One day a while back I was trolling Facebook to procrastinate the daunting task of booking of a summer tour for my band, and I came across a post on Vogville Recordings’ Wall. It had just been posted a few hours before but the thread already had over 40 comments. Jonathan Fluevog, owner of the popular Port Coquitlam studio, was using Facebook to rouse the enthusiasm of his indie artist friends. The post read “Too many people complain about what’s going on or not going on in the local music community, stop talking, get involved and make a difference. We have so many bands and people doing amazing things, be one of them. Be proactive not just reactive, make a difference.”
I sent him a message and asked him if any particular remark or occurrence had sparked this wall post. He replied that it came from reading too many Facebook updates that read, “Vancouver sucks, why can’t bands get ahead”, “This city never gets anything done, people just talk” ,“All promoters do is kill live music” and it really started to get to him.
“I have always been someone who takes action. So hearing people say this stuff over and over again starts getting thin pretty fast. They remind me of people who want to win the lotto but don’t buy a ticket. Sure you might not win but don’t bitch about not winning when you don’t even buy a ticket. If you don’t like what’s going on, get involved and make a difference.”
The comment was met with a lot of ‘Right On’s’ and ‘Fuck Yeahs’ from artists all very supportive of the notion, many attributing their individual successes to this approach. One of the respondents in the thread however, Louie Anyos of the instrumental rock band Trophy Wife, confirmed exactly the mindset that Jonathan was trying to reach.
“Wow the chant of raw raw is amazing… what people don’t realize is there are a ton of absolutely shitty fucking bands and worthless tribute acts who take no pride in their craft cloggin’ the arteries of the few clubs and places to play… and…don’t even get me started on the douche bag promoters. You’ll say well do it yourself then… it is not that easy when club owners won’t call you back because the club is monopolized by a certain production team or agency… so while everyone is sucking each other’s dicks on the do it yourself video seminar… you’re still left to struggle in what is an extremely tight and “what have you done for me lately market…”
Louie is speaking from personal experience and we can’t argue that the spread of negativity around the Vancouver scene is coming from nowhere. It’s true we have lost a number of venues, and I’ve spoken with musicians who have been on the scene for quite some time and they saw it happen right before their eyes. But this was exactly the purpose behind Jonathan’s wall post. Yes, the music scene has changed. Now the question is: what are you going to do about it?
Jonathan’s response to Louie sparked a trend of comments from bands who are taking the proactive approach he suggested next. “Louie, if clubs and low life promoters are a problem then put on shows yourself without them in different places. Hell I did it and I know lots of bands that do it as well. Many clubs are available for rent, set up shows with bands you know rather than go through a promoter, be your own promoter.”
Local musician Alex Hawkins agreed wholeheartedly with Jonathan. “What you gotta do nowadays is EXACTLY what Jonathon is suggesting. Grab that bull, put your money where your mouth is and go for it.” When I followed up with Alex however he did admit that putting on your own show is probably one of the riskier approaches.
“There’s a lot of things that can go wrong. To recoup costs/make money is not often the easiest. The good news is you are paying yourself twice: Once as one of the performing bands and again as the show’s producer. The not-so-good news is: you’ve got to cover fixed costs before you can start paying out to the performers and yourself and it’s almost impossible to predict the fixed costs as no two shows are ever the same. But the basics like hall rental, soundperson and promotion are almost always in there. Personally, if I can’t cover the fixed costs out of my own pocket, I don’t do it.”
The real challenge in this case appears to be knowing that you could get enough people to your self-produced show. Not only so that you can get money rolling in but also so that you can make an impression on the venue, sound guy, and any promoter that might be in hearing distance.
Aeris Finch threw in some awesome shameless self promotion to the thread noting that his band “Stoned Moses is playing Garibaldi Lift Company in Whistler, The Roxy in May, Joe’s Apartment in June, etc.” So I followed up and asked him how he landed those gigs. He responded that they had won some contests that gave them some notoriety, but more interestingly, that their fan-base from their hometown of Mission actually comes to their Vancouver shows to support them. Now I’m sure cynics out there at this point would think ‘Big F’n deal’ and picture a few dudes piling into a pickup and holding out a few extra hands to stamp at the door, but as Alex explained, it’s way more than that.
“We always make sure we book a party bus at all our major Vancouver gigs, it allows our Mission fan base to come out in a solid drunken drove, and gets them home safely. We owe EVERYTHING to our home town fans. We have no manager, we are signed to no label or management. We are simply earning our way up the ranks by putting on the best shows with the most energy we can muster. Our ability to throw raging parties (and even bigger after parties) definitely doesn’t hurt, our local shows are coined as “Debauchery Festivals… If you really put on a good show the establishment WILL want you back.”
Alex also had some tips about building a fan base. “As for creating other opportunities to get music out there, that’s very much up to the individual bands and their target audiences. If you’re after the skateboarding crowd, set up a show at a skate park. If you’re after the gamer geeks, busk in front of your favorite games store next time they do a midnight release. Get to know your audience, work with them and be creative.”
I followed up with Louie and he clarified what he meant and where he’s coming from. Most notably, he mentioned the catch 22 when it comes to developing a following “Venues and promoters alike are running a business, and can’t be blamed for wanting to make money, but it sure doesn’t foster a very diverse and lively scene when they book the same acts over and over again based on past success. It makes it very hard for new acts to break in and build a following, since it’s very much like the catch-22 of not being able to get a job because of no experience and not being able to get experience because you can’t get a job.”
But with the creative options these forward thinking bands have pointed out, it appears now more than ever that there’s more than one way to build a fan base and prove yourself. I have to agree that Jonathan is right. There is still so much that you can do as an artist to break through whatever barriers you’re facing. You can sit there all defeated and complain about the brick wall you’re facing or you can figure out creative and fun ways to knock it down. No one is saying it’s easy, just that it’s way more possible than you initially think.
On another note, I asked Jonathan what other advice he’d like to offer indie artists. I’ll leave you with what he had to share:
“Listen to what people say that are not your friends. They are the ones you can trust; if they say your songs are not resonating with them don’t just write them off as not knowing music. Video tape all your gigs and not just you on stage but the audience too. See how they react to what you’re doing. Take risks, if you can’t get great gigs then try busking. Be willing to do what it takes. No one is beyond doing all the small things that need to be done. If you’re too good to go buskin’ then my guess is that you’re too good to work social media and then that leads to you’re too good to put on a show that connects with fans. Unless you’re famous and your audience is married to your music, you have to do everything you can to stand out in the world of noise around us.”
LINKS AND ABOUT
Jonathan Fluevog (Vogville Recording)
Jonathan has 17 years of experience working with professional musicians as a producer, engineer and music marketer. Jonathan has produced numerous albums and promotions in collaboration with many amazing bands including: The Scissor Sisters, The Shins, Zero 7, Jet, U2, The Dandy Warhol’s and Supreme Bings of Leisure.
Vogville Recording is a friendly and community involved recording studio located in Port Coquitlam.
Aeris Finch (Stoned Moses)
Stoned Moses, a Psychedelic Reggae Funk Band, pride themselves on never playing the same song twice on stage. The band is full of every random and seemingly weird off the wall type of personality you find at your typical inner city house party, except they perform on stages together.
Louie Anyos (Trophy Wife)
Trophy Wife is an instrumental four-piece latin-prog-rock band based in Surrey since 2005. Their sound has been described as a mixture of Rush and Santana, but the diversity in their sound can be credited to a wide range of influences from classic rock, funk, R&B, jazz, metal and blues.
Alex Hawkins has many years experience making music and playing stages. He’s currently putting together two bands that will start gigging in the late summer. He promises if his plan works you’ll be hearing his name a lot more in the near future.