One thing can be said about the Baltimore music scene and that is “It is not dead.” When you consider the amount of bands currently playing the circuit, from neighborhood bars to high end clubs, there never seems to be a shortage of acts to fill slots anywhere. Bands can often be good for business, as they tend to bring people. The problem is venues and events want to bring in a lot of people so the establishments can make enough money to justify having live music. So naturally, the pressure in on musicians to pull in as many people as they can to see them play. And for those bands that play multiple times a month, that could be another job itself (promoting, that is).
Promoting a band can be quite challenging and musicians like to take as many short cuts as they can. Why? Because most musicians work a regular job for a living and have to balance many things in their lives to accommodate their music interests. That means time is limited. So it is no surprise that on social media outlets (like Facebook) musicians bombards friends, family and associates with show invites and a slew of other marketing tactics to get people interested in coming to their shows. Now, it’s a strategy that seems to pay some dividends, but what really ensures support for a live music act is the fact a music scene exists at all. Baltimore, unlike many neighboring cities (both large and small), has a quaint affinity for seeing a live band perform. It may be cultural or traditional, but whatever the case may be, there continues to be a demand for live music. And that is evident in that as some clubs close their doors, others open with opportunities for bands to play. Mind you, there are likely more cover band opportunities than for all original bands, but the demand is still there. And the really good bands are able to weave in and out of cover/original music situations.
All one has to do is Google Worst music scenes in America and opinions from all over the country shout at you. Where many different sites like Travel and Leisure say Austin, LA, NYC and Nashville top the list for best music scenes, other say the worst scenes are in the midwest and even San Diego. The criteria for ranking music scenes varies probably from person to person, but the consensus is general fan support which prompts venue support. Many musicians gripe about venues “not caring about the bands,” but the reality is having a place to play at all is really a blessing. Sure, everyone wants to make money on the deal (even the bands, of course), but that cannot happen unless there is a show to be promoted and that would require a venue to feature the show in the first place. Perhaps musicians should just be thankful there is a scene at all and stop bitching about how much better it can be. What will make a music scene better is not only more support from fans, but also from fellow musicians. And for God’s sake, can bands come up with something original? The bands that truly stand out are the ones that don’t look and sound exactly like everybody else. Have a good sound, yes, but work on the aesthetics, too. Nobody is going to want to pay money to see a bunch of ragged out dudes in plain clothes playing the same crap.
What makes the better music scenes around the country “better” is the bands really get a good mix of music genres in their styles. People like to groove and dance and feel the music. People like to see a show. They want something different, something unique and tasteful. There is much Baltimore can learn from other city music scenes and not be so stubborn and insistent people should just come out to see them. No one is obligated to do this. The key to make people WANT to come see you and that takes a little creativity. Good luck with that, my fellow musicians. It is a challenge we all face in this music business, and it cannot be avoided. But take comfort in knowing Baltimore’s music scene is alive and well. Making it better begins with every individual musician.