This month, as opposed to highlighting an album or a show, I’d like to talk to you about something many of you have either considered throwing or have performed at when given the chance – house shows! This is to be the first of a few articles I’ll be throwing down about community building and scene management, as I feel that this particular topic is one that doesn’t get a whole lot of analysis and as a result there are mistakes that plague the scene at large that could be avoided. But enough preamble – let’s talk about house shows.
I’m not going to be so pedantic as to assume that you, the person reading this, do not know what a house show is. What I would like to qualify before I go any further though is exactly what I’m talking about here – this series is not going to be talking about shows that are thrown in public spaces like empty stores or DIY spaces or other things that are not proper venues that you might attend a show in. This article is specifically talking about shows performed in a house for fun and usually not a lot of profit. So – why am I talking about house shows? Because in a community such as ours, one where it can be difficult to generate enough interest to score spots at traditional venues, it’s important to talk about one of the easiest ways to perform and help build a foundation to help get folks into public venues where they can actually *gasp* get paid for their art.
Here in Richmond, Virginia, there are tons of house show venues. Richmond has a pretty huge punk scene, and with such heavy market saturation people basically have to start off at house shows or battle of the bands-esque events in order to prove themselves worth booking – which is basically the opposite problem the electronic music scene here has. I don’t even just mean chiptune either, whether you’re doing lo-fi hiphop or DJ sets, there just aren’t a lot of spots that are willing to take a chance unless it’s part of a much bigger act. As a result, you get folks like Alan Brymer – who those of you who’ve been around MAGFest events might recognize better as DJ 8-Bit Mullet – who start looking for ways to get things started. Alan swears he isn’t a “scene organizer” or anything as fancy as that – he’s just a guy who likes to meet a lot of people and help make cool things happen. He also occasionally throws shows at his house, and unlike most of Richmond’s house show venues the worst confrontation he’s ever had with the police has just been a calm “Hey, be sure to keep it down.” I spoke with him a little bit about his secret to success, and it turns out it just boils down to “don’t be stupid, have fun with your friends.”
Okay, so maybe that’s a little reductive. Alan told me that when he moved to Richmond after spending time in California, he didn’t know anything about the local music scene and while he wanted to perform (his West Coast persona was a hip-hop remix act, which still finds its way into his current work), he had no idea where to start. “I didn’t want to go out and play Top 40 music at TJ O’Frattigan’s,” he told me, so he started going to all sorts of shows in Richmond, and eventually picked up on a few folks who knew what they were doing – people who organized shows, people who knew people, people doing all kinds of music, and maybe most importantly, people who were enthusiastic about music and weren’t jerks. Once he had made himself known in the area and curated a decent group of friends, he threw a barbecue and had people come play music in his house. “I didn’t want to do any big crazy shows,” he told me, “I didn’t want to have any rock bands. You’ve gotta respect your neighbors. But I knew some folks had DJ equipment, so I let them set up and play, and we all just switched out. I like having more intimate shows – at clubs, it’s way too loud for me and hard to talk to and get to know anyone or have any fun, so I wanted to throw more intimate get togethers.”
He encouraged folks to bring food or beer to share, but didn’t charge a cover – and still won’t, here now with over sixteen shows under his belt. “I always let people sell their merch or CDs if they want to, or put out a collection cup to cover travel if they’re from out of town,” he said, “but I don’t charge any cover – mostly because none of us want to stand around and collect it all night. ” Of course, this does usually mean that the folks who come to perform are doing so just for the fun of it (and some food and a keg, natch) – but it turns out, when people know ahead of time that everyone is just coming out to have a good time, it turns out okay. It doesn’t hurt that Alan has basically curated a guest and performer list of extremely chill people – while attendees are encouraged to bring friends that don’t suck, everyone who comes is an adult both in the literal sense of age but also in the sense that they are mature enough to come out, have a good time, and not ruin anything for anyone.
So what’s the takeaway here? For me, it’s that if you’re willing to invest a lot of your own time, money, and energy to organically curate a list of decent human beings who are all okay with not making any money, you can start getting a group of people together who can have a good time, play some tunes and meet some people. That last bit is probably the most important – being able to network and make friends with people who like what you do is one of the most important ways to start playing paying shows. With chiptune especially, it can be possible to gain notoriety by having an exclusively online presence – but it can be difficult to actually make money if you’re not out there actually talking to people and getting your music in front of new ears. And this isn’t saying that you should be out here just “playing for exposure” or any of those other things that people say to coerce you into making art for free. I feel like there’s a pretty big mental divide on people who like making this music and want to make a career out of it versus people who love making music as a hobby – and in Part Two, I’ll be talking to some folks who have lived on both sides of that fence to see which grass is greener.
By the way, if you’re on the East Coast, you can see DJ 8-Bit Mullet, F1NG3RS and Crunk Witch live at Garden Grove Brewing on March 26th – check their Facebook event page for more deets.