Contributing to your local scene is important to building your fanbase and growing your success, however as with so many aspects of the music industry, it's easy to misstep and mess up the close-knit relationships of a local scene.
Guest post by Jhoni Jackson from the Sonicbids Blog
We've stressed the importance of contributing to your local scene in so many prior posts: Like this guide to the many benefits of belonging to a music community, from mutual support to sharing gear or knowledge, or the illuminating insight of White Mystery's Alex White, who explained that DIY isn't actually individualistic, but about teamwork instead. We've even published a guide to getting involved for newcomers.
Still, any local scene member is susceptible to missteps. Following your instincts while remembering to give the same kind of respect you want to receive is a solid guideline for interactions within your community – but mistakes still happen.
We've rounded up five common issues that plague every city's scene in hopes of one day eliminating altogether. As you navigate your local music community, keep these don'ts in mind – and feel free to add your own suggestions and experiences in the comments.
1. Don't just ask for favors – build relationships
Your local scene can be a finite resource if you're not also contributing. Receiving help from your community – a spot on a lineup organized by someone else, free or low-cost flyer design from a generous artist, that one drummer who always loans their kit for the entire show – is not a guarantee. If you're constantly asking for favors and never returning them, eventually folks will grow tired of that take-and-no-give scenario. Nobody likes to feel used, and if you're not also helping out when you can, those magnanimous members of your scene will notice.
Remember who's offered a hand when you needed one, and lend them yours when possible. Even if you don't have a great opportunity to throw their way, you can offer support by helping promote on social media, cheering them on at shows, or just communicating your thanks for their past help, and letting them know you'll be happy to help them out whenever you get the chance.
2. Badmouthing other bands is a terrible idea
It's okay to have an opinion about a band, and it's impossible you'll like the work of every other fellow musician. That's totally fine – but sharing those thoughts publicly might open up the floodgates for inter-community fighting.
Even if you're careful to be constructive and considerate in your delivery, the subject of your commentary may feel targeted. After all, what's the point of posting about the music of another band within your scene if not to try to make your own look better? You can argue that self-aggrandizing wasn't your goal all you like, but any negative response to someone else's music shared publicly is going to look like you're asserting your own authority, and disparaging their work. Whether on Facebook or interviews, remarks about other bands don't feel constructive for the musicians in question if the conversation isn't directly with them and in private.
Weighing in on another band's worth online or in discussion in person doesn't typically lead to anything helpful – and could contribute to a negative reputation around yourself and your band. Before you decide to share your opinion in a public way, think first about how you'd feel if you were the subject in question.
3. Ignoring problems in your scene isn't a good idea, either
When news starts to circulate of someone causing problems in your local music community, don't ignore it. You may not want to take a position for fear of ending up on the wrong side, but if the general consensus is that someone is hurting or making others uncomfortable, you have a responsibility, just like anyone else in the scene, to support whoever's been affected.
The manner and degree to which you get involved is up to you. But holding people accountable for their actions is important, and in an independent music scene, mutual support is paramount. When a member of your community is experiencing a serious problem, leaving that issue unaddressed can make them feel like folks are indifferent to their hurt, and can chip away at the supportive bonds that are the bedrock of local music communities.
Don't discount the importance of local indie media
When seeking press for your band, it's natural to want coverage in national outlets with significant readerships. But once you've reached that level, don't forget about the local media that endorsed your music back when you were still growing your fanbase. As a critical part of any city's independent music ecosystem, those channels – blogs, podcasts, internet radio shows, and so forth – are a means of maintaining a closer connection with your early followers, and to continue reaching more hometown listeners who've yet to hear your work.
And for bands just starting out, of course, it should go without saying that a spotlight in local media is a great way to scale upward – including snippets of positive coverage in local media can help you leverage write-ups in bigger outlets.
5. Remember to support everyone – not just other bands
Your local music scene doesn't run solely on the work of musicians. Showing up for other bands is important, of course. Help promote them and be present at their shows, and they'll probably do the same for you, too.
But a music community doesn't function without the work of promoters, writers, photographers, graphic designers, screen printers, sound engineers, independent record store owners and employees, and even the venue bartenders and folks who charge covers at the door. Be kind to everyone in your city's scene – and that includes the fans who support it, too – and you'll likely get the same warmth and welcoming attitude in return.
Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-bred music journalist currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she juggles owning a venue called Club 77, freelance writing and, of course, going to the beach as often as possible.