Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Thriving Local Music Scene, Just Not Yours

"Friday night, let's go.  Let's all have fun tonight.  All right, here we go.  Here we go tonight."

Slick Shoes had it right with those words.  You are looking for something to do after a long week of stress, frustration, aggravation and nights of boredom.  Work has lead you to near homicide, all those math problems and history lessons aren't making sense (not to mention learning onomatopoeia, oxymorons and past participles), and your siblings have been driving you nuts.  Other than all of this, you have had a great week of...well...nothing.  But, you made it to Friday!  So what are you going to do?

Friday night lights?  If you live in a big city your sure to find a football or basketball game.  If you live in a smaller town and the high school sports team is across the state (or county), you probably don't want to drive all that way to watch just a half, so you decide to go bowling.  Maybe the local hang out spot is the ice or skating rink.  Or even better, you want to catch that new movie with Kevin Hart in it.  No matter the option you choose, you and your closest friends have something to do.

Notice though, of all the options, there is no mention of a concert?  Think about this, you're a huge music fan.  You have all these options, but none of them is a concert.  Certainly there is a club you can go to.  Isn't there a church bringing someone in this week?  I mean, you got friends in a band, and they're always up for a show.  Or how about the youth worship band, don't they write original stuff too?  Of course, the bowling alley might have a band playing in their bar, so that would count as attending a concert, even if you're not really watching their performance.

Well, for most of us music lovers, especially Christian music lovers, the local club has shut down, or only does a show once a quarter.  Our favorite band doesn't fit into the "mold" of what our towns churches like.  Sure, there are some pretty cool bands that your friends are in, but they only get gigs at bars and maybe you're just not old enough to get into the bar.  That youth worship band does indeed write original stuff, but they are the worship band at the Nazarene church and the Baptist church a block up the road won't bring them in because, "we don't want to steal another churches youth."  Raise your hand if this paragraph sounds familiar.  And if you're a pastor reading this thinking you would never exclude a band because of genre or church they attend, I'm calling your bluff.

Today's local music scene, especially for the Christian music scene, is hit and miss.  Sadly, the hit ratio is smaller than the miss.  If you're like me, you check the tour schedule of your favorite band and don't see a local stop.  You might not even see them stopping in your state.  Why is this?  Why do your favorite bands never stop in your town or even your state?  Why can't anybody keep the club open for longer than six months, or sometimes a year?  Why doesn't your church bring in your favorite band, especially when your entire youth group loves them too?  Heck, that band is playing an hour to two hours away, can't they just make that drive up the road and play your church?  Of course, there are cities that seem to always have concerts.  Denver, Jacksonville, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Sacramento, Seattle and more seem to always get the cool concerts with your favorites.  But, you don't live close to attend those events.  So, why can't this happen for your town/city?

These questions have no easy answer.  The answers vary from routing to finances and from location to radio success.  How did you hear about your favorite band?  Did you hear them on the radio?  If you didn't hear them on the radio, there is a strong probability they may never play your town.  Can you find their music at your local Christian bookstore?  Oh, if their music isn't carried at the bookstore, or if your town doesn't have a bookstore, you might have to continue to travel in order to catch them in concert.  But what about that youth worship band that does write original tunes?  Can't they play every once in a while?  Sure, but maybe they are tired of playing for free.  See all the reasons a band can't or won't are just as varied as the styles of music you listen to daily.  All of these reason combine to present our local music scenes with problems.

Here is my perspective, the numerous reasons we are seeing a huge decline in local music scenes.
1. Are local bands/artists making themselves available to perform?  Are they working/hustling the streets/schools/churches/clubs/bars to get the gigs?  Are they opening for those bigger national bands when they roll through town?  Better yet, is their music actually good?  Do they believe in their music as much as they want others to believe in it?  Many of today's bands and artists want the instant gratification.  They figure if they put together a YouTube video, they'll garner enough likes that someone should notice and be signed to a label immediately.  Sure, they may do a talent show or two and win one of them.  But, with that talent show victory they again think there should be an automatic record deal waiting for them.  What is forgotten in this whole belief system is how much work it takes to get what they feel they might be entitled to.  They forget that they are still local and no one outside their town knows who they are (except maybe a few hundred YouTube followers).
2. The cost of bringing your favorite band to town is becoming a very expensive thing to do.  Promoters burden the cost of the bands meals, their hotel stay, the cost of renting (depending on concert location) the venue, staging (if needed), sound (if not provided by tour), printing tickets and sometimes even more, and that is on top of how much the band is getting paid to play.  Yes, that is the cost of doing business and rarely do you hear a promoter complain about those costs.  But, when you have the local band playing and asking for money on top of the national band getting paid, that's a whole lot of cash being spent for 3-4 bands.  Does the local band deserve to get paid, yes in certain circumstances, but most of the time just getting to play with the big boys, keeping merch sales and hanging out in the green room with free food should be enough pay.  Do the national guys deserve to be paid?  Heck yeah!  This is their job!  A man is worthy of his pay isn't just something the working guy made up one day.  The Word says it (Luke 10:7 and 1 Timothy 5:18)!  However, it is these expenses that are putting clubs out of business in smaller towns.  Many of your national artists and bands ask for a lot of money.  Yes, they have business expenses too, but sometimes even I wonder how much the cost of business really is for a band of 4 guys/gals, the bus driver, sound guy, light guy and road manager.  Even some of the local/regional bands that ask for and deserved to get paid are now asking for upwards of a thousand dollars or more.  Yes, they too have business expenses, but to drive maybe two hours to play, spend a hundred bucks on gas and getting free food certainly can't add up to a thousand dollars.  No wonder these smaller towns can't get a good local scene going.
3. Lastly, if you hear your favorite band on the radio, and only on the radio, are you really a fan?  If you had the chance to see your favorite band live, would you spend $20-$25 for the ticket?  What if there was something better that came up the night they were playing?  Or maybe you read on one of your friends Twitter page that the band was awful live and it isn't worth going to their concert.  Yes, from experience I can tell you I have seen all of the above happen.  People don't want to pay $20 or more for a ticket, especially when they hear they aren't good live.  Yes, I've had people tell me they didn't go to a concert because they would have missed out on going to the gym or their favorite TV show was on that night.  Yet the one that just kills me is when a youth pastor/pastor/worship leader says they won't take their kids to the church across town to see a band everybody likes simply because it is at a different church or, "They can learn more from my lesson than what any band might share with them."  SERIOUSLY!!!  Are any of these good reasons not to support a band, not to mention a club that might be closing their doors in three months if they can't bring out 100+ kids to their next concert?  No, they are not.

Sure some of this might sound a little scathing.  I will admit to it being that, and maybe just a little cynical.  Rest assured though, I care about the state of local music scenes.  I would love to see a Murray Hill Theater (Jacksonville, FL) type venue in every state (more if possible).  I'd love to see more bands like Seventh Day Slumber do Small Town America tours.  I'd would really love to see churches pull together and send youth to another church to see Children 18:3, Tedashii or Francesca Battistelli.  I would really love to see the Lutheran church invite the youth worship band from the Assemblies of God church to open for a TFK or Skillet.  Even better, I would love to see the day when churches would come together and pay for a concert more than just once a year.  And when they do that, include the youth in the planning and working of the event.  The Christian music industry, and the local scene that supports it, would be amazed at what each town could do.

So, who's ready to go to the next local concert?

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