Sunday, May 22, 2011

Groundhog Band

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

An interesting question came up recently, and I guess the answer to the question might make for an interesting blog post, so here we go.

There are two types of people (or however many types): people who follow local music and people who don’t. In most of my years of late teenage and early adult life, I have been the type who followed local music, sometimes more than others.

The nice thing about local music is that you can go to shows more frequently, because the admission ranges from free to maybe ten dollars. And if I’m being honest, in most cases, the music is just as good as many of the national bands you might pay anywhere from twenty to fifty to more dollars to go see. Now if the difference between a five dollar show and a fifty dollar show is that the fifty dollar band was ten times better, I could see it, but reasonably, that’s not the case.

The other nice thing about the local scene is that if you form a band, you can see as many shows as you’re willing to play, and in some cases, actually make some money. This is actually my preferred method, but keeping a band together is hard sometimes.

The question came up why I go see the same band over and over. The questioner coined the phrase “Groundhog Band” as a reference to the Bill Murray movie where he experiences the same day over and over. There are two different reasons, one is somewhat clinical and methodical, and one is based more in the pure enjoyment zone.

Let’s start with the more emotional of the two, or I’ll sound like a robot who likes local music. I love music. I know that on some level everybody loves music, and my love of music is probably not much more or much less valid than anyone else’s love of music. I’m accused often of having a feeling of elitism or superiority when it comes to music. I don’t know how to answer to that other than to say that I will give everything a listen before I pass judgment, and not everyone will give it that much. If I haven’t listened to something it is simply because there is too much music out there to ever hear it all, and if I only listen to everything once or twice I will never gain familiarity. While that may be the case for many people, generally speaking, my collection exceeds the collections of people I know in quantity, and sometimes in variety. When I say that I love music, I simply mean to say that I prioritize music over many other mediums of entertainment.

I also don’t get tired of things too easily. Things will phase out of what I’m listening to frequently, and other things will be listened to more frequently in its place. But unless every radio station that I listen to insists on playing the same song every two hours, you won’t often hear me saying that I’m so tired of listening to something. This is an important distinction for our topic, because I’m still listening to albums that I started listening to in the early 1980s.

If I go see the same band over and over, I won’t likely start getting tired of seeing them, or get tired of hearing their music. It doesn’t happen when I listen to the same album over and over. I think the disconnect is that the type I spoke of earlier that doesn’t follow local music. They’re wondering how I can go see some unsigned band over and over. If Duran Duran moved to Dallas, and played shows somewhat frequently, ranging from a couple of shows a week to a show every few months depending on circumstance, no one would question if I saw almost all of those shows, especially if the price of admission ranged from free to ten dollars, and I often got to see other bands play with them.

The other reason to see the same band is just for a point of reference. I pick a band or more that I really like and go to their shows as often as possible. Lately I’ve been working a lot, so it’s one band that I tend to go see. When I had weekends off frequently I had a few more bands that I would go see. The point is that you get to see a lot of bands, and you always know that you’ll like one.

Let’s say that I have a pretty packed work schedule, and I only ever really get extra nights off if I ask. Let’s say I’m a fan of a band called Chris and the Nathans. If I make it a point to go see Chris and the Nathans most of the times they play then I ensure that I’m not fully disconnected from the local scene because of my crazy work schedule, and usually I will see a few other bands while I’m at it. But if I didn’t make it a priority to get out and see a band I would quickly become disconnected from the scene.

Let’s say that I see a band one night when I’m out seeing Chris and the Nathans. They are called Annette and the Runners. I can’t possibly get enough time free to go see most of their shows too, but if I have a surprise night off, and they’re playing, I might just go.

Let’s say that I have Friday and Saturday off (and at one point I did). I might start going and catching some of the other bands I liked at these shows if the bands that I normally see aren’t playing, because I have the time to.

But if you arrange it in priority order, based on either liking a band’s sound, having friends in the band, or both, you can still see a number of bands without having to put to much thought into it, and you always know you’ll see at least one good band.

I spoke before about why bands struggle. This is another side of the equation. When a scene is strong, people tend to show up to see bands just because that’s where everybody else is hanging out. When a scene is struggling, people presume that there is no good music locally, and they stay away.

If you are the type of person who likes local music, and you’re not following at least one band or seeing approximately one show a week, you’re very likely disconnected from the scene. The easiest way to stay connected with a scene is to arrange bands into levels based on how much you like a band and whether you’re friends with a band.

Level One – You try to catch all of their shows, missing very few, and you show up early enough and stay late to see all the bands in most cases. The number of bands you can fit into this level is dependant on your schedule, free time to go out, and budget to go out. As a weird default, if you are in a band, your band is a Level One band that you should make it to every show.

Level Two – You see these bands when you have a free night, would like to see a show, and the Level One bands aren’t playing.

Level Three – You see these bands when you have free nights and no Level One or Level Two bands are playing, and usually if you haven’t seen a show in a couple of weeks.

Level Four – Is when you go and see bands you’ve never heard of and don’t know anyone from the band. This can either be random or a recommendation, and is usually if every other band you know is taking a break.

If everyone who followed local music did this much, followed one or more bands consistently and made it out to an average of one or more shows a week, then a struggling scene would start thriving again, because where there are a lot of people there is a crowd. It sounds deep, but it’s really not. But it’s very important to recognize.

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