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Some thoughts on our local live music scene…

April 2, 2012

I recently polled a few musicians about:  1) what is horribly wrong with our little live music scene, 2) what’s good about it and 3) what could be improved?  If you’d care to add your two cents, please add a comment below…

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Chris Kresge (owner-operator – Rocky Mountain Music Network/The Colorado Sound):

1)  There is nothing horribly wrong with the Colorado music scene.

2)  More stages and more radio support than anywhere else in the country.

3)  More radio support at commercial radio.

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Ryan Chrys (solo artist & Demon Funkies):

1)  Horribly wrong?  ..not much here, it’s a great scene!

2)  Updsides are that I think it’s a bit more tight knit than others.  A lot of the bands and musicians here aren’t just acquaintances, they’re close friends and any local music lover is likely to see members from not just a few, but lots of different bands jamming together at each others gigs.  I love this about this scene.

3)  If we could just get corporate media to spotlight the local music and talent more.  That’s the biggest thing for me, we have local talent that is equal or greater in quality than a lot of the crap corporate media feeds us.  I know the whole battle and the how’s and why’s of it all so I know it’s not something we can just “make” happen, but I can still dream that corporate didn’t have to be so corporate!

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Michael Herrera (life-long musician & marketing specialist):

1)  To begin, I don’t think our scene is so little.  We’ve got tons of bands and tons of venues for a mid-size city.  I travel for business a lot and wherever I am I make a point to try to check out the local scene.  I can say that Denver holds its own in terms of quantity and quality.

The main issue, in my opinion, is that despite all the above, Denver is still not a live music town like Austin or Nashville are, or even Omaha.  By this, I mean by and large, Denverites don’t make special trips to see live music unless it’s a national act or tied to a larger event (Westword Music Fest, Taste of Colorado, etc.).  Yes, our friends and our network of fans of our respective bands will represent but very rarely do you hear someone say, “let’s go see who’s playing at 3Kings tonight.”  Very different in Nashville/Austin/LA/NYC, etc. 

The second problem is that for the most part, original music is a really tough sell in Denver.  Denver is a sports bar town and if there’s a band playing classic rock and 80s hits that’s good karaoke when the liquor starts to take effect.  I’ve played in very successful (but sloppy) cover bands and very tight but unsuccessful original bands. 

2)  Tons of great venues – LoDo is as good as any city in the country for live music in terms of quality and quantity of venues

3)  I don’t know the silver bullet here but I think we can learn from other cities like Nashville that promote it’s music scene early and often. Social media would be key here.

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Mike Paul Hughes (music production and formerly of the band Double Down):

1)  In my opinion, the thing that hurts Denver original music the most is the location of the venues.  Most of the venues are in places where one must drive. 

2)  N/A

3)  If there were several original music clubs on 16th St mall, where the walking public was, then people could wander in off the street.  This would “bring the music to the people” as opposed to “bring your people to the music” which is much harder.  I suspect that the high rent in these places prevents the fledgling bar owners to start there.

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David Freshman (professional musician:  Shelvis & The Roustabouts – An All-Elvis revue, plus Pilot Theory, Lady & the Tramps, and Frosh):

1)  First, there seems to be a specific company, Road Dawg Touring, run by Doug Tackett, that stops 90% of bands from having an opportunity to play many clubs in Colorado.  Why?  This is tantamount to price fixing or collusion.  

Second, the ticket systems that clubs such as Herman’s, Toads Tavern and other main venues use.  Most bands in Denver do not know hundreds of people, especially the older, more veteran bands/players.

I would propose a straight across pay the bands for their services with a guaranteed fee. The bar usually makes 5-8 times the amount that they pay a band.  They also book bands too frequently.  This causes the band’s fans to not develop a natural desire to see their favorite groups.

2)  Colorado has a ready, willing and able population that loves music.  Allow the people as many opportunities to see groups in all different settings: House Concerts, Festivals, Clubs, Block Parties, Events, Benefits…etc.  This will allow the bands the proper exposure they need and the population to view the bands in many different settings, both intimate and more large.

3)  First, I would have these bands paid a minimum of $40 per person so that their basic expenses of gasoline, strings, rental spaces, equipment…etc is covered a little bit.  Mostly the gasoline, which at $3.75 per gallon almost, costs the bands a fortune.

Allow the bands the opportunity to play out much more.  These market inhibitors such as Road Dawg Touring (Doug Tackett’s company), bars that require a band to “sell tickets” in order to get paid $50 for the whole band even, stop the bands dead in their tracks from having some market opportunities.  

I would design more intimate settings, (house concerts, school dances, parks, community and church centers so that both the intimate setting and the bands could make a little bit.  This is what it was like back in the 1960’s, with YMCA dances, Temple/Church functions, AA functions, and other unusual places to perform. 

Also, bands need to work the advertising side.  They usually do.  The problem is that many of the venues do not help advertise the groups at all.  So, people that know the band come to see them.  New people are not even aware that there’s a music event happening.  This needs to be addressed as well. 

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So there you have a few opinions from musicians in the local scene.  How about you – care to share?

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 2, 2012 7:46 pm

    I would hardly call Denver a mid-size market It is a top 20 market nationally.

    1 New York 15,694,200
    2 Los Angeles† 10,860,300
    3 Chicago† 7,819,200
    4 San Francisco† 6,131,500
    5 Dallas-Ft. Worth† 5,301,200
    6 Houston-Galveston 5,025,800
    7 Washington, DC† 4,522,700
    8 Philadelphia 4,493,700
    9 Atlanta 4,322,100
    10 Boston† 4,021,100
    11 Detroit† 3,732,000
    12 Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood† 3,670,900
    13 Seattle-Tacoma† 3,477,300
    14 Phoenix 3,222,700
    15 Puerto Rico† 3,193,000
    16 Minneapolis-St. Paul 2,757,600
    17 San Diego† 2,648,300
    18 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater† 2,441,800
    19 Nassau-Suffolk (Long Island)† 2,423,700
    ** 20 Denver-Boulder† 2,362,700

    21 Baltimore† 2,317,700
    22 St. Louis 2,310,500
    23 Portland, OR† 2,124,500
    24 Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill† 2,058,800
    25 Pittsburgh, PA† 1,990,400
    26 Riverside-San Bernardino† 1,975,600
    27 Sacramento† 1,873,100
    28 San Antonio† 1,818,600
    29 Cincinnati 1,760,700
    30 Cleveland† 1,758,800
    31 Salt Lake City-Ogden-Provo† 1,716,200
    32 Las Vegas† 1,682,100
    33 Kansas City 1,640,300
    34 Orlando† 1,596,200
    35 Columbus, OH† 1,523,900
    36 San Jose† 1,501,600
    37 Austin† 1,476,900
    38 Milwaukee-Racine 1,474,500
    39 Hudson Valley 1,456,500
    40 Indianapolis† 1,429,100
    41 Middlesex-Somerset-Union† 1,420,300
    42 Providence-Warwick-Pawtucket† 1,381,000
    43 Raleigh-Durham† 1,377,700
    44 Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News† 1,358,100
    45 Nashville† 1,285,000
    46 Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point† 1,219,700
    47 New Orleans 1,193,300
    48 West Palm Beach-Boca Raton† 1,163,200
    49 Jacksonville† 1,156,700
    50 Oklahoma City 1,153,700

    51 Memphis† 1,104,200
    52 Hartford-New Britain-Middletown† 1,071,900
    53 Monmouth-Ocean 1,029,300
    54 Louisville 996,300
    55 Richmond 982,700
    56 Buffalo-Niagara Falls 977,200
    57 Rochester, NY 957,300
    58 McAllen-Brownsville-Harlingen 944,300
    59 Birmingham 903,200
    60 Greenville-Spartanburg 895,700
    61 Ft. Myers-Naples-Marco Island 848,200
    62 Tucson 845,900
    63 Dayton 828,300
    64 Honolulu 820,100
    65 Albany-Schenectady-Troy 800,200
    66 Tulsa 775,700
    67 Fresno 760,700
    68 Albuquerque 749,400
    69 Grand Rapids 721,200
    70 Allentown-Bethlehem 709,900
    71 Wilkes Barre-Scranton 700,500
    72 Knoxville 686,100
    73 Des Moines 663,900
    74 El Paso 661,400
    75 Omaha-Council Bluffs 659,400
    76 Sarasota-Bradenton 632,900
    77 Bakersfield 620,100
    78 Akron 602,800
    79 Wilmington, DE 602,700
    80 Harrisburg-Lebanon-Carlisle 592,100
    81 Baton Rouge 589,600
    82 Charleston, SC 575,600
    83 Greenville-New Bern-Jacksonville 574,900
    84 Little Rock 573,200
    85 Gainesville-Ocala 569,000
    86 Monterey-Salinas-Santa Cruz 568,100
    87 Syracuse 567,800
    88 Stockton 565,800
    89 Columbia, SC 561,400
    90 Portland, ME 543,600
    91 Springfield, MA 536,900
    92 Daytona Beach 528,100
    ** 93 Colorado Springs 527,500
    94 Spokane 526,900
    95 Lakeland-Winter Haven 520,100
    96 Toledo 513,200
    97 Mobile 508,800
    98 Ft. Pierce-Stuart-Vero Beach 503,200
    99 Wichita 496,800
    100 Madison 493,100

    Also, it is unfair to attempt to equate Denver with NY or Los Angeles. Colorado’s music industry goes back to the 1940s — NY & LA?? NY is the birthplace of the modern music scene.. .nothing compares – and it is equally as difficult to make more than hobby money there even today.

    It is also unfair to equate Nashville to Denver — Get off of and out of the tourist trap places like Robert’s on Broadway, where everyone plays more or less for tips. Nashville may be the capitol of the music business, as it relates to the history of recording and promoting the country-music scene — but from a live music perspective it’s almost impossible to make a living there without knowing 1000 songs written by the “masters” and played to tourists from around the world.

    It is also unfair to equate Austin to Denver. Talk to the thousands of musicians who live there, many of whom (including some pretty well known names) have told me they prefer coming to Colorado.

    I don’t know specifically what David’s bitch is with Doug – but the conclusions reached seem outside of any perceived control over market forces that Doug may have.

    I book bands either directly or indirectly in festivals and venues around the region. I’ve never done business with Doug for a band. Don’t know how Doug can be an issue.

    Anyway … what we have here cannot simply be compared to other areas of the country. We’ve got a few thousand working acts (at levels from garage to major venues like Red Rocks etc) … over 1000 “festival” events … and many many hundreds of small venues.

    Each venue can be quite different from one another. Some bands are hired to play to a contained audience. Some bands are hired because of the value of the business they bring. Some venues are “theater” type – some are bars, some are restaurants w/ music etc …

    Opportunity exists. Lots of bands move here because of it.

    • April 2, 2012 7:51 pm

      The numbers do put things in perspective. Thanks for sharing, Goat!

  2. StevenCee permalink
    June 15, 2012 7:09 am

    Just a few observations, having just been here less than two years….

    1. Pay is very, very low. I’ve seen far too many bands playing for $50 or less, sometimes much less. And I’ve never seen so many notices on CL, for club or festival gigs that pay nothing, or basically gas money.

    2. For clubs to hire three bands (or more) a night, well, that’s pretty crazy. I guess it’s good for them, but awful for musicians trying to make some money for working a Friday or Saturday night. That kind of “sell your own tickets” & “people have to say at the door who they are coming to see” venues, are what I would call, “Showcase rooms”, and I’ve really only seen that in places like LA, where you may have a real chance of being seen by industry people. Who’s been signed or risen to national status, by doing a set at Herman’s Hideaway?

    3. I’ve seen gigs featuring a (local) DJ charge three or four times what a live music may be able to get away with, and that really sucks…. which brings me to..

    4. I’ve never in my life seen more bands playing bars (even ones that don’t pay beans), doing the same, over-played tunes. The ones that you hear at weddings, corporate events, & company Christmas parties. WTF is up with that? How will you create a following by doing Brick House, September, Play That Funky Music White Boy, & Sweet Home Alabama, night after night, year after year? No wonder people aren’t paying too much attention to who’s playing where, if they know every weekend, they’ll just hear the same songs, some done a little better than others, but after a few drinks, who cares even about that…..

    5. I try to see what’s happening at various clubs, especially when I’m not working on a weekend night, and it’s not always very easy. It would be nice if band & venue websites kept up-to-date calendars, or if there was a centralized outlet that had a very comprehensive list of who’s where. And clubs that don’t even post their schedules in their own place, well, that’s just plain dumb, and then they wonder why the band’s following ain’t there, or why the crowd on a Tues or Wed., isn’t growing. Well, when you have hundreds of customers in on the weekends, and they leave, with no clue whatsoever, that you have live music on others nights, much less who’s playing, well, as I said, that helps no one…..

    6. I’ve noticed an acceptance on the part of too many musicians, that they’re never going to be paid much, they might as well play free or low, low paying gigs, & the idea of making a living doing it, is a fantasy they never even consider. To see ads for players, where they want top pros only, will be rehearsing regularly, etc, etc, with a GOAL, of playing out a couple times a month, well, ok, whatever…. maybe the sights are set a bit low, yeah?
    But what I can’t figure out, is why, since we should all love what we do, do I see a number of bands, on the few gigs in a month they do play out, play with less than 100% intensity, or even professionalism. Again, you aren’t going to gain any excitement or interest, with sloppy, half-assed playing. You needn’t be a virtuoso by any means, but at least give it your all when you’re on stage….

    I’ve seen bands in many other towns, from Portland, to Chicago, Atlanta, LA, SF, even in Hawaii, no matter how small or large the venue, go all out when they play. I feel, and certainly not with every band, as there are definitely some great bands & players here, but there’s also a level of complacency & lackadaisicalness here, I’ve simply not experienced any where else, and it’s been both puzzling, and unanticipated….

    • June 15, 2012 1:22 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Steven! Some very good observations. Perhaps your point #6 is related to points 1, 2, 3 and 5? But if music is the calling, it’s worth doing 100%.

      • StevenCee permalink
        June 15, 2012 5:34 pm

        I’m sure #6 is related to the others, Marc, as it’s all related. And yes, the music must be calling, as I and everyone else who hears/feels that calling carry on, despite all odds & obstacles… As long as there are those who appreciate what we do, we just have to not let those who don’t, distract us.

    • The Big Bopper permalink
      August 12, 2013 4:28 am

      Actually, I saw The Fray play at Herman’s. Apparently, it was a showcase for a label. The Flobots, Big Head Todd, The Subdudes, and many others played Herman’s regularly. My experience is that in LA you actually have to purchase the tickets and then if you don’t sell them you eat the money. Getting paid based on how many people you bring to see your original band is basically how it is every where I’ve ever played and I’ve played original music literally from coast to coast. Sometimes, I made lousy money and sometimes I made great money. That’s the music business. If you aren’t making enough money to live on find another job. Wanting venues to pay you more isn’t going to happen for a multitude of reasons.

      • StevenCee permalink
        August 12, 2013 3:26 pm

        BB, that’s fine, if you’re only speaking to original bands, most of my comments were not. And to be a cover band, yet playing places set up as showcase places (but aren’t), and making little to no money, makes absolutely zero sense. If you’re playing the repertoire of wedding & corporate bands, for little to nothing in local bars, dance clubs, or the “showcase rooms”, something’s wrong….

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