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Start Your Own Scene

I hear a lot of people complain that their band can’t really get anywhere because there’s not much of a scene where they live. However I don’t see a lot of people doing anything about it. If there’s going to be a scene, someone needs to have the vision and initiative to start it. So if you don’t have a booming scene where you live – start your own! Here’s how:

The first thing that you need to do is to scout out at least one good venue. What you want to look for are venues that are:

a) inexpensive
b) fun
c) willing to give you the freedom to set up your own shows

The other important factor is bringing in other bands to play with you. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you start putting together shows that you’re genuinely excited about. If you’re excited about the shows you put together then that excitement will translate to your fans. When you consistently put together fun and exciting shows you’ll see the beginnings of a new scene. Other bands will want to be a part of it and you won’t have to beg people to come to your shows. You’ll just need to tell them when they are.

When you put on shows with bands who know each other and who have fun together then people will actually stay for more than one band! They’ll leave happy without having spent too much and the bands can actually make some money too. It’s a win, win for everyone if you do it right.

If you’ve got total freedom over the shows you put on then you can do some things that are outside the box. You can have a comedian or a magician open for you. Be creative. I saw a band once who had made a big wheel that they would spin that would prompt them to do all kinds of entertaining stunts in between songs depending on where the wheel landed. It’s your show. Have fun with it!

Before I moved to Los Angeles I played in a band in Rhode Island where there wasn’t any kind of established scene. There were a couple of no-name venues where we regularly played. One was at a restaurant/bar at the beach and another was a tiny bar in the suburbs. Neither one had bands playing there until we proposed the idea. We brought in bands that we wanted to play with and we played what we wanted to play.

Both of these places that we played at gave us 100% of the door and 100% of merch. One of them even gave us the door plus $100 and free drinks! The bar was a tiny unknown hole in the wall, yet we made more money per show there than when I played in a band that sold out the Viper Room. Those shows were some of the best times of my life. We weren’t trying to reach for something beyond us, we were just putting on the shows we wanted to play and that we thought would be the most fun for everyone. We booked the bands we liked to watch and that we liked to hang out with, so naturally our fans would enjoy the show as well. People would come back to see us again and they would bring more friends and tell more people, to the point that many of them would be turned away at the door.

The idea is to bring people together in a way that’s a win win for everyone. If everybody wins then everybody will want to be a part of your shows in the future. If you want to create a scene, forget about the big expensive venues that don’t care about you, book 6 unrelated bands a night, don’t pay you and that your fans can only afford to go to on special occasions. Instead, find a fun place that’s receptive to the idea of letting you come in and put on your own inexpensive shows. It’s an opportunity for everyone – the venue owner wants more customers, you’ve got fans and you know other bands who have fans (you just need a willing venue), and the fans have a few hours and a reasonable amount of money to spend, and they want good entertainment.

Bring it all together and you’re the hero. So don’t be one of the countless complainers. Be a doer. Amazing things can happen when you’ve got the vision to bring people together.

- Scott James


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Reader Comments (10)

This is great advice.


November 5 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Warila

great article.....i sent it to my band's e-mail for all of them to read.


November 5 | Registered CommenterChris Bracco

really good, inspiring post scott. thanks!

i just wrote a post about local shows and how all to often as a band you have the impression that because you have lots of friends in your hometown you have lots of fans. it doesn't work like this and all too often it feels like your friends let you down by not turning up but actually might just not like your music!

your idea of creating a local scene i think supports the idea that you need to look beyond just getting friends to gigs and instead try to create something sustainable that connects with potential fans and other artists rather than forcing your friends to endure your shows all the time. for my last tour i connected with local bands and set up in free venues that don't normally do live music and the response was incredible - really unique gigs that felt like much more than 3 or 4 separate bands showcasing their own material - it's all about community!

keep up the great work man.

November 6 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Great post!
I wrote an article on the subject about a month ago called "Pay To Play Is NOT A Necessary Evil aka Create Your Own Gig!", outlining some strategies used by my band to avoid Pay To Play and build a great fan base. I'm really surprised more artists haven't taken the initiative.

November 8 | Unregistered CommenterWicked D

Great post, I too wish more musicians would do this!

November 10 | Unregistered CommenterAbi

This is a great post indeed, and I know what a challenge it is to make such things happen. I've been into live promotion for few years (it's never been my primary occupation), and I've seen lots of ups and downs and reasons behind them.

If you want to start your own scene, you have to live this idea 24/7, as a fanatic, and stand still when there is noone at your first shows.

Also, these are tough times - I just published a friend's guest post about this on my blog today, with LA metal scene taken as an example (it can be found here). It's very difficult times for live scene, BUT it's fascinating times for those who can think differently and can bring something new to their city.

November 19 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Apanov

Why not? During the '60s and early '70s, people would create "scenes." These went by a variety of different names, ie, Love-ins, Be-ins, Sit-ins (if political, and supporting a cause.)

When I lived in Utah, the younger set would create scenes that they called Raves. These would move from site to site to keep from being raided by the police and concerned parents. These were held in everything from abandoned warehouses to some of the bigger private homes in the area.

Also, during the '60s, as they were working to get established, the Grateful Dead would move around on a flat-bed truck and hold concerts from the back of the truck in public parks, etc.

December 27 | Unregistered CommenterDavid W. King

Solid post.

Scenes don't exist without people who create, nurture, and grow them.

Hoover a Worldwide Touring Network

January 19 | Unregistered CommenterHoover

This is really inspiring & I'm thinking of possible venues as I write. Very inspiring, thank you!

November 19 | Unregistered Commenteriheartblondie

I just wonder, because of stricter DUI laws and increasing public non-smoking ordinances, if there has been a detrimental effect on local music scenes. A lot of people in my area are more afraid to go to bars nowadays for fear of getting DUIs when they leave.Cops in my area routinely stake out clubs. (I know, they shouldn't be driving in the first place, but people are people) I know also of several smokers that won't go out to see bands anymore.

Just wondering

December 3 | Unregistered CommenterJay McAllister

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