SPEAK OUT: An Open Letter to Local Bands

Atlanta Local Bands

The following does not apply to every band in town, just most of them. This likely applies to most music scenes across the country, but I don’t propose to speak for them. Local bands content to exist outside or on the periphery of the Atlanta/Athens music scene are naturally exempt from my comments, although I expect that there are far less of you than are willing to admit it. This is not intended (necessarily) as criticism, although much of it will appear as such. It’s just the truth as I see it.

It’s Your Scene
Bands make a local scene. Fans, critics, blogs, labels, promoters, clubs, radio stations, DJs—all of them can help cater to and influence a scene, but bands ultimately make or break it. If you as a band member or musician think that the Atlanta/Athens scene is fickle, that it’s unsupportive, that it operates in cliques and that it’s followers are nothing more than ignorant members of an unknowing herd, I can only offer you this one choice: grow up and pitch in or get the fuck out. Because you deserve nothing. You are owed nothing. Nobody will give a shit about your 2-disc rock opera or your attempts to cross Scandinavian metal with ’50s doo-wop unless you make them.

That’s right. It’s actually up to you. The circumstances surrounding the rise or fall of your band are actually under your control. Don’t feel like you’re a part of the scene? Then expand it. Make it more inclusive. Go hunt down your fanbase. Find out where they are, what they’re doing and engage them. Get them involved. Make them feel like they’re a part of something. Start a fucking movement, for god’s sake. Don’t believe it’s possible? Then why in the hell are you playing in a band?

Beware of Ghosts
Because it’s all about the music, right? Nothing else should matter, correct? Well, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, the chances of your band being “discovered” lie somewhere close to never and impossible. There is no “Man” to keep you down or lift you out of obscurity; there’s no magical musical formula to ride to glory. Unless you happen to stumble into that mythical one-in-a-million “lucky break,” you’re actually going to have to bust your ass to get somewhere. Get in the van and pay your fucking dues.

If you are in a band, do not do battle with ghosts. Fight only what’s in front of you. Passing music trends and faceless industry people—these things are merely illusory, shadows which may occasionally obscure your view, but should never block your path. Look, I get it. Booking shows can be difficult, not to mention actually getting noticed and established. But it’s much too easy, convenient and cowardly to blame your inability to breakthrough on nefarious unseen forces, on the perceived prejudices of local media, or, most ridiculously, on the current popularity of some music genre(s) somehow overshadowing the innate timeless awesomeness of your band. Instead, deal with maniacal urgency those things that are under your control. Promote tirelessly; promote relentlessly. Treat every opportunity, every fan interaction—no matter how seemingly inconsequential and mundane—like it’s your last. Think you’re above it? Think you don’t need to play the game? Fine. I hear Starbucks has decent benefits.

Give Me Something Worth Seeing
So you’ve managed to book some shows. Congratulations. Now remember this: they’re called shows for a reason. So put one on. Any band can book a gig, rattle through a set list, and bore everyone to tears. It happens every night, at just about every club, in just about every major town and city in the world. And it’s really fucking lame. The truth is that only a precious few bands can seize the moment and deliver a performance that’s captivating and memorable. Are you one of them? You say your band is amazing, that you only to get your “shot” and everything will all magically fall into place? Fucking prove it. Give me something to take home, something real, something I’ve never seen before. Make me pay attention to you. Only five people came out to see you? So what? It’s all about the music, remember? That’s five people to convert, five people that you better make damn well sure remember you in the morning, five people that better pass your name along to all their music-loving friends. Because that’s how it works. On the local level, word of mouth is king, so one way or another, you better get people talking about your band. Or you can keep hiding around the back of the stage with your head down, lost amid the glare of the stage lights, staring at your shoes. I’m sure if all the people in the audience close their eyes too, they’ll be able to feel the burning passion you carry for your music. Damn if they wouldn’t be able to just smell your “integrity” above the stench of stale cigarette smoke and spilled beer. But they won’t. They’ll just ignore you.

Other Bands Are Not Your Enemy
By all means avoid all contact with other bands, shun their shows, and don’t support anyone. I’m sure you won’t take it personal when you get the same treatment. By all means talk as much shit as you can about other bands, because that’s really productive. By all means keep blogging about how this or that band’s success is undeserved and how your band (the one that plays “real” music) will never get the accolades you have rightfully earned because all the writers in town are talentless hacks with no appreciation for “good”—i.e. your—music. How’s that working out for you so far? I have to admit that I’m a bit of a spy, a fly on the wall. I check out those new tracks you post, read through your blog posts. I eavesdrop on your drunken rants and ramblings at the bar. Of all the sins that up-and-coming bands commit, this is by far the most common … and the worst. I’m not saying we should get every band in town to come together, hold hands and sing “Kumbaya,” but, Jesus, have some decency and respect for one another. Whatever you do, do not come off sounding like this random post I stumbled across on MySpace, the band of which will go unmentioned. There’s so much that is wrong with this—aside from the shitty grammar—that I won’t even begin to get into it, but the sad reality is that it’s reflective of the mindset of far too many local bands.

i have read almost every- scene zine in town singing these guys praises- so i knew they had to suck – since that is the way it works here- zoraster being one of the only heavy bands to get any good local press-and once again atlanta has a very small window of what is “cool” even when it comes to heavy bands – right now the sludge thing is the indie scen metal here- so of course that gets attention- we’ve seen the full gambit come and go -post hard core- mathcore- blah blah blah-
to me i ask the same question whatever their scene is
so where are the heart attacks now?
so where is gates of berlin?
this time next year
so where are the black lips ?
so it was no more a trick than a treat as i could have called that show from a mile away
if you are tired of that type of thing see you at the ten high next tuesday
so where is deer hunter?

The Black Lips Effect
It’s easy to crack on the Black Lips. On their infamous stage antics, their hipster approved status. It’s easy to see why lazy-minded individuals, stifled by their inability to make much headway, would be able to convince themselves that the Black Lips have some kind of stranglehold on the scene. I’m no fan of their music, but this excuse has become so common, it’s laughable. Sure they get a shit ton of local media exposure. So fucking what? The Black Lips? Deerhunter? Where are they? Where will they be next year? Maybe on tour. Maybe in the studio. Maybe nothing. But if those are the kinds of questions you’re asking, you’re on the fast track to total anonymity along with the tens of thousands of other bands that have wound up in the dust bins of history. Whatever you may think of them—love, hate or indifference—the reality is that these bands have been doing it and living it for more than a couple of years now. They are already gone. In the scheme of things, they are no longer local Atlanta bands, they are national bands that happen to be from Atlanta. Using them as a crutch to excuse your band’s lack of success is both stupid and futile.

The real (obvious) question is: where will you be next year? Where do you want to be? What are you prepared to do to get there? Ask yourself: what are you doing to improve the local scene? What are you doing to elevate your band? How much do you give, how far do you go, how much of your body, mind, and soul do you invest? Because, in the end, it’s all up to you. This is your scene, and it’s yours to own.