Building Birmingham’s Music Scene One Festival At A Time
Some readers of my blog may remember one of my rants from last June, titled “What’s Wrong With Birmingham’s Music Scene?” The rant was sparked by a conversation I seemed to be having often while playing and attending shows. The conversation asserted that Birmingham’s music scene simply wouldn’t support local music enough to generate any real success for original artists. The need to rant about that situation had been floating around in my head, then I participated in a chat involving Roy Wood, Jr. one night on Twitter and the article was born.
A couple of months after I wrote the aforementioned article I participated in the Birmingham Arts and Music Festival. I immediately learned that I wasn’t the only one who had been feeling the unrest in Birmingham’s scene. Luckily, Sharrif Simmons and his band of merry organizers decided to take it upon themselves to begin tapping into the fragmented community of phenomenal musicians who made up the local, original Birmingham music scene and turning it into something positive. I can’t express the amount of hope that single event gave me and since then I have seen quite a few signs that the scene in Birmingham is generating some comradery, energy and much needed positive buzz. In fact, the very cool Paint The Town Red event utilized the BAAM group to enlist local artists to provide entertainment with great success. That got me thinking that other event organizers could possibly benefit from some of the strengths that I noted from seeing the all-star BAAM crew in action:
- Work with the venues – Book acts that cater to a venue’s regular patron. Just because a festival is going on doesn’t mean the “usual crowd” won’t be in attendance. If you put an act in a venue who has vastly different tastes everyone loses. The venue owners know their audience. If you ignore their input you do so at your own peril.
- Work with the artists – Most acts would love to at least have the illusion of input into what sort of venue they play in and stage they play on. If you don’t have stage plots from the acts and don’t know their set list how are you deciding where they should play (assuming you’re following the first point)? Your best bet is to ask the artists what they need / want. If you can accommodate it, great. If not, most bands will be impressed and happy that you even tried and will make things work on their end rather than bail on a great gig opportunity.
- Work towards your goal – You must have a defined goal. Are you looking to showcase local talent? Are you looking to showcase national talent? If you’re mixing national, regional and local acts you will be criticized heavily for choosing one act over another. Having a definite goal will allow you to make decisions with confidence, and back them up. “Because they’re with record label X” or “Because their singer dates my sister” won’t win you any friends and will come off as pandering.
- Know your limits – You’ve got to own it before you can sell it. If you are overwhelmed by the scope of an event, or if you are unsure about bookings it will show most when you are on the spot. Being in over your head may lose you venues, it may lose you acts and it may lose you friends.
- Don’t alienate the locals – This one may be the most important. If you alienate local venues or acts, you alienate their fans. If you alienate a fan who is passionate, you alienate their friends. Music is inherently inclusive. At its core, music is about connecting one human to another. Building a specific scene is great, but when you begin to intentionally alienate fans who don’t fit your mold you begin to lose your market. So be inclusive, both in booking and organizing.
In closing, I’d like to offer two stories that illustrate differing approaches to addressing music fans. One is an example of an exclusive approach, the other is an example of an inclusive approach. One alienated fans, the other created life-long fans. You can choose which you think would be best suited for building a strong scene.
Several years ago my wife and I shared an airplane and then a train with (then) boy band front man Justin Timberlake and his rhinestone lightning bolt decorated jeans. He seemed pleasant enough as we sat next to him for the train ride, content to carry on conversations with his bodyguard about then girlfriend Britney Spears. That is, until fans approached. He immediately turned “rock star” and acted as if they were a complete bother. Dejected, one by one fans realized that there was no connection to be made with one of their favorite artists. [Full disclosure, I think JT is incredibly talented]
More recently, I followed an interesting exchange between Umphrey’s McGee and one of their fans on Twitter. The final tweet in the series sums up the entire conversation:
Giving a shit shouldn’t be that hard RT @Corybelcher: Time and time again @Soundcaresser and @umphreysmcgeeshow so much love to the fans
If you’re not accustomed to Twitter conversations that quote may appear somewhat cryptic, so let me translate (find the actual tweet here):
Fan (@Corybelcher): Time and time again Umphrey’s McGee (@umphreysmcgee) and their sound engineer (@Soundcaresser) show so much love to the fans
Band (@UmphreysMcGee): Giving a shit shouldn’t be that hard
Indeed, guys. Indeed.