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.
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