Why Your Local Arts Scene Is Dying.

“There’s nothing ever happening here!”

“Ugh, this town is so boring!”

“Why don’t bands ever come here?”

“I have to PAY to go to a show? Ugh!”

I hear things like this, and so many more things being from a small town. I’m sure if you are also from a small town, you’ve heard similar complaints. If you’re like me, it frustrates the hell out of you and the only thing to do is slowly let your soul die. However, if you are someone who does hear those things, and thinks “YEAH! WHAT THE HELL MAN?” or if you’ve ever wondered why your small community’s art scene is dying, then please continue to read on. I will preface this by saying that I am from Port Alberni, a small town on Vancouver Island, so a lot of my examples will be specific to that town. I’m sure you’ll be able to extrapolate from my examples and thoughts though.

So, the main question is “Why is my local arts scene dying?”

There is a very simple answer to that question. It’s your fault. That’s the hard truth. If you’re not going out to concerts, plays, openings, or other arts events in your community, then you’re part of the problem. This might sound like me trying to push the blame, and force you to feel bad. That’s not my intention, my intention is simply to tell you the truth.

When I was growing up, we had a music venue in Port Alberni called “The Academy”. If you remember that place, you’re probably about my age. I can’t even remember the sheer number of shows that I saw there, or how many different bands. What I can remember is that every show that came through, the place was packed to the rafters with young people who wanted to see music, interact with each other, and have fun. As well as that venue, acts like Sweatshop Union, Swollen Members, Treble Charger and other great Canadian acts played around Port Alberni, and the arts community in general was thriving.

After graduation I moved to Vancouver for three years. Apparently during that time, the arts community in Port Alberni came to a grinding halt. I attending an Academy show not long after I returned to Port Alberni, and there couldn’t have been more than 10 kids there, which I learned had become the norm. Tragically, Port Alberni lost The Academy when it became impossible to keep open with the steep decline in audience. This is what happens. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when. The longer a venue goes with low attendance, the faster it’s going to shut down. I am not an economist but I mean, how hard is that concept to wrap your head around right?

In the nearly two years I have been back in Port Alberni, I have noticed that there is a decline in attendance to musical performances across the board. Occasionally there are big turn outs to shows, but it isn’t enough to keep the venues afloat. The local stage theatre is a standard in Port Alberni, and manages to turn out crowds consistently. I hosted an all-ages, open mic-showcase that averaged about 15 people in attendance per month. It is a 5$ event, that is coming to an end in June, and I still couldn’t bring people out to support the amazingly talented young people based in the valley. Char’s landing is the one remaining all-ages music venue in Port Alberni, though there is an effort starting to reinvigorate the local youth center. The success of that remains to be seen, but lets focus.

The other venue that is constantly bringing in bands, comics and entertainment, is a 19+ venue called The Rainbow Room. The space is gorgeous, the performers are excellent, and the shows are shockingly under-attended. When the issue of under-attendance at this venue or any other venue has been presented to the public, the responses have been as such :

– “Well, people would come if they didn’t have to pay for it!”
– “Why don’t you pay the bands out of liquor sales so that audience can come for free?”
– “Why don’t you serve liquor?”
– “No one else goes, why would I go?”
– “There’s a party tonight”/”There’s a drink special tonight somewhere else that I don’t have to pay to go to”
– “Well, the reason no one comes is because … the economy and … no one has money for that shit”
– “Shut up, who cares. Bring LMFAO and we’ll talk”

That last one is an exaggeration, but you get my point. I’m sure similar excuses are made all over. The trouble with this, at least in Port, is that it’s basically just bullshit. As far as the issue of charging people to come to events, that is something that you should just expect. If you are blown away by the fact that you have to pay to see music, I don’t know what to do for you. The assumption seems to be that since it’s not a big city, it should be free. The fact is that the artists and performers who you are paying to see are trying to make a living. So, going to see them perform costs money. This concept isn’t new, or hard to understand. As for paying the artists with liquor sales, that is a prime example of backwards priorities. That turns the evening into being about selling as much alcohol as possible, instead of about the performer.

The one other point about this is, if you are INCAPABLE of leaving your house to go out to do something without drinking, that’s a pretty serious problem and you should REALLY take a look at what’s happening in your life. It seems to me that it comes very close to alcoholism. It is fully possible to go out and enjoy an evening without liquor everyone, it really is. If the only way you know how to have fun is going out and getting trashed, then maybe that’s really all you deserve in terms of an ‘arts community’. Strip clubs, DJs, and dollar beer will be all you get, and if that makes you happy then that’s fine. The trouble is that a lot of the people I hear complain and complain about how nothing ever happens in town, are the same people who can’t be bothered to do anything that isn’t “getting drunk”, so, shut up.

Now, onto the issue that really steams me.

“BUT NOBODY IN TOWN HAS ANY MONEY TO SPEND ON GOING TO SHOWS OR ANYTHING”.

I have to use Port Alberni specifically to make my point in this example, but again, I’m sure there is some version of this happening where you are too. I have heard time and time again, that no one has jobs and no one has money and life is so hard and whatever. Fine. Except, I see evidence to the contrary ALL OVER the place. Port Alberni has at LEAST 6 liquor stores that are thriving, almost twice as many bars that are doing just fine, and recent was able to put enough money together to purchase their local hockey team. Clearly the folks of the Valley aren’t as hard up as I would be led to believe, what is very prevalent is a mixing up of priorities. It’s clear based on what I’ve said what the priority seems to be. Also, I know a pretty large number of people who will blast over to Vancouver whenever Taylor Swift is in town, or the Canucks are playing. Again, this would be fine, if they weren’t the same people who were perpetually heard complaining about how boring their town is.

The fact is, on average there are 3-4 shows PER WEEK in Port Alberni. The arts community is desperately trying to hang on in a town that clearly doesn’t give a shit about it. I know some of you reading probably went “THAT JERK, I CARE”, and I’m sure you do. It’s possible that this isn’t about you.

Look, this might have seemed ranty, and hostile, but the fact is, if you ever wonder why the scene in the Valley or in your small town or even massive city is fading, or struggling, sometimes you have to look in the mirror and see if maybe you’re part of the problem. Take responsibility.

If there is no audience, there is no show. The arts community doesn’t exist independently, it exists with your support. Without support, it dies. That’s just the way things are. Go and support the local arts community, go to shows, get out of your house. Your PVR works, so just leave the house and maybe don’t go to the bar this weekend. I’m just saying. The strippers will always be there, the music scene might not be.

Think about it before you complain about how boring your town is.

——–

If you live in the Alberni Valley and you would like to know what’s going on, try:

http://www.facebook.com/alberniyouthevents
http://www.facebook.com/groups/charslanding
http://www.facebook.com/CharsLanding
http://www.facebook.com/RainbowRoomLounge
http://www.charslanding.com
http://www.rainbowroom.ca
http://www.podcoast.ca
http://www.barleyshow.com

Or just walk around town, look for posters.

 

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50 comments

  1. “The one other point about this is, if you are INCAPABLE of leaving your house to go out to do something without drinking, that’s a pretty serious problem and you should REALLY take a look at what’s happening in your life”

    SO true. When I lived in Courtenay and was trying to throw shows I got effed in the A because I was trying to toss all agers around for the young people, and even THEY wanted to be able to drink. (not all, but a LOT. Enough to kill us in the end)

    If I had tons and tons of money to throw shows and not worry about losing for a while, I am sure I could snow through the drinking problem of communities and generate a solid base of people who love shows for the shows and the music… however that just wasn’t the case for us.

    I’ll be trying again, especially now that I’m on the mainland, but right now it would be much of the same. So, for now, I’m supporting in other ways, and hopefully one day I will have the personal funding to be able to throw a hundred shows with only 10-20 people until the numbers start getting bigger.

  2. Really well put. Thanks.

    We run a venue in a tiny town called Burnstown near Ottawa.
    We’re doing near 100 shows a year now at break even success, relying on a cafe/coffee shop for profit.

    We hear the quotes you listed above on a consistent basis. These attitudes have a draining effect on venues even if they don’t kill them.

    There is another piece to the puzzle that we’ve seen here. Government funded festivals and shows aimed at solving the attendance problem seem to encouage them. Many organizations put on a festival or small performance program fully supported by government programs. The ticket prices become artificially low and that becomes the expectation for many in the community for the rest of the year in every venue. we’ve found that a lack of attendance is often not a cause for concern for the organizers (and lied about), because the event is fully funded.

    We absolutely refuse to become a top heavy organization that the application and reporting processes of government funding require. As a result, we find ourselves regularly compared in price to these types of endeavours and having to defend a ticket price daily that leaves us at break even (my wife and i donate our time) and pays the artist fairly.

    Last note. Musicians have lost their music sales revenues now…and are trying to make ends meet touring. It used to be that shows supported album sales. Now albums are done to support tours. Nobody should be surprised that show prices rise……almost all of the bottom line from album sales are gone!

    1. Hi Adam,
      you have a nice venue which I’d love to come in and perform at sometime. I didn’t realize you were doing 100 shows per year. That’s likely a little too heavy for your market imho. I perform 150 shows across Canada per year as an indie folk artist and find that many of the great venues are dying out. Some new ones come along but it hardly equals out. Perhaps it’s just live music – coupled with tech overload – everyone’s vying for attention – everyone’s a star – attention spans have dwindled – Coachella and Burning Man and festival experiences are where it’s at. Not sure but perhaps the old guard is changing and our perceived notion of what art IS – is actually morphing into something altogether. I agree with many points in this blog, however, I feel that people will support what truly moves them. How can you expect folks to leave their house to see another bunch of guitar playing Dylan wannabees? (of which I am one lol) If something is artistically strong enough it will move people off of their couches and they’ll pay unlimited amounts for it. For me, my CD sales are still strong and my ticket prices vary but it’s a living. CD sales will vanish soon too. Then it’s just down to live! That’s where it’s at for me at least.

      All the best – Jay Aymar. (info@jayaymar.com)

      1. Hi Jay,
        We would have thought 100 shows per year was excessive, but it seems to be working. We have a 70% sellout rate. I’m not bitching about it 😉 With us, 100 shows seems to be where we need to be with our gate policy to have the venue break even.

        Are your CD sales at your live shows? I always count that as ‘merch’ not CD sales as those sales are a result of the live show.

    2. > Last note. Musicians have lost their music sales revenues now…and are trying to make ends meet touring. It used to be that shows supported album sales.

      Actually, artists don’t make a dime from music sales until their record company recoups the amount they provided to record it (and all the expenses that went along with it such as travel, food, and accommodations). Artists sometimes make the mistake of thinking “wow, free plane ride halfway across the world to record this thing, free food, free booze…” when they should be thinking things like, “how many albums do we have to sell to make up for this lobster we’re gorging on between sessions?” Ask Trooper, who did not make any money from record sales until their greatest hits album dropped.

      Shows and merch is where the coin is.

      1. From discussions I’ve had with visiting musicians, there seemed to be an indication that there were some revenues in the past. Obviously dependent on popularity. None are there now from CD sales.

  3. Friends from the east coast of the island in a four piece band recently played Char’s Landing. This was a polished, professional adult act with musical chops at a very high level – pop, rock, jazz, fusion, etc., and members with a playing pedigree from Palm Springs to Vancouver to Alaska, in clubs, restaurants, bars, cruise ships, festivals, etc. They schlepped all their gear – keyboards, drums, instruments, etc., into their vehicles and drove over from Nanaimio for an evening set. The door was appx. $200. The house kept half and gave the band $100. to divide between four people. $25. apiece for a couple of hours rehearsal for the show, three hours driving, two hours playing, and loading/unloading and set-up. Eight hours alone put in on the things mentioned. Figure in round trip gas, and an inexpensive fast food meal in Port Alberni, well, you can do th math. Basically, they played for nothing. Musical acts simply can’t do that for long and survive. Attendance aside, the 50% house take formula won’t work, the venue will stop attracting all but the most desperate acts, and doors will eventually close. I have sympathy for the club owner, but you can’t parachute a big city/big name act formula into a small, and seemingly indifferent community, and think it’s going to work with local, or up-and-coming acts. You’ll simply end up with a spate of strictly local acts, people holding down other jobs who are willing to play just to have the oppportunity – good people and musicians to be sure, but whom even the most loyal music fans will eventually tire of and stop supporting.

  4. Great article. I run shows out of a cafe in Sherwood Park, Alberta, a very wealthy town of 90,000 people.

    The art scene is almost non-existent, however, there are countless artists in this town. The problem is, we have essentially two venues, one medium size theater, which costs a lot to rent for a show, and the cafe I work at, where it costs an artist nothing to put on a show.

    I work very hard to promote these small, intimate shows and even after doing it for a year and a half, still struggle to get people to show up. In a town of 90,000 people in a town with zero nightlife and nothing open at night, it’s hard to understand why people won’t attend. And when 8 people come to a show, it’s very difficult for the artist to make any money.

    Now, we have had some great success, but it’s way too inconsistent. Too many factors come into play when someone is deciding whether or not to attend a show. Plus, being so close to a large city, it’s tough to keep people in town.

    My goal for the next year is to raise awareness for the arts in this town so more people can be involved and artists can get the attention they deserve. It’s crucial for this town that moves further from culture every day.

  5. Most shows are dirt cheap ($12 on average), the money excuse is really poor. One big issue is musical tastes change and playing the same music as 10 years ago means your audience is smaller and a lot of your target audience has kids and doesn’t do live music unless it’s a hugely well known act. I imagine the scene here in Victoria is bigger than Port Alberni but I still find it slow to adapt, you really need to be in the big cities if you want cutting edge music with a decent sized crowd. There are multiple shows probably every night though and the genre span is quite large.

  6. Yeah man. I feel this personally, since my band Hoffman Lenses came out to play at the Rainbow Room not once, but twice and played to about 10 locals total between the two shows. This means we lost A LOT of money trying to bring the music to your town. That means we don’t eat. Sorry Port Alberni, but we won’t be coming back.

  7. Pardon me, but to be honest, I find the majority of this diatribe to be total horseshit. Yes, it sucks that people aren’t “supporting the scene”, but give me a break. We’ve heard this argument LITERALLY BILLIONS OF TIMES since the dawn of man and no matter how it’s worded, it is always the same bullshit. “The scene is dying because you didn’t come to shows.” I can hear these words echoing through my head like snide remarks from a mustachioed Pitchfork reader.

    People choosing to not come to shows is ONLY ONE of the reasons why “your scene is dying.” In fact, let’s change that. No. No scene anywhere is dying. Not as long as there are teenagers in garages screaming over dubstep beats. The problem is attitude. Shitty attitude. Specifically YOUR shitty attitude. That’s right, I’m pointing the finger at YOU, Mr. or Mrs. Finger Pointer.

    The reasons why people don’t come to shows is such a multifaceted one that it requires a multifaceted response. I will endeavour to provide one to you at this very moment.

    To begin with, I am gonna take that finger you so handily pointed at the consumer and point it straight at the promoter. Fuck these guys. These guys suck shit. Yes, it’s true there are some good promoters, but for most of them, they are awful bloodsuckers who can’t be bothered to do shit. I can’t count the number of people who have “promoted” events by putting up a facebook event or a few posters and…that’s it. The promoter gets to sit on their lazy ass and take a cut of the action even though they really didn’t do anything.

    And then you have these asshole promoters who put together shows that are so fucking stupid that it hurts. Occasionally you’ll get some noise band that’s gonna drive out everyone in the bar who is there to see the band they actually wanted to see. I’m sure we’ve all seen it happen. I have been guilty of it myself.

    Now, that’s not to say you can’t have a variety of bands on the same bill. In fact, I think that for the sake of things, it’s better to have a little bit more diversity on a bill than not. It’s about striking the right balance between the familiar and the new and a lot of promoters don’t seem to be very good at this.

    But even with the perfect storm of right bands/good promotion, a Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday night show will always draw less than a Friday/Saturday show. People have shit to do during the week. And that’s why not every city (take Sherwood Park, for example) can support 4-5 shows a week.

    You see, it has just as much with understanding the community you live in as the community you are attempting to market to. Just because trap music is blowin up online right now doesn’t mean in any way that’s going to translate into putting butts in seats. I live in Edmonton where for some reason people love fucking folk music & garage rock? I can’t explain it but that isn’t going to change the fact that folky/garagey bands are going to do much better here than black metal bands or dubstep djs. And sadly, this is also something a number of promoters fail to grasp as well.

    You simply can’t take any old band on any old night of the week and expect it to be a success without A LOT of hard work on part of the marketing and promotion. You have to understand what your community wants and provide it to them. As a promoter, you can only create so much demand for a product (bands/comedians/etc) and if you are expending that effort on music that is not going to attract people, you have failed.

    Now I’ve addressed the promoters being shitty. Definitely unfairly. I know there are quite a few who do work hard and I’m not slamming on them solely, because it’s not just THEIR fault if a show fails. In my opinion a large portion of the blame does ride on their shoulders but not exclusively so.

    One other huge problem that you failed to address is the bands themselves being awful & terrible at promotion (for the most part.) Most of them don’t even seem feel that promoting their shows is their responsibility at all. Maybe, as I’ve said before, they’ll throw up a facebook event notice/link it to their page/invite some friends online and pretty much leave it at that. The promotion on the band’s side is often so pathetic and lackadaisical that it’s not even worth the effort they put into it which is none.

    Somewhat understandable, I suppose, when you’re on tour in a town you’ve never been to, but there are definitely things you can do to be proactive such as getting in touch with some of the local blogs/arts weeklies/college newspapers. All of this shit is a google search away and yeah I guess it’s hard work sending out some fucking emails but if Black Flag could do it 30 years ago with a telephone, you can suck it up.

    The fact is that you’re only going to get so much out of your show if you’re only putting so much effort into it. And you can’t even look at your shows on a case by case basis. You have to look at the big picture.

    Now, I can’t speak for Port Alberni, but here in Edmonton, it almost seems like there aren’t really any established bands. Or I should say, as many as there could be. There are bands who do great, but there aren’t enough. And a lot of them play pretty infreqently. The ones that do actually make an impact often wind up leaving for Toronto. I can’t really blame them. There’s a much bigger audience there.

    I have much more to add but I have a headache right now.

    1. Much of that rant is very true. There are cases where promoters and bands do less than maybe they should. It’s also true that postering the crap out of a show and pushing publicity ($) is a total waste of time, effort and money. It’s different from city to city and venue to venue. There are so many variables; are there other shows festivals, weather, hockey playoffs, mass ennui, barometric pressure….who knows really why a show goes or doesn’t all the time.

      There is a noticeable difficulty getting people out of the house (we’re not in a big city). TV, youtube, facebook, twitter, instagram, pinterest, blah blah blah are all vying for people’s attention now. It’s pretty easy yo sit on your couch and get custom entertainment.

      I will disagree with you on most artists we’ve been introduced to. From our experience, all but the most established of artists leave with anything meaningful in their pockets. They’re accustomed to that and expect it. It’s clear they just wanna perform. On occasion there are ‘entitled’ performers that believe they should simply arrive at a Sold Out show. Perhaps we don’t see that often because most of the performers here tend top be on the road (and by default the type of performer that works a show).

      The debate seems to all comes down to whether performers and promoters deserve to be financially compensated for what they do…to make a financial living from what they do. Or whether they should have to take another job.

    2. Facts About Bok Choy (@CHOY_FACTS) wow you are ignorant. What he describes in Port Alberni is exactly what happens in big cities like NYC where I live too and the suburbs that surround them. After 20 years in the music industry myself I dare say you’ve never spent one day involved in it with your rant.

    1. So basically what you are saying is this, unless 100 million other people like it first, I’m not going to be into it. Who’s going to be the first to say, “You know what, I don’t care if anyone else likes this, I enjoy it and I’m going to share it.”

      Or you’re probably saying, “I want my music to be spoon fed to me because I am lost in kitten videos” Why not click on something that has less than 50,000 views on youtube that isn’t kitten videos once in a while? Why not see if there’s something coming to your town that you might enjoy. Some bands don’t translate well onto video or recording, but are awesome live! Case in point, the band Kiss (I’m not a fan, but I know some music history) got traction with their live shows and an album that was cut live.

      Or you’re saying, “I only like bluegrass, but only one band that makes bluegrass and that’s Mumford and Sons” Cool, that’s awesome, but you are not most people. Most people like different bands and types of music. I will say people that are music consumers, because believe it or not, there are people who don’t like music at all.

      I bet you only eat mac and cheese from a box and nothing else, not because you can’t afford it, but because that’s all you like. You sir, or madam, do not have a refined palette for art. That’s fine, you are entitled to it. But If everyone made dubstep music, there’d be 90% of the population on earth who would feel unsatisfied.

      Grow up and try something new, you might like it.

      1. I’m mot sure if this is directed at the article or another comment. If it is directed at the article I’m not sure where you are getting any of your points from. You have addressed zero information that I actually wrote, and inexplicably attacked me personally.

        Again, if its directed at me.

        If it is, yous shouls read before you comment.

      2. This was in reply to jspntr, I totally agree with the original post. This site does not nest the comments very well. :-/

  8. Hello Readers, Bands, Promoters & Venue Owners, Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Everett Powers. Front man for The Rebel Prospects and music lover! Everyone who voiced their opinions seem to be quit accurate BUT at the end of the day, if bands are playing to an empty house? Its SOLELY because the Label (if signed), Promoters & Bands (ESPECIALLY THE BANDS) marketing strategies, accompanied by inaccurate associations DO NOT know how to create PROPER IMPRESSIONS regarding their environment & surroundings. Give “The People” a reason to WANT to come to the show!!! Get excited! Stay Positive! Create some INCENTIVE because Joe Blow doesn’t give a shit about the performance & die hard fans, friends and family members are only going to support so many local Shows. Networking with the right Bands, the right Promoters and the right Labels that WORK, HUSTLE, MARKET, and PROMOTE as hard and CREATIVELY as THE BAND…will ALWAYS leave you with a satisfying feeling walking off stage dripping pouring with sweat, in your guts AND in your pockets. If this business was easy everyone would do it. I don’t want to sound cheesy because cheesy doesn’t pay the bills BUT when we’re old and grey? I want to be able to reflect back on what I hope to be my legacy and KNOW when I spent countless hours and dollars, I spent it on what I loved MOST out of Life…music.

  9. This is a great perspective! We are really digging this piece here at the Unsung office. Plus we are really in love with your podcast and what you are passionate about; it all pulls on our musical heart strings.

    We also love all the different feedback you are getting. Would you be interested in allowing us to publish this piece in our digital magazine? We would love to chat more about it! contribute@unsungmag.com

    Talk soon and great job on this post!

    Keep Rockin’

  10. This happened to The Attic in Kettering Ohio. Everyone started getting fucked up and shit instead of going to shows and then complained when it closed. Painful as hell to watch. Rest in peace to an awesome venue, fuck what anyone says.

  11. Promotion-by-guilt never works. “Support your local….” are famous last words. Once you appear desperate absolutely nobody will patronize your business on purpose. I agree with the rant above, 100% of your problems are due to promotion/venue. You need to make people want to meet up at your establishment regardless of that night’s talent. You need to stop turning curious people away at the door with cover charges.

  12. In answer to the original rant, I feel you sire. I come from a very small town whose music scene collapsed in the 80’s under the weight of the recession and the advent of strip mall dance clubs. That town is Cobourg Ontario and that town is still trying to rebound from that era. I left.

    Skipping forward I have spent the last 10 years touring Canada from coast to coast as a member of the band the United Steel Workers of Montreal. We eventually broke up last year sighting many issues and I would say 10 years of touring 6 months a year and working like mad 6 months as a bar tender trying to pay off the visa card that got ran up from touring sort of after a while got hard to continue with. We got pretty successful and even when we would play 150 shows a year, some as big as a couple of thousand people in attendance we still really didn’t get to the point of making any thing even close to a living at it. I’m talking maybe $8,000 a year a piece after the van payments, the gas, the hotels, the booker, the PR folks, instruments yada yada yada. But! These last ten years was very worth it, we saw every thing we met every body and we went everywhere, every body should start a band and tour.

    Here’s the brass tracks, music scenes a cross Canada have nothing to do with size of ones home town, with demo graphic quality of the town population, the amount of money any given group of folks have, government support means little, nope every culturally successful town in Canada is successful because it has a place for bands to play, local and road bands, a bar, a venue, a church, it may have something to do with alcohol but it may not as well, cover charge may happen it may not. Nope the successful towns all come down to one thing, usually one person, or maybe a couple, or even 3. Yep in all these towns you have that one guy who is responsible for making it happen, he figures out how to make it happen. Yep, before the Burnstown cafe there was no show any where around there, before Plan B in Moncton and the folks who run it, Moncton sucked and before Plan B bands drove right past, and the local bands left for Halifax, with out the Black Sheep in Wakefield there would be no music, The Boat House in Kitchener great example, with out the Apollo in Thunder Bay there would be no gig, thanks Sheila, with out The Slice in Lethbridge nothing, Royal on Baker in Nelson, these towns by all accounts should not have music scenes but they do because of the folks who run these places have created a way to bring bands to there town, pay them or feed them or put them up, and introduce them to the locals, the local music scene and some how made it possible for the band to play a show and then make it to the next one, this small hearty band of folks are what is keeping music alive to day, it wouldn’t happen with out them, and they are growing in number. Lets keep in mind they are not martyrs to art, most of these people are successful on some if not many levels, this scene really doesn’t need more martyrs, it needs success.

    I guess my point to the person who ranted is quit ranting and figure out how to become one of these people, start a band, build a venue or work for one, become a promoter, let bands sleep at your house, or better yet volunteer to road manage a band touring Canada for a couple years and go find out how these folks have managed to do the exact opposite to what you are bitching about, and then take that knowledge back to Port Alburnia and build something instead of waiting for people to get off their couch figure out how these other folks some how manage to get folks off their couch any night of the week, week in week out, rain or shine. Rise to the challenge of your dieing town, or, well move to somewhere else were some body has already done this very important work for you.

  13. In answer to Gern, who is mostly right, you definitely don’t know Brendan Barlow. My band Within Rust is certainly not from Port Alberni, not from the Island at all. We’re from a dingy little suburb out of Vancouver and we’re still pretty much teenagers. As a result of just knowing the same people, and of us actually being a half decent band eventually Barley started playing our single, and eventually invited us to go and do a free showcase in PA. We weighed our options and knew we would obviously lose some money between the ferry ride, recruiting my dad for the drive and such, and he realized that too. We ended up being offered (and took up) the opportunity to sleep at the venue, and decided to play the show just out of our own passion and curiosity. The result was we were received like a ‘legit band’, played to a large crowd (just acoustic) and gained tons of fans. People wanted our autographs, they let us into their homes, jammed with us and fed us. I did a radio interview with Brendan the next night! We’re willing to do this again, and Barley is taking charge now and will be able to get us paid gigs in the future. The point I’m trying to make is he’s not a part of the problem… He’s a part of the exact solution you prescribed. He’s just trying to incite other people into action, and it doesn’t sound like you’re in action anymore, so why judge?

    1. Sorry if it came off as crass, but that is my point, become that guy, you are in a band, become that guy too, it sounds like you are on your way. And yes I’m not touring at the moment, but yes I am that guy, here in Montreal for the time being. Build a scene, even though it is hard, do all you can.

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  15. an additive to this is the overseas fans want to see our local bands but local people dont see local acts. seems to be a thing from famous fukrs ive heard worldwide.

  16. Amen.

    I’m from Melbourne Australia. And I see a similar thing happening here. I travel over an hour to go to a gig almost every second weekend, because I want to keep this scene alive.

  17. Good article, but in my own experiences of having been through at least three scenes where backstabbing, thieving & lying ended up becoming the norm I’d rather stay home…. regardless of who’s playing out.

    Sometimes the big problem is the scene itself.

  18. Man, we’re all old. No one wants to hear it, but that’s the real reason kids won’t support local arts, that’s a by-product of a past generation. Kids support the arts via YouTube now.

  19. n my experience, the successful small community venues carefully schedule and market a limited number of events. Once a month seems to be the most a smaller place can handle. That could mean one all ages type show, one over 19 show, one open stage, a poetry reading etc. When venues / groups try to put on a fuller calendar (multiple shows of the same type every week) it usually means small or no audience and eventual failure. There’s just not enough audience to sustain it.

    Successful small venues / groups also tend to solicit support and partnership with the rest of the community and avoid conflict / confrontation with people who have different ideas.

  20. Very well written, and I agree with you 100%. I went out to a show last night in the city where I live, and heard someone complaining about having to pay to get in. Being involved in promotion and being a musician this definatly is something that hits a nerve when I hear people complain. If people took the time to realize how much work goes into promoting and organizing these events, or the costs involved for venue costs, paying the bands, money spent on promotion costs. It all adds up and if nobody shows up then that comes out of your own pocket. Sure it might cost you $10 to get in but a lot of bars also charge cover and your not getting a band in the price.

  21. I think this could be applied to Barrie as well.  The art scene is here, we just don’t realize what were missing by settling for the art+booze = value mindset.  If we need to be drunk to enjoy the good things in life, we got other issues.  Time to wake up, or sober up, and drink in the beauty that this city is producing.  Shows, installs, concerts, plays, films, etc. http://www.barriearts.ca

  22. yo yo, just read yr article and agree with a lot of what u say, especially the “everybody wants to be a star” bit. it’s a problem everywhere, not just small cities. i grew up in kalamazoo and watched good venues die and now live in one of the biggest cities in the world, Shanghai. it’s a problem here too, though not as bad. so frustrated to hear people complain about a $8 cover for a night when a promoter risks like $2,000 – $3,000 to bring an artist out. cheers for the rant.

  23. Loved this article. I can completely relate. another problem i would confront is how local attendies at shows aren’t generaly very accepting of newcomers. they often have an elitest attitude. but aside from that i do love going to see live bands cheap. Im almost 30 and have been helping to do my part for over 15 years. it makes me sad to see this general loss of interest. I will continue doing what i can to support my local scene and try and up my support scene

    elf will continue to do what i can to support the scene in my community

  24. I live in Shanghai and am in the same scene as Heatwolves above. We have a city of 10 million (20 if you count all the outer districts.) Now there are countless caveats here but I want to give an example of one venue. It’s called Yu Yin Tang it went from being a collective who put on shows to a small rock venue that holds 300. It started proper around 2007, in its latest and current location, only hit real profit around 2010 and now gets at least 200 people to most weekend shows. But it has taken 6 or so years of really hard work to get there. Every band, every organizer every fan works so hard to keep it going. We often rip our hair out thinking about the population size and how many could be coming.

    Anyway, here are some facts about Yu Yin Tang. It is a black box rock venue with a stage, a pit, a full backline, drum kit and PA provided, a digital desk and a soundguy (provided) and even lights. In return, the venue takes 30% of door and keeps all the bar. Next – bands can organize shows directly, set their own ticket prices and nothing needs to be paid in advance. There is no minimum for the venue either. All this enables any band in town to be able to put on shows with no need to bring any amps or have any captial etc. The average ticket price is 40 Yuan (5 bucks equivalent). Recently, my band and two others put on a show there and did all the promotion ourselves (although YYT’s website has 10 000 fans and they put the flyer up there too). We sold 250 tickets at 50 yuan a ticket. So after the venue’s cut the bands got 8750 Yuan (about 1400 USD) – it goes further here too. That’s unsigned local bands doing everything DIY. So, I mean these stats and figures are reflecting what the blog author calls ‘ a local arts scene.’ Elsewhere in town Slash recently played a big venue for USD 900+ a ticket!

    Anyway, under the conditions I outlined, YYT managed to beat the problems described above. Hopefully this might give some practical ideas.

    Good luck and peace t all DIYers out there. Mail me or click on my blog link for mor einformation.

  25. I agree with this guy. However the bands have be really fucking awesome on a first note. I work a lot now so I cannot attend shows as much as I once did. But when I was going a lit to shows I started going to less and less because the bands simply were not great in my opinion. Therefore instead of hounding at their shows how much they sucked, I simply just stopped going. I only went to the bands I really enjoyed. I find less and less talented bands out there. But that’s only one problem. When I see a great band it is a damn shame why they cannot sell out a venue. And good part on the artist, they play their hearts out for 10 people like it is a million people there. That is something I very much admire in my favorite bands. In order for the solution to occur in the this world and the full economy in general is that the attitude of the people has to change. I am not saying to go out to a show even if you don’t like the group. If you don’t like the group then simply don’t go. If you do like them then come out and see a rocking band kick ass. The attitude of the people is that they need to stop thinking like everything is some big business out to duck them in the ass. That whole occupy bullshit movement is the true creation of this fucked up attitude. Everyone thinks that if you get charged to go somewhere and see a live act then it is the greedy venue trying to make money. Their in no realization that the venue just like any other business needs money to survive or it will die. How will they pay their electric bills, water bills, liquor liscense fees, beer and liquor is material for a bar or venue and no profit is made if they either break even or record a loss. Therefore they cannot sell beer if no money is made in it because they cannot afford to keep it there. That is a dumb ass mantality of the generation we live in. And this is what created this mess we have. This is why a venue has to charge so much per ticket. This is because they have to take in account how many people will show up to the venue and how to consider word for lack of a better term, the weight, of one person as oppose to two. For instance if a venue knows that not many people will show up due to the fact they can see a decline in attendance they have to make sure that one person will count for two so they can meet their expenses.

  26. Many good points and truths contained therein. I ve experienced both sides of the coin… Both playing in great (musically) bands to 50 people, half of whom are friends and family, and now to having sold out shows every time and everywhere we play. I can offer insight into some of the causes and solutions. Firstly…. The quality of the “art” has to be addressed…. one reason for non interest in things, be it painting or music, could very well be that what said “artist” is purveying just isn’t that good. Not in a “hater” way… I’m just talking quality. There’s a reason we still hear Led Zeppelin and a ton of other bands from 40 years ago… They produced quality work that stands the test of time. Will we really be listening to Treble Charger in 10 years? I think it may behoove some people to take an inward look at what they re doing, and measure it against the acknowledged greats.
    The second point is the visual and aural aspects of their show…. We seem to be in a minimalist era as far as production and stage show go… I routinely spend $500-800/ gig on having lasers, smoke, extra staging.. And a guy to run it.. Even in rooms that supply lighting and pa. We don’t NEED it.. But our packed rooms speak to the wisdom of our decision to provide a real live ROCK CONCERT in a bar. Complete with the best sound tech that we can find. Offering people a total experience. In this age of technology, it takes more than just the soothing crooning and guitar stylings of a singer/songwriter sitting on a stool to fill a room.
    And as an example, I recently went to a show with 3 very talented bands, whom are also friends of mine…. I’m sad to say I was driven out of the room before the headliner came on… By BAD sound. What gave me disbelief was that the 2 nd band was listening to the same first band I was.. And they did nothing to fix the problems. (bass so loud that you couldn’t even hear guitars ) I think that performing musicians need to be aware and active in ensuring that their production values are as high as possible. Scoff if you will, but any real pro will set you straight. We re used to surround sound and flashing screens.. Why the hell would anyone want to listen to a show with terrible sound, and nothing to look at? Once again, the focus is inward.
    Third… The choice of material and genre… My group does a Metallica tribute… and we chose that deliberately. Why? Because we KNEW that we would fill rooms. Period. Now the musical “purists” among you may say ” fuck you, coverband “… To which I reply that many of this centuries greatest artists have performed ” standards ” be it Led Zep or jazz greats like Etta James or Ella Fitgerald.. Even Elvis… Have all performed many songs written by others. To packed stadiums and venues. So, my friends, if you’re too proud to use your talent to play something that people really want to hear… Then you get what you get.
    Last…. Promotion. Very simple…. It doesn’t matter how good you are… Or what you’re playing… If no one knows you’re doing it.

    1. I’m not a music “purist”, but if I’m at your concert and you start playing Metallica, I’m leaving. I don’t like Metallica at all, what makes you think I’m gonna stick around and listen to a second rate cover band crank out songs I DON’T WANT to hear? Besides, not every act can afford the lasers/pyro light show– so “minimalist” becomes their norm. Also, what’s more important– the music or the lyrics? I’ve been to concerts here in Port Alberni where the music drowned out the vocalist and I couldn’t hear the words– so I left. Yes, it’s partly the musicians’ fault, if they don’t know how to put on a good show, or control the sound at each venue, sometimes less amplification is very necessary, but I think it’s very easy for a performing musician (especially those who don’t have an crew/entourage to assist them at every show) to be neglectful of the evening’s product, and just get into a bit of a mind rut. Especially when you have to deal with the venue’s manager, the few fans in the crowd, merchandising at the table (CDs, etc…) marketing/promotion of the gig, media(?) and all the other sundry problems associated with being a performer. (I know this myself to a small degree, being a poet/spoken word performer here in Port Alberni) It’s partly the audience’s fault, but as I’ve said to Char at Char’s Landing, I cannot attend every show. I only have so much money. It’s a small pie that everybody is chomping at the bit to get a piece of, so the question I ask back is “How do we increase the size of the pie?” With Port Alberni in particular, what are the touring bands up against in terms of nightlife activities? The one movie theatre in town? The live theatre across from Char’s? The big screen TVs in the pubs? Promotion, promotion, promotion! And if your product isn’t what the people want– I guess you gotta find a town where there’s people who do want your product. It certainly is not a question that’s easy to answer.

  27. One reason I don’t like cover songs is usually I don’t like the song (or artist) being covered. I have definitely had my fill of hearing American and British songs– I wanna hear Canadian songs! Every time I hear Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop”, I wanna scream — “”Please! Please stop this song! Enough! I’ve heard it to death!!!!” and I think that of most American/British songs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. (I spent most of the 90s listening to songs from the 60s, 70s, 80s to negate that decade) Certainly, I have my favourite songs from American and British bands, but, I hear some band covering one of them and they accidentally blow a line– the whole experience is ruined. Tightrope walkers aren’t the only ones walking that string for an audience, ‘cept for other performers their tightrope is metaphorical. Hee hee hee. So why not write and perform original material? Everybody does cover versions true– even the Beatles, even The Band (my fave!) but eventually, performers write their own material– so I’m just gonna wait you out until you make that leap. It’s fine to have influences, it’s great to have “roots”, it’s awesome to be able to “intercontextualize” — how’s that for a nerdy word? But performing original works is far better, in my estimation. Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Ian Tyson, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Cockburn, Murray McLauchlan, David Wilcox, Stan Rogers, Gary Fjellgaard– all of these great singers/songwriters started with cover songs but eventually each of them developed a very strong and individually unique oeuvre– why not follow in their footsteps?

  28. Wading in here again… cause hey this is fun.. and important. For small towns, and big cities a like it’s not an issue of competition between other venues, other bars, big screen TV’s, Netflix, Pirate Bay, or bad versus good. There are some great music scenes in Canada playing some truly diverse music and busting at the seems with music and shows and line ups for all types of shows from single songwriter folk stuff all the way up to those crunchy old money sucking behemoths the Rolling Stones. In these towns with huge music scenes, or at least decent music scenes they have Netflix, and Pirate Bay, they have movie theatres, bars,restaurants, mini put and soft serve ice cream so lets quit making that the excuse.
    These towns also have good music and bad music, music is in the ears of the beholder folks go out to both, that is not the excuse, case in point I would personally think a Metallica cover band show would be the worst thing imaginable, but hey this guys say his shows are packed so I am obviously wrong, those shows are packed.
    Bad sound, most live sound a cross the Canadian live club scene is terrible, yet good or bad sound seems to never have really effected turn out to any show I’ve played or paid for, I could name 20 very successful clubs all the way a cross that have bad sound and they are putting people in the room any how. So here’s my thinking.
    Most of the towns I have played packed shows in have good music scenes that cross over between the local bands and the traveling bands. I’ve only played a few good shows in towns where that was not true, but for the most part if there are local bands, there is a better chance to cross that over into getting folks out to traveling band shows, and vica versa. You sort of have to build both at the same time or the entire scene will only last for a few years. This of course is very hard to do if you are geographically not on the main tour route known as the Trans Canada, but it is not impossible for places off the beaten track either, you just have to figure out how to sufficiently cut the cost of getting there by feeding and housing the road weary traveler. Bands will spend a lot of gas money to travel out of their way for a free nights sleep, even if that is on a floor. And the one sure thing to playing an out of town show to a crowded room is to have a local opener, or closer to help you get introduced to the town. That said towns that have local bands with out exception have places for those local bands to play, towns with out a stage of some kind will eventually find that all of their cool kids eventually move to a town that does has one.
    As for keeping venues a live, well I don’t want to take the piss out of any one place cause their costs are incredible and it is very easy for there to be a misunderstanding between a band and the management of the club, the band seeing the club sell all that beer and the band making almost no money after playing their asses off for two hours to 100’s off people. That argument has been going on since they put roofs on buildings and people started standing underneath them while playing instruments.
    Seems the easiest way to predict a success of running a venue, or a space, or a bar is to spread your business out as far as you can. If the reason your club is failing is because not enough people are coming to any given show it is because it is all hinging on any given show. The venue has to be at least half the draw to any show. Add to this the place is closed 12 or 15 hours a day so every show must make money. One must strive to find other uses for this space so that there are always people being drawn into the place. Almost all the successful places we have played seem to do a nice job of pretending to be a café during the day, and pretending to be a club at night. Or using it as jam space for local bands, or running it as an art studio, barber shop, eatery, publishing house, library, convenience store, anything, anything that can get a large amount of folks in the door a couple times a week, off set costs of rent and while the day crowd is there they see the posters for the shows on the walls and talk to the staff and then they are showing up at the show when there is one. As well more shows breed more bands more bands bread more shows, I know it’s almost impossible to figure out how to make that happen but that is in most cases is how it happens.

  29. “if you are INCAPABLE of leaving your house to go out to do something without drinking, that’s a pretty serious problem and you should REALLY take a look at what’s happening in your life”

    But this is missing the point. Regardless of whether bands should be paid out of liquor sales (they should not), liquor sales do bring in revenue for the club – as liquor is a high margin item. Everyone should obviously make their own choices about alcohol consumption and do so at a manageable level, but charging $5 a head for a show being the only revenue can be economically unsound. If each person at that show bought just 1 drink – or if half the people don’t drink everyone else buy 2 (you get the point). That is significant revenue for the club, which can help it meet expenses.

    I understand your point about excessive drinking, but it seems somewhat wrongheadded in an otherwise well written piece involving the economic realities of an art scene..

  30. People these days seem less interested in art and music, and more interested in celebrity. At the same time, they seem more self-conscious and afraid to try new things.

    The result: thousands of people going out to see a guy playing a pre-programmed dj set on an ipad. Even though this is possibly the most boring “show” imaginable, thousands will attend simply because the individual has reached celebrity status.

    At the same time, 50 people show up for great touring bands from out of the country. Bands of every contemporary genre that put on a real show! Most people don’t know about them, and they don’t seem very interested to learn. It seems they would prefer to let the chef choose the menu for them: “Whatever is the most popular dish is fine with me.”

    As for alcohol, it is basically the “lazy man’s scene”. It is something that most everyone has in common, perfect for people who are too lazy to have interests in anything in particular but still want to be part of a “scene”.

    It all sounds negative I know, but I have faith in artists, that they will figure out a way to navigate this cultural lull that we’re currently stuck in.

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