One night last year, Derek and I were standing by a dumpster in an alley before playing a small club in Hollywood. Having just loaded in down a narrow hallway, ducking around bartenders, dishwashers, and drunk patrons, we found ourselves back in the alley by our van. We were checking each side of a dumpster for gear we had pre-loaded around it, when a black pickup truck with oversized tires pulled in behind our van and started honking. It was a bartender about to start his shift, and understanding we were blocking his parking, I immediately went to his window, which was down, and apologized. I let him know I would move it right away. His eyes remained fixed forward and he didn’t say a word in response. I moved the van, apologized again as he walked inside — still nothing. At the same time I noticed my drummer Derek, a guy with two gold records to his name who has humbled himself to start this new project with me and Hayato, ask a member of another band loading in if he needed a hand with a piece of gear which was clearly giving him trouble. The response was a low “nah,” with no eye-contact. Derek and I looked at each other and just shrugged.
As it turned out, the green room for this venue was by this very same dumpster. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above playing in this kind of club — I’ve spent many nights sitting in alleys waiting to play. But what was different about the music scene in Western Massachusetts, where I grew up, was a sense of camaraderie. The clubs were dingier, the sound poorer, the bands looser, but you knew everyone on the scene and everyone knew you. Fans, bands, skaters — it was all one community. Everyone knew where the shows were happening. Bands helped other bands get on bills, and sometimes a fan might come up to you and recommend a studio where you should record because the producer there would be into your stuff.
Turns out Derek and Hayato grew up on a similar scenes, and as we sat by the dumpster waiting to play a show we had to pay to play, texting our friends to come down to the show and feeling like we’d owe them one if they did, we asked ourselves ‘what happened to that sense of community?’
We decided that night to stop playing aimless shows simply because we’re a band and that’s we had to do, and instead create that sense of community around our band first. It is possible to get people to care about your live show, but you have to pull them out of their digital worlds, or rather infiltrate their digital worlds, to make it happen. We decided we were going to stop playing live until we found our niche, our fans, our community — until there was a reason for us to play. Instead of rehearsing, we dove into social media analytics; instead of playing shows, we shot and edited our own music videos. We released our album single by single and scoured the internet to find like-minded people that would be into our music. We took tutorials from people who had done this successfully to figure out how we could do it in our own way. Less than a year later we can barely keep up with our merch orders, we just wrapped up our first national tour, and recently played an art festival in LA to a crowd of several hundred. My advice — practice your live show, get it down and get it tight, and then stop playing out and create a demand so that people want to see it. That’s the most important thing we’ve learned.
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