For the first time this weekend, I felt a perceptible shift in the direction of the music industry. I’m speaking purely from a fan perspective here – I know nothing about the music industry as a business person (nor do I really have the desire to). Perhaps it’s a little premature and perhaps shaded by a little naivete and bias towards bands that I love, but I really think that maybe, good changes are afoot.
On Friday night, I watched Shane Hines and The Trance take the stage on their home turf, to a sold-out venue, to release their new CD, The Glory Journal. The CD was entirely fan-funded. That should say something right there – that this amazing band is able to put out a professionally recorded CD without the support of any label, entirely on the faith that their fans have in them, is pretty intense. I’ve been a fan of Shane, Thumbs and their band for several years now, and each time I watch them on stage, I’m blown away more than I was the time before. Not only is their music absolutely amazing, they continue to mature and evolve as artists and constantly amaze me with the depth and insightfulness of their songs, and the quality of their music. They aren’t afraid to take risks, try new things, and really put themselves out there. I’ve seen them play to crowds of 10 and crowds of hundreds. I’ve seen them play listening rooms and smoky, loud bars where they deserved better. I’ve seen them awe people with covers and knock it out of the park with their originals. On Friday night, I stood amongst a crowd of new and old fans and watched them step into another “new” era for their band. A friend who was with me – relatively new to their music and her first time seeing them live – turned to me at one point during the show and said, “They are absolutely amazing.” Watching that room be in love with them, I was filled with excitement for what is yet to come in their path as a band, proud of them as both a long-time fan and a friend, and inspired by their art.
In a similar moment on Saturday night, I watched a young, newly signed band on stage and was floored by their development. I’ve only been a Green River Ordinance fan for two years, and just saw them live for the first time in January. They’re on their first “big tour,” reaching out to fans who have never seen or heard of them before. Firstly, I have to say that in two months, they’ve gotten even stronger than when I saw them the first time. And talk about winning over a room. A crowd there mostly to see the other band was wowed by them, to the point where someone in our circle said, “Man, I’d hate to be the band that had to follow them.” They are full of the energy of a young band, with all the optimism that entails. They truly want to reach out to every member of the audience and say, “Hey, we’re GRO and we want you to love our music.” One member of the band was fighting the flu, but unless you knew that, you never would have been able to tell. He put it all out there, never letting on that he probably wanted to run off stage, puke and go to sleep. They worked hard to get that crowd to love them, and they were rewarded. And then, after the show, they made a point of talking to everyone that they could. They treat fans they’ve met once with the same regard as long-time fans that have supported them since they started this project six years ago at seventeen years old. They are friends who love making music together for the sake of making music, and that’s evident just by watching the chemistry they have on stage.
Another band that plays with them in Texas, Sleeperstar, recently wrote a Facebook note encouraging their own fans to buy GRO’s record, even if it meant not buying their record. In a music industry where it seems like everyone is out for their own selves, that kind of mutual admiration only comes from true respect for the band as musicians and as people. They also made another phenomenal point, which I must excerpt here because I couldn’t have said it better myself.
“I say all this because it’s an exciting time in music, it’s an exciting time for GRO, and it’s an exciting time to get to see a band release a record at a time when NO ONE gets to release records on major labels…. so for the GRO guys to get a record released, ESPECIALLY IN THIS ECONOMY, it’s a win for them but it’s also a win for every single one of us who has cheered on good bands, supported your buddy who is writing songs in the dorm while learning biology, not filled your car up with gas so you could purchase the bands cd who came to your home town and made you fall in love all over again with music…”
– From a Sleeperstar Facebook Note
And I guess, sort of, that’s my point. The music industry seems as though it’s been in flux for several years and a lot of what has been put out there for the public to consume “en masse” isn’t all that appealing. I don’t think we’ll ever see again a music industry with “mega stars” – a la the Beatles, Michael Jackson in the 80s, or New Kids on the Block in their heyday. There are too many people competing for space in the market. But, that being said I think music has become a much larger part of culture than it has ever been before, and therefore, despite no mega-stardom, it is possible for artists to make a living doing what they love. And it’s awesome to watch good bands finally starting to succeed on their talent, and not by how much money is put behind them. It’s a testament to the “power of the people” that talented musicians who have worked hard can reap the rewards of a loyal fan base and become “known” because their fans and friends are spreading the word about them, not because they’re being played 16,000 times a day on mainstream radio.
And you know what? It’s really something to watch happen.