I love Portland, and the fact that on any night of the week there are multiple opportunities to see music. I don’t want to knock this. There’s an incredible amount of people playing music in this city, and we are lucky to have the city of Portland generally support this! But with so much changing within the music industry, the expanding scene in Portland, and numerous forms of output, I think it’s important that everyone in the community be on the same page. From what I’ve observed, I feel some things need to shift to keep the scene going in the right direction.
I’m hoping this piece will help navigate some of those diving head first into the music industry, a seemingly unnavigable place. Maybe I’ll get everyone riled up. Maybe no one will care. But if you do have some input, ideas, hate mail, death threats, anything! Feel free to comment here or email us at TheWayLiveShouldBe@gmail.com. We love to work with/talk to/argue with anyone and everyone!
Let’s Get Started.
There seems to be a huge lack of support of the original music being created in Portland. Many talented, original musicians and bands are being ignored by venues and bars because there isn’t guaranteed stability in sales for the evening. Venue owners and those that book shows are only seeing things in numbers. Venues are Demanding that bands mainly play covers to keep the drunk wastes of space in one place. Um…this is inane, no? Are we really supporting and condoning a scene that is attempting to both exploit and muffle proficient creativity? Does this remind you of something we see often in a system instilled in our nation that is basically failing and quite nauseating more often than not? If this is how it’s going to be…I may start supporting those upstanding members of society that want to cut all funds for art and music education within public schools. Save the kids a lot of time and hard work. Sorry kids, no one’s really going to support you in the long run, so we really shouldn’t waste the money!
I know this may sound dramatic (had to start it out strong!), but there are times I have gone out and seen an amazing band play to a crowd of 8 people. And then across the road, there’s the venue that is possibly past capacity and the line to get a drink is far too long. Surprise, surprise…there’s an unoriginal, usually simply mediocre band playing all cover songs. We all like a good sing along, I can’t deny that…but there’s got to be a way to even the scene out a bit.
With so many people creating music in such a small area, what is stopping a huge local scene from forming? Why aren’t these musicians captivating not only an extensive local fan base, but one beyond that? Maybe we could come to some sort of agreement here, like paying the bands a certain percentage of the sales from the night? What if the bars around town had one night a week that was called something like ‘original music night’ or ‘local original music night.’ The local and often incredibly talented music in the area is being suppressed by people who eat numbers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And overshadowed by people in tight pants and ironic glasses that like to constantly pump out WCYY hits (get with it, radio’s dying!)
On the techie side, venues as well as artists need to make it easier for us folks to find out what is going on. They need to step it up when it comes to what information is available online. So many people are only using the internet to inform them of what’s happening around town. Really, all it would take is updating/maintaining your entertainment calendar (hopefully there is one) and/or making facebook events with links to the bands that are playing, or at the very least a description. It’s very difficult to know what bands are playing where and how much it’s going to cost if you aren’t from Portland and you can’t grab a Phoenix to check out the music listings. So many of the websites for the venues that have music every weekend are incredibly difficult to navigate around, or simply never updated. Or they just SUCK. Worst yet? Amigo’s. www.amigosportland.com. SERIOUSLY? And Bull Feeney’ s website his been ‘Under Construction’ since I can remember. Yea, they both have facebook pages…but they don’t make events. They’ll announce that night on their page what’s going on.
The local music scene is relatively healthy in Portland, but I see a much larger potential. The scene now seems to cater to quite specific genres and even specific people at times. There is a small amount of talent that is getting a lot of attention. However lots of this music is being spewed out by bands that are infatuated with not only themselves, but a fad that exists in Portland. I feel this can sometimes discourage and/or alienate many talented musicians that have something real to offer. Some incredible talent with, brace yourself, some fucking content too! Weed out the wanna-be’s. Technique is imperative, but soul and feeling is what’s going to stick with people. Get personal with your fans, whether through your performance on stage, or actually in person off stage (groupies don’t count, sorry bros) . Connect with the few that matter, not the many that don’t give a shit. It will save you a lot of time spent small talkin’. If you’re some sort of sub-genre of rock, and distribute a demo to hundreds of people that were to name Garth Brooks as their favorite artist, it’s completely irrelevant, right?
Connecting with your audience is one of the many things an artist can do to make a show memorable. Check out this article: No One Will Remember Your Band: 10 Ways to Stop Being Forgettable. The banner is the first thing on their list. Banners are awesome. Or if you have band shirts, hang them on an amp or wear them, I don’t care. Just don’t make a huge mistake when it has such a simple solution. If your music is reaching out to someone, but they never figure out who you are…they’ll probably never end up listening to you again. I’d recommend avoiding that.
If you are creating original music, keep workin’ and fightin’ that fight. Don’t rely on big labels…that shit’s failed (and yes, they’re going to try to convince you that it hasn’t). I don’t have a solution for much of this. But I will suggest maybe illegally rigging all your gear on top of a roof somewhere and forcing your music on everyone until the cops show up. That, and persistence. When a venue hasn’t emailed you back, email them again. Or better yet, show your face at the venue and introduce yourself! Don’t stop making music, and when they tell you to play Free Bird, say fuck you! (or take the passive aggressive approach, and play it very poorly)
I’d like to thank Geno’s for requiring that bands play all original music.
I’ve got to give credit to Bob Lefsetz for instilling many of these thoughts through his fascinating and informative blog (check it out Here)
A few blurbs from him that may be kinda relevant to this:
- You must deliver what they don’t even know they want. You must kill the old to make way for the new. You must constantly move forward to avoid moving behind.
- He who can connect the public with good music will be very powerful. So powerful he can dictate to the creators. That was the power of MTV.
- The music industry has abdicated its role to the public. That’s why we’ve got chaos in the marketplace. To find and develop new talent is hard. To institute new systems while destroying the old takes guts.
- Let me make it simple, it doesn’t matter how good your album is if no one ever hears it.
- The internet has broken the major label’s hold on distribution…this leaves an incredibly open market
- The future of music exhibition does not revolve around algorithms but people. It’s about personalities, cults, built around the deejay. Which is why all radio research is flawed. Radio is not about the tracks as much as the trust.
Every aspect of the music industry is so vast and scattered today. There is nothing grounding it. And if there is no ground…how will anyone break it? I’ve been told we’ll never get to hear the next Hendrix, or experience another Jim Morrison. Anything that’s broken ground in my time has now gone soft, passed away, or simply stopped creating.
The advantage we have in Portland is a small community willing and able to support and communicate with many others working and creating within the industry. I think we could break ground as a city if that concept was applied to more genres within Portland, and had our strong local businesses working hand in hand with more of our local, talented, original artists.
Just a thought.