Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Is the local music scene dying?

HarDCore. South Bronx hip hop. Delta Blues. The history of music is often defined by geographic scenes. A group of artists trading ideas, playing in the same bands, and listening to the same concerts has often gone on to create whole new genres of music. But in the age of globalization and the Internet, is the local scene going by the wayside? That question is at the heart of an interesting article on the ABC News web site.

The writer Michael Smith argues that the local music scene is not dead, but the old notion of a scene is undergoing a major transformation.

"The new local scene is a global music scene," said Chris Douridas, a DJ for the taste-making radio station KCRW, which also webcasts to a global audience. No one is a bigger advocate for finding music on MySpace than Douridas, who frequently scours band pages and sifts through mountains of emails from bands who want to be played on his show.

This way of doing things is a big shift away from the old idea of local music scenes, which Douridas characterized as areas where college radio and local print media would support local bands, who would all play the same venues and frequently swap members (think of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog in Seattle). From that joint attention, a band could get picked up by national labels and radio.

These days, it's a free-for-all.

"You can vault over a scene," Douridas explained. "We're playing a band called 'Detective Byron,' from Sweden. I have no idea how they're thought of in their local community. They could just be making great records, and maybe they don't have a live show presence. I'm just reacting to the records they've made."

The lesson, it seems, as most bands are learning is that you can't ignore the changes that the Internet, Web 2.0 sites, and net neutrality have brought to music.

One interesting aspect is what impact the globalization will actually have on the artistic process. On the one hand, the cross pollination of thousands of local music scenes is exciting. On the other hand, will the "local flavor" that has created distinct musical movements like the San Francisco Sound or the South's Crunk be a thing of the past. In other words, are we headed for an era of the McDonaldization of music?

1 comment:

listenist said...

I think artists now have to simultaneously establish themselves locally and nationally/globally.
For artists playing styles that are built around live performance, a presence in their own city with regular shows is crucial, even as the artist exploits MySpace and other online venues for broader recognition. A friend of mine is in band that's been picked up by several radio stations- none of which is here in Washington, DC, their home base. Meanwhile, they make sure to play here at least once or twice a month to build a local following.
And I believe that for many artists, a local music "scene" is an important incubator for their creative efforts. Within a local community, a band or artist can hone their skills and refine their sound while playing for a familiar and affectionate hometown crowd. I think that unless your aspirations are nothing less than a straight ascent to the mainstream through MySpace and a good publicist, this is and always will be crucial.
I doubt we'll ever see anything like DC's HarDCore movement again, but the importance of a local scene for live music will never wholly disappear.