Field Notes and Fixations: “Support Your Local Music Scene”
By Thomas Hentges
It’s a phrase that often permeates social media and other outlets, usually as a marketing ploy by a local artist or band, seemingly to guilt you into attending their next performance. And while at times it can be downright annoying to hear the phrase repeated over and over, as if it was some mantra that when reiterated may magically produce larger turnouts to local events, often it is a message falling on deaf ears, particularly in our neck of the woods. South Dakotans have seemingly had a longstanding stigma that nothing good can come from our own backyard.
So why does this attitude seem to be the status quo in our region? What is it that prevents the population of our great state from going all-in and supporting an inspiring local act to the fullest? It is impossible to simply answer these questions. However, I have a few theories as to why this attitude continues to plague our region, as well as some thoughts on how to improve this overall contempt for anything local.
To piggyback on the notion that many Dakotans see little of value in their own state, often many of us see anyone achieving some inkling of success as behaving as though they are better than their peers (which in some cases can be real, but rarely is the case). The usual responsive act of “pulling someone down by their ankles” in whatever form it is delivered does nothing positive for either the victim or the perpetrator. More than anything, it just reveals that jealousy is usually the root cause of said attitude. And, as we all now, jealousy is not seen as a positive behavior and its conduct rarely yields anything more than perpetual frustration.
Another problem I have witnessed is the blame for lackluster show turnouts being placed on the wrong group of people. When I first moved to Sioux Falls more than sixteen years ago, I was both excited and thankful for the 2-3 all-ages shows a month I was able to attend. In those days, a show could consist of several acts representing several genres and work out seamlessly. At the time this was seen as a strength of our local music community, particularly by outsiders.
Things have certainly changed, especially within the last five years, to the point of “our scene” actually finally becoming several smaller and more specific scenes. You have your metal scene, punk scene, folk scene, hip-hop scene, etc. This is a much more municipal look at how most music communities divide themselves, and for obvious reasons. In my opinion, this has been a fantastic development, as it shows growth. However, I often hear musicians complaining that a group of people involved in another music scene isn’t showing up or supporting their scene. Here inlays one of our biggest issues.
A scene cannot exist if the only support via show attendance is coming from other area musicians. There are nearly 200,000 people who now call the Sioux Falls area home, for example. In knowing that bit of information, it can be frustrating to put lots of work into promoting a performance, only to have it attended by 20 people, often with maybe only a handful of attendees who seem to give a damn. We MUST at some point get the support of the non-performers in our community, but as mentioned earlier, in attempting to do so we often run into the attitude that nothing local can be of a high quality. Between several free outdoor concerts in the summer, the success of the White Wall Sessions, local record labels popping up and the strength of all-ages events at Total Drag, local musicians have more opportunities at quality exposure than in recent memory.
So what can we/you do? How can we continue the positive pattern of growth we have seen in recent years in our music community? I have broken this down into two categories, performers and the public.
- Promotion is your responsibility. As embarrassing as it can sometimes be, if you don’t promote yourself, who will? Create and distribute appealing fliers, have a strong presence via social media, and reach out to local publications and events listings. A common complaint among concert attendees is that they often are not aware of your events.
- Take the time to present yourself in as professional a manner as you feel represents you. Do not sell yourself short with a half-ass performance and production. Be sure also to thank those in attendance as well as the venue and staff. A little bit goes a long way.
- It’s very hard to have any ‘mystique’ when playing your hometown. That said, be nice. Take time before and after the gigs to connect with your audience. Coming off as unapproachable in your own hometown doesn’t give you mystique, it paints you as a grade-A asshole.
- Spread out your gigs. I often see local acts seemingly playing in the area every two weeks. Unless you are presenting a completely different experience for each of these shows, this is just plain overkill and will leave your audience feeling that they can “always catch you the next time.”
- Do a little research and attend a performance. This one seems so obvious it almost goes without mentioning, but it is a very simple truth.
- If you discover an artist you enjoy, spread the word. Bring a friend or two next time you go out and see the act you enjoyed before. Talk to your acquaintances. Spread the act’s material via your social media accounts.
- Purchase local music. Bands spend countless hours writing, fine-tuning and recording their material. By simply purchasing music from these groups you are giving a validity to what they are doing.
- Believe in your community. Finally, once and for all, let’s attempt to end the stigma that nothing good can come from our area. It’s simply untrue, and such a negative perception of one’s surroundings does no good for anyone, yourself included.