Rockin’ Out in The D
Well, it’s my final blog on Metromode, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading thus far. I mentioned that I would touch on the rock scene in Detroit, so here it goes.
I started playing in rock bands back in 1997, with my first group Traction. I was in my early 20s at this time, and didn’t really know what to expect. I also, at this time, thought that’d I’d be a rockstar no later than 25. My goals have since changed, I’m thinking maybe now around 35.
When I was in Traction, my first bar gig was at the Palladium at Frazho/Gratiot (most know it as the old Ritz). I think we brought around 70 people, and went on around 1am. We were mixed with a group of hard rockers, soft rockers and death metalists. It was pretty interesting, however, we loved every second of it.
My last show to date was at the Hayloft Liquor Stand in Mt. Clemens, in October 2006. I was playing with Eos, a much better band, we had about 15 people there, and went on around 11pm (a much better time slot). However, I remember the band not really wanting to do the show, because we weren’t playing with any acts that would draw a big crowd – therefore, no one wanted to promote it.
It’s funny how your attitude changes over the years – about your time slots, how hard you promote yourself, and the show selection process. I remember booking shows, and being nervous to tell the band, cuz I didn’t want to hear any backlash about the show I booked. I knew I’d get the typical questions of “who else is playing”, “when are we going on”, “do we have to sell tickets”, etc.
To be blatantly honest, the whole booking process sucks – and is probably a lot of the reason any of my bands broke up (or guys in the bands lost interest).
Now, since I have a marketing mindset, I have always ended up playing the role of manager, promoter, and marketer, for all the bands I’ve played in. Every single week, I would be hitting up Detroit music websites and message boards to promote the band, shows, etc. Back in 1998 it was DetroitMusic.com, and in 2005 it was HardRockDetroit.com I frequented most. As hypocritical as it was, I used to post show info, and then post reviews of my own shows (back in the late 90s – early 2000 timeframe). This was before they would post your IP address on the site – I remember the first time I got called out on it…I didn’t go back on the boards for awhile (BUSTED!). I’ve never done this since.
In addition to hitting up the boards, I would be going to local shows 2-3 times a week in order to talk with other bands, promoters, sound techs, meet fans, etc. If I had a show coming up, I always had flyers on hand. Each flyer always had a clear call to action – either info for the next show, a link to the band website to get more info.
In 2005 MySpace came out, and it affected the local music scene pretty hardcore. MySpace turned everyone into a promoter, making it easier to network with other bands and promoters, and gave a place to communicate with fans and potential fans. It was nice (for a minute). You could rely on bulletin posts and event notices to get the word out about upcoming events.
However, it also made you lazy on doing all the grassroots marketing (flyers, going out and talking with people, etc.) People started to use their MySpace profile as their official website – which, in my opinion, took away a bit of your unique identity. Once MySpace exploded with marketers and spammers, and 500 billion people (exaggerated), your bulletin posts and event notices got overlooked.
If I were to do it again (which I hope to do so soon), I would develop a marketing plan for my band, and would stick to it. I would still use MySpace, but it would be only one tactic accompanied with a bunch of others.
Everyone is a rockstar
The biggest issue I see in the scene is that every band wants to be treated as if they are rockstars (or going to be rockstars one day). There are a lot of good bands in the area, but you’re always hearing the same complaints (fighting for timeslots, why is there no one at the show, why should I have to pay-to-play). Everyone says the rock scene in Detroit is dead, and there will never be a time again, where the rock clubs are off the hook, like the Ritz was back in the mid 80s.
This may or may not be true. A lot has to do with the current entertainment trends mixed with local promotions, and ultimately you need a lot of HOT local acts.
The problem is, very few people know who the HOT local acts are. Mostly because everyone is promoting themselves the same way – Myspace, templated flyers, frequenting the same venues, etc. Other than the music itself, there are very few differentiators between the hundreds of local bands in the area.
The Welfare era
When I was in a band called Welfare Society in 2003, we promoted ourselves well, and it was working. We used all the same promotional tactics, but in a different way. We had a killer logo, and used to jam at a party house in Mt. Clemens called The Fu. It was a typical party house – pretty run down, had a jam room, a kegerator, horseshoe pits out back, and a yearly house party. There was nothing special about the house, but during the Welfare years, we made everyone want to party there. The band’s anthem was a song titled “Drunk at the Fu”, and spoke to the type of people that hung out at the house. The band’s website had a very Detroit city-scape look and feel, and featured the five members of the band traveling through the website on the people mover. It also included a pretty-active message board where people could talk about parties at the Fu, band happenings, etc. Bring The Noise LiveAdd to My Profile
The band even had an alter-ego, The Goat, who was featured on the band’s demo cd, as well as an unknown identity on the message board. We used to practice on Tues/Thurs nights at the Fu, and in times when there were no shows lined up – we used to pass out flyers to check us out at the Fu on Tues/Thurs nights. Practice jams turned into social gatherings – which turned gatherers into band advocates who would help in show promotion, as well as run merch stands, and other show activities.
We even had a self-proclaimed “flyer bitch” who was in charge of making sure everyone at the show had a chance to sign the email signup list, and was given a flyer to the next show.
In the end, the gimmick worked, but it came down to the music and goals of the other members of the band. We weren’t a group of hardcore musicians – we were partiers who liked to jam. So we often struggled with writing new material, and recording. Also, not everyone in the band had the same goals as everyone else – so things got to be a bit too much for some of the members.
My two cents
In the end, it’s a very difficult task to break through all the clutter of the other bands – in a congested scene with limited venues. So my advice would be to promote yourself in a unique way.
Also, try to make your fans/friends feel like they’re part of a movement that you’ve established. Don’t make them feel like they’re just tagging along. Give them roles, and make sure they clearly understand what you’re trying to accomplish.
We all have goals to become rockstars – if not, then why go through the hell of breaking into the scene. Another very important thing is band communication. If your band is not on the same page as you, with the same goals, then that’s a huge red flag. If you’re all clear about what you’re trying to accomplish, whether it’s a series of little goals, or one major goal – then it’s easier to maintain your band’s focus. However, if one guy in the group has his own agenda, and it doesn’t fall in line with everyone else – you’re going to have some issues.
I understand the whole pay-to-play concept sucks (having to pre-purchase tickets for your own show), however, with a scene that’s not drawing too much attention to itself, the venues need to guarantee they are going to make money. So, you have an option to either fall in line with what every other band is doing, or create a new identity, and prove to the venues/promoters that your band is different. In the end, the music has to be solid, for the following to continue to grow.
However, in the beginning, it’s more about building the perception of an underground movement. Every fan loves to tell the story of how they were listening to the band before they broke.
I wish a lot of luck to some of the bands in the area, which have been busting ass over the years. And I’ll give a shout out to my friends in Critical Bill – they’re on the right path. They actually have a music video release show this Saturday at TNTs in Clinton Twp. (15/Harper).
On that note, it’s been a lot of fun. I want to thank Metromode. And I will leave you with a 2004 video of Welfare Society performing a cover of Anthrax/Public Enemy’s “Bring The Noise” with Powerdise of Critical Bill on guest vocals.
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