Thursday, September 13, 2018

Why I Quit The Music Industry To Join My Local Music Scene | Music Think Tank

In the spring of 2009, I was a college senior staring down the barrel of graduation, and I was clueless.

I knew just one thing: I wanted to make music. 

So I did the best thing I knew. I moved to Chicago, where I knew a few other musicians who had been making a living. I moved in with some friends in Wicker Park, built a home studio, and got to work.

I spent my days rushing across town to get the best busking spots, making phone calls to label reps, promoters, and distributors, and playing shows. In what little free time I had, I worked on my album. After a while, I had to get a day job to afford to live in the city, which made my music routine almost unmanageable. 

I had found a regular open mic that boasted to be the stomping grounds of pre-fame Smashing Pumpkins. It seemed like a good place to get to know other musicians and rub elbows with the movers and shakers in the music scene. One day, I jammed with a couple guys from the bar to put together a backing band. It went great, but when we tried to schedule a follow up practice, our work schedules got in the way.

Four months after moving to Chicago, I was miserable. I had poured every ounce of energy I had into “making it,” and I had nothing to show for it. I would often go days without stepping foot in my home studio. When I did, I was overcome with a cloud of depression and boredom.

I was downtrodden and despondent. My passion had soured. I started to resent the very thing I wanted to do with my life. 

Around the same time, some friends in my hometown of South Bend, Indiana started talking about creating an artistic community. It was a crazy idea—my whole life, South Bend was the kind of town you left as soon as you were able. Anyone who wanted to accomplish anything moved to another city to do it. Staying in South Bend was a slow death sentence. 

But they pointed out that there was no shortage of homegrown talent. There just wasn’t a community to foster that talent. However, if artists and musicians were to stay in town and support eachother, they could create the kind of artistic community that every creative would want to be a part of.

So I paid out the rest of my lease, packed up my things, and moved back into my parents’ basement.

I knew that the chances of my making a living from my music were slim, but to be honest, my chances were already slim. At least here, I knew what I was signing up for. I would probably never find a record company willing to buy all of my gear for me, so I used all the Guitar Center coupons I could find instead. I would have to get a day job, but I already needed a day job to live in Chicago. And the cost of living in South Bend was significantly cheaper (my mortgage payments are cheaper than my Chicago rent). 

My friends and I started to plan shows and art openings and poetry readings. We went to every coffeeshop, bar, and restaurant that had enough room for a sound system and a small band and asked if they would be willing to host a show. A couple of them even said yes.

At first, people looked at us like we were crazy. The idea that a rotting city like South Bend could have a thriving arts community sounded like lunacy. Our first few events were poorly attended. 

But over time, people started to catch on. We would throw one or two shows a month, and people started to notice. Music fans started inviting their friends. Musicians started realizing that there were more opportunities to play. A few musicians even moved back from Nashville to join in the scene that we had started to build.

A few years ago, the city had our first music festival, mostly culled from local talent. This year, we’ve had three festivals, with another scheduled for November. Where we used to have one or two shows a month, now it’s not uncommon to have three or four shows a week. New venues are constantly hosting shows. New bands are constantly forming.

When I was living in Chicago, other musicians were apathetic and best and cannibalistic at worst. In my local scene, musicians are supportive and collaborative, sitting in on eachother’s sets, cowriting songs, and producing eachother’s records.

I might not ever “make it” living in South Bend. I may never attract the eye of record labels or talent agents. But I’m playing in two different bands, making music with some of my favorite people in the world, and playing shows as often as I want to be. If that’s not success, what is?


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