In a previous post I alluded to a conversation happening between lots of different folks including those of us in Chroma Collective. We’ve been talking about the fact that within this DIY music world there is value for bands beyond payment and value for show-goers beyond entertainment. One of the values that is the topic of abundant conversation boils down to this somewhat vague term ‘community’. I set out to explore what it means to be intentional in fulfilling community at shows and had a nice Saturday afternoon chat with Kevin who is my good friend that has spent uncountable time touring the national DIY scene with his wife and kids, Tina who has been hosting shows in her home in Virginia, and Ethan who is known for going to tons of shows around that region and has hosted some house shows of his own. I’ll never be able to capture all the thoughtful conversation we had, but here are some thoughts that give a glimpse and hopefully inspire similar conversations to be had in other spaces.
Our conversation revolved around missed communications between show hosts and traveling artists and the conversation that happens or does not happen about needs and expectations regarding the payout, the size of the crowd, and maybe basic topics like the purpose of the show. An aspect of this community is a trust that people’s needs will be understood and taken care of to a feasible extent. It seems that there is often a communication breakdown when it comes to those needs and expectations.
Artists are relying on hosts to be engaged in many ways and it truly takes a special type of person to be able to fill that role. An artist with no particular history or draw in a certain area is relying on the host to be plugged in with the music community to the extent that they can put a lineup together that is cohesive and creates a good atmosphere for the show. In a healthy community, the host has become a trusted curator of bands and can bring attendees in based on a history of enjoyable shows. This often comes from hosts and curators having invested much time and effort to develop meaningful relationships with local people interested in this sort of show.
The ability to build relationships with artists also becomes very important. An existing relationship with artists makes the booking/promoting/hosting process much easier for a host, but that comes with hard work and potentially awkward conversations. Communicating honest capability of the space, attendance, and pay will pave the way for a trust-based relationship and gives something concrete that expectations can be set on in the future.
Through relationships between hosts and bands, information and experience flows smoothly and starts to connect geographically isolated areas into a cohesive regional scene. As bands touch many of these community spaces along the way, their engagement and commitment is just as important as that of the host. It’s hard for a band to hide their stance on how important community is to them. A band that shows up as early as they are asked to, a band that engages with local artists, a band that takes initiative to create conversations with those that have come to watch them has spoken loudly about the value they place in the music scene community.
Both bands and hosts have created or been given a platform and have a certain responsibility, in the name of community, to the great majority of bodies in the room; the generous, patient, open-minded folks that show up to our haphazardly curated spaces to listen to heartfelt songs written by strangers. We talk a big game on inclusive community but the follow through is tenuous at times. Even if we’ve done a great job at curating the show, providing access to great artists in a comfortable space, and people have bought in enough to show up, we still need to follow through and make intentional efforts to put our money where our mouth is with community. Specifically new folks checking out these shows for the first time are sadly ignored and feel like it’s because they're not part of the cool kids club. Many of us feel awkward, shy, and bad at meeting new people. But it takes that extra effort to break out of our comfort zone to invite someone else in to become part of this thing. As a show host, I often feel too busy, drained, pressured, etc, to be the person that makes conversation with the obviously new person in the room. My actions in this situation expose my value system when it comes to community the same way it does for bands. Intentionality is essential, because community doesn’t always come naturally.
Kevin shared with us that his primary goal of touring is to facilitate people becoming a part of each others' lives. Maybe the show is the right platform or tool to use to remind people that it's great to hang out and spend time with each other. To many artists in the DIY scene, money and notoriety aren’t the primary goal. We’re talking about the intangible reason that a show that doesn’t ‘pay well’ but is attended by folks that listen carefully and engage with the artists is easily chosen over one that ‘pays well’ but the music is simply background.
There’s a sacred balance between attendance numbers, payout, and community engagement that we’ve been trying to find, without actually talking about it out loud. I love to see seasoned artists taking the time to explain to new hosts what a ‘good night’ looks like and helping to set the expectation. I also love to see experienced show hosts or attendees help younger bands see and feel the value of community that rises above popularity. This conversation is happening in living rooms, basements, coffeeshops, and record shops across our world. The current generations are reinventing an old tradition and dreaming up new visions of collaboration, organization, network, and community.