Starting something new for the Editorials section of this web page. I recently asked some local musicians and music industry folks what they thought of Denver's original music scene and what they might like to change if they could, and here are some responses...
Michael Herrera (from the band Call Me Home): I’ve been in and around the Denver music scene for 25+years and one thing is constant: Denver has tons of talent, great venues and no shortage of open mic nights and other launching pads for new music. Still, the people of this town just don’t have much of an appetite for original music.
Yes, there are pockets of support for things like roots/bluegrass/Americana in areas like Boulder/Golden/ Lyons, and there’s a big following for bands of specific genres – the Railbenders come to mind, but overall, I can’t say that there’s any sort of appetite for original music. Guys like me are forced to either deliver yet another version of “Louie Louie” to get a gig where there is a decent crowd or the alternative. After years and years of doing this, it’s become sort of a drag. I’m in my 40s and so are most of my friends so it’s pretty much impossible to get them to come out and see my band on a Wednesday night at 10 pm and most of them don’t really care about the original tunes we write. Then, as now, they want to hear stuff they recognize.
If it sounds like I’m bitter, I’m not. Maybe I would have been 15 years ago but at this point, I’m just happy to be playing music...for anyone...and I don’t have any illusion that I’ll be a rock star (though one can still dream). I just wish I could walk into any given club on a Tuesday night and see the place packed with original music fans.
I’ve been to the music hot spots of this country enough (Austin, Nashville, LA, NYC, etc.) enough to know that Denver can match these towns pound for pound in terms of options, places to play, etc. Okay, maybe there isn’t a kick-ass tele player on every corner like there is in Nashville but if there was, nobody would go see him/her. There is also no shortage of support tools for bands in the form of affordable recording studios, music shops and band postings (like your organization). I just don’t get it.
Essentially, Denver is a sports bar town and we’ll just have to be glad every few years when the next Big Head Todd, Fray, Flobots make it onto the national scene.
Gabrielle Louise: The thing I'm most interested in seeing change in the local music scene is that professional musicians will collectively demand a fair wage for their time. Right now we currently have an abundance of talent in the state, and because so many are willing to accept gigs for little to no pay, it sets the standard low and paying gigs are becoming increasingly more difficult to find. A career in music takes just as much time, effort and energy as any job in our economy, and that time should be compensated for fairly. Period.
If you are a professional musician, don't play for free. It hurts the whole market. It's one thing to donate your time to a cause--that's giving back, and you choose to do it. I t's another thing to let someone take advantage of your hard work to sell more drinks at their bar.
Greg Chmel (The Last Guitar Desperado & lead guitar for Odin's Other Eye): The local live music scene is very diversified & tiered...there's a healthy mix and this is good for our community. Advice to local bands would be to focus on your entertainment value toward your specific target audience....ensure you have a show to go with your music! Be professional at all times with your fans, peers, and venues' management.
Advice to venues would be to ensure you provide the performing artists with proper & safe access, security for gear, promotional posters or flyers, and an incentive to play "your" venue (extra $$ usually does the trick). If I would change one thing it would be to have more venues open up to original musical groups...invest in the local talent & provide opportunity for the "Denver" scene to continue to grow in national recognition and importance as a relevant contributor to the music industry.
Dianne Zarlengo (Manager of the Wild Angelz): I think the local, live music scene is vibrant and better than it has been in years. There are more venues now that will book local bands who play original music. For a while there was a lack of good bars that played original music. All a band could find were dives and shoddy promoters to book their gigs just so they'd have a chance to play. It seemed like the better bars either wanted cover bands or known names. This has changed and more bars have local, original band night or just book local and/or original music exclusively (major kudos to Herman's Hideaway and The Toad Tavern for being big supporters of local music for years!)
The advice I would give to local bands is to work very hard on promoting the band. It is important, of course, to write and practice the music, but it is imperative to promote, promote, promote the band. I think a lot of bands expect the venue to do most or all of the band's promotion; however, I see it as a team effort. The venue does its part and the bands must do their part by working hard to bring people to shows and to make their presence known in their community.
I think that venues should try and keep the same genre of music for a given show. I can't tell you how many times I have gone to shows that have blues, rock and screamo bands all on the same bill! It is totally counter-productive to do that. It may bring people in for the first time but then people don't trust the line-up and they quit coming. I mean, a little common sense can go a long way. If a person likes mellow rock they are not going to want to sit through a few hours of screamo metal and vice versa.
I'd also like to see more 21 bars try and have an 18 and over show on a Saturday night to give the bands an opportunity to have their fans come hear them as well as garner new fans that are over 21. I think it could be a win/win situation.
All in all, I think that the Denver music scene is an exciting arena at this moment. There are a lot of good musicians out there. The venues win by giving them a chance to be heard and the musicians win by promoting themselves. Musically, Denver is a good place to be right now.
Marc: Thank you all for responding!