So I have this serious deep set fear that over the last eighteen months or so I have become viewed as much more of an ‘industry guy.’ Now that’s totally valid and honestly true, that being said, it is also very important to me personally to not divorce this sense of professionalism from a continued dedication to the DIY scene, and more specifically DIY venues which remain not only the backbone of this entire ecosystem but also a key way for us to all grow together. I wanted to take the time to write a little bit about why I think that DIY venues should remain a key part of your strategy as an unsigned band and what you can do to support them. The DIY community is a big part of why we have a meaningful music scene in the first place and the more that we feed into them the more we grow. A rising tide lifts all ships. I have not always been a perfect member of the DIY scene, but I have found that whenever I lose track of my DIY ethics I find myself getting into trouble. So let’s look at what makes these spaces so valuable and important.
First and foremost, I think that playing shows in DIY venues is a sort of rite of passage. If your band was never a part of any DIY scene I genuinely believe it will be a lot harder for you to build a fanbase. This is for a huge variety of reasons. The thing is, the people who go to DIY spaces are music freaks, they are willing to break the law and do dumb and dangerous shit in order to have the opportunity to see something they can’t access anywhere else. Not only that, but they are going to be more receptive to music as a result of this. I have seen some massive bands in DIY spaces back when they were just starting out and that is a huge part of the appeal of this scene. If you are an active part of the DIY community then you are going to wind up with some stories about rock stars before they were famous. Furthermore, because this is a group of music freaks you are also going to meet the other freaks who want to grow together. I have developed countless long term partnerships that have come out of friendships I made in crust punks basements while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
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When you are just starting out, DIY venues are great too because they don’t actually cost anything to book most of the time, or what the is fairly minimal. This is great because y’know – you are trying to save money and owing $150 to the bar to pay for staff at the end of the night sucks. Hopefully you are going to be able to embrace some of the sheer power of this whole thing and be able to leverage that for growth. On top of that, DIY venues frequently are much more likely to have a built in crowd because there are people who are out there trying to continue supporting the scene and driving to help make this entire thing grow. That’s really important because again, you as a young band are looking for supportive people to interact with. That being said, these people also go to a million shows a year, so it’s kind of on you to make a point of working your fucking ass off to deliver a show that will impress, but that is the case with just about any venue or crowd.
Supporting your local DIY venues is where things gets really interesting though because this is where you can really give back without having to deal with a lot of the corporate bullshit you see in the rest of the industry. By contributing to DIY venues you are, generally speaking more able to generate meaningful shows that people connect too for all of the reasons above and then some. There is of course huge value in developing scene cred, and that culture is there for a reason, old heads only want to work with credible people. This is a place with a low barrier of entry but a high barrier to gain respect. More importantly, this is a place where people are going to be able to show and teach you some of the basics of concert promotion. By doing the hard stuff, putting in the effort and working your face off in order to ensure more growth people will remember your travails and want to work with you more in the future. As I’ve said before, a surprising amount of heavy hitters in the music industry are veterans of these spaces and go to these shows, so you never know who might be watching.
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Don’t get into DIY culture because you think that it might be the thing that is going to push your career to a whole new level. That’s not the fucking point. The point is to do something cool with your friends that hopefully a few other people think is cool. The point is to build up a network of people around your band who are then able to support you a little more when you get to a point that you can play real venues or help contribute to a scene that has meaningful growth. This is where you can cut your teeth and learn things that will pay off meaningfully both in the short and long term. I had someone ask me the other day how they could go on to do art for the Slash’s and Taylor Momsen’s of the world and the answer is simple: you have to start small and grow. Well this is the place that you are encouraged and allowed to start. This is the place that you can get chances to learn.
DIY venues are the place where EVERYONE cool cut their teeth and where a lot of people go back to remember their roots and continue to give to the community. Nothing about the DIY scene makes sense, there are a lot of drugs and general waste that go on and not all of it is great. That is a big part of why DIY has become self policing and tried to grow. That’s actually a really exciting thing to me and makes me extremely curious about what the future is going to end up being for these spaces looking into the unforgiving maw of the 2020’s. They may get shut down due to increased police action and in many cases simple apathy, but we need them if we want our scenes greatest minds to have a place to germinate. Figure out how you can give and take advantage of this network today.