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Guest column: What makes a music scene

Columbia music scene expert Dave Kemper on how to make the city a better home for local artists

By Dave Kemper | March 18, 2014

Tags: Columbia Concerts Guest column Music


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A music scene is more than a bunch of guys and girls playing songs.

A music scene is startup record labels, pirate radio, small publications, photographers, artists and most of all, fans — hordes of fans, writing, thinking and talking about music. Musicians, artists and writers converging in an effort to foster and facilitate the works and aspirations of the people around them. All of them immersing themselves in a collective creative consciousness.

Any little plot of land, any little neighborhood, any community is only as fun or as interesting as we decide to make it. Columbia has always been pretty hip, all things considered, but I must admit, I don’t think it’s ever fully embraced itself as a full-blown music town, and I wish that would change.

Here are a few things that ought to change if we want our scene to really thrive:

  1. Do it for free. Let’s be honest; there’s not much money to be made in the local music business. Aside from a very select few, musicians and artists are poor. So why not offer your services for free and hope that your good faith efforts will be repaid with the services of other talented individuals like yourself? If you have a few good mics, record your friend’s bands for free. If you’ve got a nice camera, go out and film. If you’re a designer, just start making a flier for every show you wanna go to (and hey, you’ll probably get put on the guest list).

  2. Help develop “The Sound.” Think about it. What is “the Columbia sound”? There really is no one prevailing genre, and for the most part, that is a good thing. But what if, as a community, we really worked to develop something unique, something distinctly Columbian?

  3. Promote, promote, promote. So you’re in a band, you play guitar, and you’ve written a few songs. Great! But that’s only half the battle. Use the power of social media, hang fliers and tell all your friends. Tell them twice if you have to. When you’re not playing a show, find out who is and help them get the word out. Make an agreement with another band — or 10 other bands. You promote for me, I’ll promote for you. Everyone wins!

  4. Be a peacock. I love three chords and the truth as much as anyone, but when you step just beyond those boundaries, you might find something truly inspiring. Great music is rarely made from a place of complete comfort.

  5. Go to a show every week. Play guitar every day. Listen to music constantly. It’s no secret that the more you immerse yourself in something, the more familiar and the more capable you become. Imagine the caliber of music that would come out of Columbia if there were a sold out local show every weekend with dozens of bands fighting for the top spots. Iron sharpens iron.

  6. Put live bands everywhere. There was a time in Columbia’s past when the city government seemed to be legitimately in support of local music and arts. (Maybe they’ve got too much on their plate nowadays building 10-story parking garages or busting up parties on East Campus.) My fellow locals will join me in wistfully reminiscing about the Twilight Festival, a weekly gathering in downtown Columbia that was held every Thursday night throughout the spring and summer. The festival included live bands, local art and hordes of people enjoying the weather, the Midwestern sunset and a resounding sense of community. As a community, we should also demand that a local band be included in each and every Ninth Street Summerfest. Why close down an entire city block, build a stage, sell alcohol on the street and not give a local band a chance to get its name out? Local musicians deserve a piece of the action, period.

  7. Support a local music day. As a community, let’s create a holiday. The first of its kind. Similar to “Go Skateboarding Day” or everyone’s favorite unofficial holiday in late April, Columbia could introduce “Support Local Music Day.” Organizing a pub-crawl between The Blue Note, Mojo’s, Roxys, The Bridge, Eastside Tavern and The Blue Fugue may prove difficult, but it’s entirely possible. A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales could even go to benefit a music-related charity. We are lucky to live in a community that’s just the right size for this type of event.

When we all get together — when we all realize we’re on the same team — wonderful things can happen. Embrace the community you are a part of, make beautiful music, and help each other out.

That’s what makes a music scene great.

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