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Monday
Jan182010

Improving the Vitality of a Music Community through Community-Based Education Models 

The new musical business has created a democratized landscape whose positive effects allows fans access to more music than ever before and place the power to build musical careers squarely as the responsibility of the artist. There are negative effects though and a major one is that the incredible amount of available information makes navigating this landscape tedious and difficult. Without a roadmap it can be a fast track to obscurity as new models emerge and die rapidly. Musicians looking to successfully harness the power of this new business must dedicate a considerable amount of resources to current and actionable career building education. Contributing to this problem are that tips, tricks and skills accrued by successful musicians seems to be passed on in an oral tradition fashion, a high fidelity transmission of information but applied only as a one-to-one or a one-to-few model. Finally, very few effective non-institutionalized locations exist where musicians can share their knowledge and experience and help other bands develop their careers.

In Houston, we’ve witnessed the effects of this for years. Several bands have made a successful career of their music: releasing records, touring, merchandising and constantly working to expand their audience and reach. There has been little effect of any knowledge share between these bands though as most Houston bands do little to improve their careers even inside of their hometown. This problem builds to a national stage where few, if any, bands from Houston are recognizable and there is a general consensus that Houston does not have a musical community when in fact it is actually a very fertile and innovative community.

The problem of national recognition of Houston talent is a complex problem but the one of musician education is an issue that affects all musicians no matter what their geographical affiliation. This geographical affiliation can be exploited by addressing musician education in a collective manner on a local level by staging community-based musician educational sessions.

For the past year we’ve been holding a community-based musician education series we call Bandcampus. The primary goal of Bandcampus is to deliver tools to the Houston music community that will allow them to more effectively practice their craft. The secondary goal is to open all lines of communication between all members of the Houston Music Community improving opportunities for knowledge share and attempting to shift a vertical hierarchy to a horizontal one. We’ve been working towards these goals through providing open forums and discussions including community-based education sessions. Every month we meet and teach a particular skill that could help musicians and bands achieve success in their musical career.

We’ve discovered that the education problem is compounded by an apathy problem. This has been addressed by teaching the musicians a particular topic and then workshopping that topic for the remainder of the session. This style of teaching offers an advantage over current methods of solitary musician education, namely continued reading of blogs and other sites dedicated to musician education. In one session, a collection of PR, marketing and web designers prepared 25 bands for SXSW by either building or solidifying their online presence. Another workshop called Booking Party allowed bands to use a mad-libs style contact script and a list of venues to work together to book themselves regional shows.

Communities of Practice like we’ve formed around bands over the past year are part of a burgeoning trend to join communities together to meet common objectives and overcome shared challenges. Included in this trend are the coworking movement and the founding of many hackerspaces around the world that give home brew techies the ability to learn from each other and build new technologies with this collective knowledge and community support. Similarly, our Bandcampus sessions have been incredibly helpful for the local bands involved in the series.  Several already established bands have used these sessions to widely increase their local and regional audience. Other bands have shared their successes and failures to help kick start the careers of new bands. We believe that educational systems such as this one, a community-based model for knowledge share, could be of benefit to any musical community. Communities of Practice made up of bands in any geographical area could improve their careers and the careers of the bands in their community by opening up the lines of communication and holding similar meetings to share practices and develop standards for excellence. 

About the author:

 

Matthew Wettergreen is an engineer, educator and the co-founder of Caroline Collective, a coworking space in Houston, TX. His primary interests are multi-disciplinary approaches to problem solving, rapid prototyping, coworking and musician education. Learn more @ http://matthewwettergreen.com

 

Reader Comments (6)

Excellent post! I could not agree more. Knowledge transfer, and more importantly, the time-length of the feedback loop (the time it takes artists to determine if they are worthy of moving forward) are two of the biggest problems (IMHO) in this industry.

I also think it's unbelievably unfortunate that there is amazing knowledge that is expiring as generations of producers and engineers get passed over in favor of fast, cheap self-production by those that are aching to pursue even faster and cheaper self-promotion.

January 18 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Warila

As a musician at a "local" level I can certainly attest to the apathy problem both in myself and other local musicians. It's remarkable to me that the mentality of "The big record label is going to sweep me off my feet and take care of my every need" is still so prevalent. Even before we broke through to this new model, I learned early on that you have to build up your own career so the big record labels would be interested in you as a sound investment. How much more crucial is this concept now without the labels! It's a business. Our own business.

How to break thought this apathy? I don't know. Perhaps it's simply a matter of survival of the fittest, but the coworking groups that you have developed are invaluable for those musicians out there that do care and do "get it". Keep up the good work. It's NOT falling on deaf ears.

January 18 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Osborn

Great brainfood, man. I would love to see a breakdown of "What Works" for you guys. I've done a few BarCamp events now, used Open Space Technology and alladat, and I'm definitely curious what kind of feedback comes from doing this with musicians...what could be improved, dropped altogether, added to the recipe, etc.

January 20 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Bruce,

Thanks for commenting. I completely agree with you about the lack of knowledge share. The more time spent thinking about it the more it becomes clear that musicians do not have an educational component to their culture. If we can work on a local level we might be able to incorporate those experts and authorities into the education process and start a sustainable knowledge transfer process.

Jeremy,

It's good to know that this is making a mark on Houston. We learned early on that bands would just not apply what we taught them in sessions if the content was mostly in a lecture format. We've dealt with the apathy situation head on by letting people know that they are at the Bandcampus sessions to learn and then DO, that they're not to come and hang out but to improve their career. By making them do the work in the session they gain the advantage of other musicians surrounding them which increases motivation and the presence of the experts which reinforces the lesson.

Another way to think of how we're addressing the apathy problem is that instead of weeding out the bad apples, we're building better barrels.

Justin,

I've planned or attended five or six barcamps in Houston of various types: General Barcamp, 3DCamp, Biocamp, GreenCamp, Artcamp and Bandcamp(us). It was clear from the first Bandcampus that the Barcamp style was missing some key components. We needed a townhall session so that bands, venues, booking agents and promoters could share their beefs, tips and wishlist for the Houston Music Community. It was also clear that instead of straight Barcamp style we needed to include a strong focus on education rather than simply an audio/visual presentation.

I've taken that townhall format into every Barcamp I've planned since. The results of it have been amazing. It's like the community has never spoken to each other or let each other know how they feel...Everyone leaves with a huge weight off their shoulders.

The other thing that has worked really well is the community-based education model. One person may be knowledgeable enough to teach booking but surely others in the room have experience with this also and can chime in with their own tips and tricks. By coming to the table respecting everyone's position everyone has something to gain.

I'd be happy to talk more via email if you're interested, just drop me a line.

Matthew

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