The Importance and Soul of the Local Musician

As many of you know, I have a long standing music theory that there is just too much of it today. The weeds are choking the grass, and this has created a situation where it is hard for the best music to find the hungriest ears.

One of the major factors in this dilemma is ironically one of the tools that has unlocked tremendous freedom for the modern day musician: technology and the internet. Though it is great that now artists no longer have to rely on the trappings of the traditional music industry to create and distribute their music, this means there are no more boundaries or boarders, no more litmus tests, no more filters where folks that lack skill, dedication, or appeal can be discouraged before their mediocrity can muddy the waters for the listener looking for the best stuff.

The local musician has gone international. This has contributed to music parody, but possibly more damning it has contributed to the death of the local music scene. Back in the day to become a serious music artist, you first had to tackle your local scene, then become big regionally and go from there. That fed a music farm system, where up and coming musicians would play for cheap or free at local bars until they got good enough or garnered a big enough following to play bigger venues and better paying gigs. It was in this system that they learned their chops, how to perform and be entertainers, and put skins on the wall and built street cred as musicians. This kept local venues full of music, as hungry musicians were willing to play, and were happy just with the opportunity, or the ability to serve their community’s local music needs.

Now what we have is up and coming musicians hanging out in their walk-in closets with audio interfaces plugged into their laptops, making music for a dozen devout fans in Serbia, hoping to become superstars from a viral breakthrough. In some ways this phenomenon is beautiful, but it also is lending to the deterioration of the local music scene and the music farm system to train and develop talent. Without any talent to play for cheap or free, small bars have succumbed to satellite sports programming and Karaoke to draw in patrons. Where there used to be an old geezer or a young pup in the corner crying out original songs, now there’s Muzak or a modern juke box belching out Nickelback.

The regional tastes and takes on music styles that make the American music experience a tapestry of different shades is beginning to fade as the natural boundaries of the nation fall to technology. Music education also begins locally. If local patrons are exposed to the heartfelt songwriting of an original musician, that gives them the experience and knowledge to appreciate good music, and the opportunity to have a more fulfilling musical life. It’s not always the fault of the fans of mainstream drivel; sometimes the problem is they were never exposed to anything different, because their local music scene was deceased.

Just like the “buy local” and “slow food” movements, there needs to be a renewed movement in supporting local music, from fans and performers. This would contribute to the vibrancy and quality to music on the national scale. It is great that through the internet and technology, we can share and explore great music from all over the world without leaving our houses, but this shouldn’t be and doesn’t have to be at the expense of local scenes. These local scenes also support the touring bands when they come to town, the local musicians are supposed to help draw and expose the local scene to live music from the regional and national levels, but many times artists that should have a local focus hurt the larger bands by coveting more national exposure than they deserve or have earned.

But I think most of this goes without saying. What I really want to say is that there a lot of soul in being a local musician, and in the local musician that could be more, that could be an internet sensation, but instead decides to focus on being an important part of their local music community first. These people are beautiful. You know the type I’m talking about, the crusty old Marlboro Man-looking hot shot guitar player, or the older broad with the badass pipes that seems lost in time in some local bar, making music out of love on Saturday nights for no money, who had the skills to do so much more with their music, but from necessity or choice, decided to keep their focus simple, and local. Their music world ends at the city limits.

Maybe the problem isn’t that there’s too much music after all, it’s that there’s too much music being aimed at everyone, instead of being aimed at the people that the music matters to the most: the family, friends, neighbors, and community the musician is surrounded by, and that inspired the music in the first place. Because when it comes to local music, I’m not seeing too much of it, I’m seeing not enough. And when we lose our local music, we lose one of the most important ingredients in the mortar that keeps a local community together.