Finding the Musical Treasures in Your Own Backyard

Live music

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to check out the Summer NAMM show in Nashville. Although it was great to walk around the showroom floor, check out all of the new gear, and run into some friends, the most exciting part of the show was the congregation of truly fantastic players. The NAMM show (or any music industry-related trade show) creates an exciting atmosphere within our community. It acts as a platform for special performances, guest appearances and audience mingling that you usually don’t find. Not only does it bring out the best from cities around the world, it gives the local talent an opportunity to perform to a more receptive audience.

While it may seem like it takes a special event to bring out the players, I believe that you can find incredible musicians no matter where you are. Industry shows allow them to gather in a specific place for a few days, but the players all come from somewhere (and not just New York, Nashville, or L.A.). The trick is finding them. As an avid goer-outer, I’m constantly searching for new or different kinds of music. Luckily enough, I’ve always lived near a metropolitan area that has a decent music scene; however, it still takes a lot of effort to weed out the good from the bad and the ugly.

When it comes to finding live music, there are a handful of common complaints that people often have. First, they don’t know which bands are worth going out to see, second, they don’t want to pay a cover for music, and third, the town is lacking a good venue.

The first two issues fall hand and hand. You’re probably not going to discover the good local bands if you’re not willing to spend a couple of dollars. If you’re going out to hear live music, you should expect to pay something, whether it’s a cover charge at the door or tipping the band for their music. Chances are, if you’re seeing a local band, it will either be free or have a small cover charge. It usually costs more to catch a movie out, so rather than spend the money to sit in a dark theater for two hours, consider supporting local artists and hang out at a local club or coffee shop.

In order to discover which bands are worth seeing, you’ll have to do a bit of trial and error. However, if you do some research, you’re likely to find something worthwhile. One of the best ways to find out about local music is to ask around. Ask your friends (especially if they’re into music), ask a bartender about the different bands that perform at the club, or ask around at your local music store. If you take music lessons, ask your teacher if they play out or if any of their other students have performances coming up. Going to open mics or jams are also great ways to find out about new artists, plus, they’re usually free. While you may stumble upon a few bad apples, you’re just as likely to be pleasantly surprised by the talent to grace the stage.

Next, try to take advantage of various websites, notably Facebook and Youtube. these online sources make it incredibly easy to search for entertainment opportunities. Any restaurant or bar that has music will advertise it on their website, so before you head out for the evening, do a bit of research to see if some of the local establishments are featuring music. Take a glace at your event invites on Facebook… it’s always fun to go see a friend play, their music may surprise you, and they’ll appreciate your attendance (and may return the favor by showing up to one of your gigs in the future). Then, try to do a Google search for event listings in your area. There are many anonymous music lovers who decide to do a good deed for their community by making a website listing local music. A great example of this is the Roadhouse Report, which lists many blues and rock events in the Philadelphia and South Jersey area. Discovering these sites can also be a good way to help promote your own performances. Of course, Youtube and all the music hosting sites are great places to check out the bands ahead of time too.

If definitive “music venues” are few and far between in your neighborhood, think outside the box and search for performances in unconventional places. Many art or educational institutions help support live music. For instance, if you live near a college or university, there are sure to be musical events or festivals put on by the clubs at school. You’ll probably find students playing at some local restaurants, coffee shops, or recital spaces nearby the campus, especially if the school has a music department with some up-and-coming players. Art museums and galleries also support live music and may hire a jazz trio or string quartet for the opening night of an exhibit or for other special events. During the summer time, parks and recreational spaces, outdoor malls, and shopping centers will host a weekly concert series or festival.

If you still have trouble finding good local music, try taking an active role in your local scene. If you frequent a bar or restaurant that currently doesn’t have live music, ask the manager or owner if they would consider it. When enough people inquire about music, the club may actually come around and decide to try it out. Another great way to help out your scene is to bring the music to you by hosting a concert. House concerts and salons are becoming more and more popular since they allow for an intimate performance in a comfortable environment. Many great singer-songwriters or small ensembles are doing house concert tours to help build fan bases in different areas. Chances are you won’t be able to hire Van Halen to play in your living room, but you may find a great bass player alongside some stellar singer songwriters (for example, check out Bryan Beller with Kira Small).

Finally, remember that the live music scene is constantly evolving. It’s a two-way street, meaning that establishments will only have live music if it attracts an audience. If you want a local spot to continue having live music, make a point of checking it out on a regular basis and telling the management how much you enjoy the events. Try to actively seek out music by asking friends or other musicians and don’t be afraid to discover things on your own. Plus, since many musicians have an attitude of “if you book it, we will come,” it may be easier than you think to have a great band play in your area.

It doesn’t take a big industry event like the NAMM show to bring out the best talent, but it does take some support.

So those are some of my suggestions for finding music. What are some of yours? Tell us in the comments.

Photo by Martin Fisch

Ryan Madora is a professional bass player and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and playing sessions, she fronts an original music project, The Interludes and teaches private lessons. Visit her website to learn more about her music or to inquire about lessons.

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