A year ago this week, ListenUp editor Chris Mowder wrote his first column on local music in The Sun News. The following essay is his attempt to sum up the lessons learned during that time, take a look at the current state of our music scene and offer a call-to-action for a better 2011.
With it we hope to get start a discussion about the issues facing local musicians and how to build a better community. Please help us kick off our new discussion forum by coming over and posting your opinion on what's below or telling him why his ideas are full of shit.
"I love music. Especially new music."
Those were the words that opened my first-ever column on local music a year ago this week in The Sun News.
At the time I was completely clueless as to what Myrtle Beach's musical community was all about. I knew nothing of The Drag or Sqwearl, hadn't heard of the Limelight or The Social, and had never been to a show at Drink or The Basement. I just knew that I wanted to hear something new.
In taking the idea to write a column about local bands to my editor she voiced her concerns, not only because my background was in design, not writing, but also saying something along the lines of "You know if you start writing this column, you'll have to stick with it and write one every week and that can be tough."
Little did she or I know that this would be a turning point that would not only lead me to discover the vast array of musical talent we have locally, but also be the thing that ultimately led to the launch of ListenUp Myrtle Beach and my departure from the world of traditional journalism.
Has it been tough? Sure. At times, it's been downright frightening. When we launched this site with no advertisers, no staff and no idea of whether folks were going to come out and read or embrace what we were doing, that was scary as hell.
But here I am, a year later, not only writing about local music on a weekly basis, but on a daily basis, doing my best to live and breathe with the scene; to learn from the people, places and ideas which make this place tick.
Where we are now
Despite some indicators on how things are looking locally, we don't want to rest on our laurels. I'm the type who needs to fix something when it's broken and going forward I intend for ListenUp as a publication to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem when it comes to making things better for the local music community.
Am I naive to think that something like this can make a difference in a place so deeply burdened with past musical baggage? Maybe. I prefer to think of it as being optimistically ambitious.
I know I'm not alone in believing in the talent and potential this place possesses. I hear it every day from musicians, fans, club owners, etc., who all know that deep down this place can be a successful music market. Here are a few examples that highlight the progress being made:
Ten Toes Up1. A renewed focus on original music. This is modeled by the success of local bands such as Ten Toes Up who make a mainstream and commercially-viable version of original music that can continue to help our area get noticed as it grows beyond the confines of the Grand Strand. It is also highlighted by the endless array of up-and-coming acts which grace the stages of local venues making music so different and unique that it could ultimately become the next big sound and someday get this area the exposure it deserves.
2. More venues supporting local music. It may not be what some folks remember from "The Golden Days", but there ARE places to play in this town that will book local and regional acts and let them play their own music. Places like Drink!, Fresh Brewed, The Boathouse, the Island Bar and the PIT spring to mind and even lesser-known spots like For What Its Worth and Bourbon Street are now helping add to the mix. Even House of Blues has made strides toward featuring local acts and building up a scene that many say it helped destroy with its arrival in the mid 1990s.
3. A growing set of tools for getting the word out. With the record industry collapsing after the invent of iTunes and other digital distribution methods, now is the best time ever to be a local musician. With all the tools available to you online and enough ingenuity and hard work you could literally become a success overnight, build a following and grow your musical empire without ever leaving your house. Now it's debatable as to whether these sort of new-age tactics are keeping people cooped up in a bedroom watching YouTube instead of out paying cover to see a band live, but in the end the potential exposure of Myrtle Beach musicians being able to be heard all over the world online outweighs any negative side effects.
You can agree or disagree with this overall assessment of music in Myrtle Beach, but bottom line is that there are signs things are moving forward. This movement may not happen overnight, but as long as things continue to progress, I'm almost positive there is another golden age for local music around the corner.
And if all the haters and cynics in this town are correct and five years from now things are worse than ever, then so be it, but don't let it be because we sat back and bitched about how bad things are and never tried to make them better.
What you can do
It would be irresponsible of me to tout the successes of area music without also mentioning some of the hurdles and challenges which still stand ahead of us. These things include the number of bars and venues which will only pay cover acts to play, a severe lack of publicity in many area's media outlets and an overall perception that the Myrtle Beach music scene is dying.
But since we're focusing on the future, rather than dwelling on these problems I'm going to offer a few quick solutions for dealing with them head on.
In doing so, I'm not just spouting idealistic nonsense, but legitimately calling for each and every person that reads this to make the changes listed below. If you consider yourself a supporter of local music, play in a band, work at a bar or venue that hosts music or are in any other position to make a difference there's no reason not to do your part to make this place better in 2011:
1. Don't be a snob when it comes to playing covers. I often hear bands complain about how they can't get paid work playing in certain places, because they only book cover acts. Given that issue I can't help but wonder what's stopping you from playing covers yourself.
Now, I understand there's a musical integrity about playing your own material that some folks aren't willing to break, but the bottom line is people love music they know. In fact, you love the music you know, too.
Drew JacobsNo matter how obscure or out there your original music is, I bet you could name ten songs right now from famous bands that you'd ABSOLUTELY LOVE to play on stage. It may not be Jimmy Buffet or Lynyrd Skynyrd, but there's something that would connect with an audience and might help you get a few extra gigs.
If you're smart and willing to put in the work, maybe you can do like The Necessary Band and back your way into playing original tunes live by touting your cover act first. Or better yet, do like Drew Jacobs a create a completely unique cover act (his band does tons of old soul and R&B) that still showcases your amazing talent. And once you've booked those cover gigs, slip some original tunes into the mix. Who knows? It might be a hit.
2. Get out of the house. The best and simplest way to support local music is to just get off your couch and come out to a show. You may think that bars are nasty, that fans are obnoxious or that there isn't "my type" of music playing, but the fact is there is a much more diverse array of places and styles here than you know.
All it takes is a little glance across this site to realize that. And if you take a look and you still can't find what you're looking for, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me 843.882.5334 and we'll find you something worth checking out, I promise.
3. Buy something. Now am I going to tell you to spend all your hard earned money buying CDs and paying for half-baked MP3 tracks from local bands? No. Because honestly, some bands almost make it seem like they don't want you to buy their stuff with how difficult they make it to purchase online.
I will, however, ask that next time you're out a show that you grab a beer, purchase some food from the bar or buy a T-shirt of the band you came to support. It's pretty simple math that if a bar owner pays to have a band in and all of their fans come in to see the show and don't buy anything that that owner is losing money.
And if that owner loses money, then they aren't going to pay the band to play anymore and thus you're not going to have anything to go see. So when we say support local music, we don't just mean the bands...you also need to patronize the local businesses that shell out their cash to bring these bands in. It doesn't take much, but anything's better than nothing.
She loves paying cover!4. Charge a cover. Building upon #3, if you own a bar and are hosting local bands, you ought to be charging a cover. It doesn't need to be much — seems like $5 is pretty standard — but this automatically helps buffer for those folks I mentioned above which come in and don't buy anything.
I feel like somewhere along the way this concept of charging to get in got a little lost in this town because folks were trying to attract visitors by undercutting each other. But now, the lines are pretty distinctly drawn ... if you're a beach bar trying to attract tourists, then they probably expect to pay no cover, but when you're doing shows with local bands, which cater to local fans and listeners, chances are an extra $5 at the door isn't going to drive them away.
It's a little like the smoking ban which has been passed in multiple states nationawide. When it's enacted everyone thinks that all the people that smoke are going to run off to some other place and never come back, but in the end they always come back smoking or non, cover or no cover, because they love your place and what you have to offer.
5. Try something different. This may be the toughest one of all to follow up on, but it's also probably the one that is most important to really making Myrtle Beach a community for music.
As a fan, musician or otherwise, I'm simply asking you to step outside your comfort zone and check out a new band or different bar that you've never seen before. And I'm talking REAL different.
If you're in a hardcore band that plays at Drink!, hop on over to Fresh Brewed sometime and check out the acoustic stuff they do at Open Mic Night. If you're into classic stuff like Sick Stooges or The Mullets, come on out and check out Jeffrey Allen Edwards or head on down to the Bowery and take in some country for a change. If you're a hip-hopper, why not come out and try one of our area's great reggae acts like Below the Bassline or Jah Harvest.
You get the point. Go and see what other musicians are doing around here. Who knows, you might find you really like it. And even if you don't it will give you a better understanding of what's going on here locally and help bring the entire community closer in the end.
If you've made it this far, I thank you very much for listening to my ideas and have no doubt that you'll do your best to continue to make this place better for local fans and musicians.
To wrap all this up, I'd just like to say It's been a truly exciting ride so far, and honestly words can't really express how lucky, grateful and blessed I feel for all the support and amazing help we've had from this community. I have no doubt in mind my that this place will continue to grow and that we are at the start of something special in local music.
Here's to an amazing 2011 for everyone out there!