also end up connecting with a lot of good/decent people who just want to rock. But like I said - be honest - don't pretend you're some big-time promoter, just let them know you're a beginner, but serious. 

Before getting them to commit to anything, it would be wise to show some good faith. Why not interview/profile the band(s) on your website? maybe review their latest songs etc. Oh, did I not mention your website? If you're going to 'create' your own scene, you also have to chronicle it. You have to write about what is happening, so people will know what they are missing and want to join in. In the olden days this would have meant spending a lot of time at Kinkos printing and hand-stapling issues of a local 'zine you would be creating on a monthly basis... but here in 2013 we do these things online. Ask the bands you talk to for promo materials (pictures, video and audio clips etc) and permission to use them. A little effort on your part to help them will go a long way towards them helping you.

OK, so now you have a list of bands who you know personally, as well as a simple website that you're going to fill with show reviews and scene gossip etc... but you still don't have anyplace for this scene to happen. So what next?

You have to find venues. You also have to be willing to think realistically (ie: small) at first and be patient with the build-out process. I asked earlier if there were ANY places that already have some punk rock music nights and if there was already a built-in local audience that just needs a couple of places to call their own. Which is it?

To find a venue you can start, obviously, with bars and rock clubs. If you're in a biggish town, these might be difficult to crack - big clubs have professional bookers and not a lot of lee-way in their programming. A metal club is a metal club, a Top 40 club is a Top 40 club etc. ...but approach them anyway because, much like the conversations with the bands, you never know where the conversation might go... If you're focused and not a douchebag, you'll be surprised at how helpful people can be... even if they can't directly help you, they might "know someone" you should talk to etc. Follow up all these suggestions and - and I can't stress this enough - thank people for their time and advice. I know that doesn't sound punk rock, but I'm convinced that a little human decency is always possible.

If there are no big rock club bars, what do you do? -- approach smaller bars/clubs, even (perhaps especially) the dives and the UN-popular clubs. Why? Because ideally what you need to find is a place willing to take a chance, a place with nothing to lose. Which is why, in starting small, you should also think about pitching your idea to these kinds of places as a weeknight thing - Any bar, even a dive, that can stay in business, usually does so because it makes enough money on the weekends... but some of those week nights can be deathly slow. Give the owner something that might draw a bigger-than-normal crowd on a dead Monday or Tuesday night and you'll have created a new ally for your 'scene.' 

Think wider too. What other possible venues are there to put up shows? Independent coffee shops? Art galleries? IS there an "arts district" anywhere in your local town? If so, there'll be unique spaces and possibilities there, surely. Walk around. Ask around. Be visible. 

Some people are undoubtedly thinking that I'm being too by-the-book with all this. Yes, you could also just as easily start your 'scene' literally in your own backyard. You could invite some bands over, tell a few hundred of your closest friends to come by, warn the and then put on your show - and wait for the cops to show up. This plan works best in large cities or in very rural environments. You either have to be surrounded by neighbors who are used to chaos and noise or you have to have no neighbors. ...but if you're in the suburbs, you're going to get shut down for sure. 

As I said, none of this is necessarily easy, but it is worthwhile. So there is your plan:

Step 1: List and contact every band in your area that needs a place to play. Befriend them and try to help promote their work.

Step 2: Create a web presence that explains your local scene, the bands and the (hopefully expanding list of) venues where those bands can be seen locally.

Step 3: Start creating places/nights for those bands to play. Start as small as necessary - maybe just one monthly "First Tuesday of the Month" punk rock show at the local dive bar/coffeeshop/art gallery to start with, and then go from there.

Local 'scenes' have a way of growing and expanding, seemingly spontaneously, as if everyone had the same idea at the same time and then *poof* you've suddenly got a happening town with tons of great local bands. etc. It all feeds on itself and it seems like some kind of miracle of the local collective creative unconscious, but the truth is: someone has to chum the waters first to get things started. Someone has to get the ball rolling... and then the critical mass of like-minded but not-quite-as-motivated punks/musicians/artists and scenesters will join in. 

So are you one of the people waiting to 'join in' after someone else does the heavy-lifting? Or are you a catalyst of awesomeness ?

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