One night while I was living in Asheville, I threw an afterparty at my disgusting hippie house for Umphrey’s McGee. Oh, the nefarious things we did that night! I remember almost none of it. I remember Gomez was also there, and I remember a bunch of men who all looked the same to me (brown fuzzy head, faceish looking area, t shirt, jeans, rinse, repeat) sitting on my couch playing their guitars and just a metric ton of people milling around, you know, partying, as people do. I remember that I was wearing some ridiculous shirt that had those like, flayed armholes that flapped around when you moved your arms, and I remember being in my bedroom doing something when this dude I knew from around Asheville (someone NOT in the UM camp, just to make sure there’s no confusion) walked in, laid down on my bed, gestured to his crotch, and goes, “hop on.” WOW, FOR ME? I’m so LUCKY, how could I resist that hot dance of seduction!? I was never a huge fan of either band, though I liked some of their music, and I don’t really remember who even orchestrated the party, I was more of a willing participant with an available house than a coordinator. All of this is to say that at some point, SeepeopleS made friends with people in the Umphrey’s organization, but I don’t really know how it happened, and I don’t know who among us was responsible for it. Yay, drugs! (that’s sarcasm - parents, take a break, kids, listen up: everything in moderation, ok, and NO drug driving, safety first!!)
Fast forward seven or eight years and here I am in Portland, and the bookfaces are telling me that UM is on tour, many of my old friends from that era are posting about it. Later on in the evening, all of us here in SeepeopleS camp start getting texts and fb messages from old friends: “Peeps on at setbreak! Playing “Dinosaur!” Stuff like that. Umphrey’s FOH engineer Chris Mitchell is sort of known for playing really interesting, smaller bands at setbreak. It’s always great exposure to be on that playlist, because tons of people hear your song, and the people who know the song are excited to hear it, so they’ll talk about it and tell others. It’s not a life-changing thing, nobody ever got signed from their song being played at setbreak (or have they? Let’s crowdsource that) but it’s a fun thing and promoting a band is basically just a daily chipping away at the hulking wall of indifference that you’re up against - every little thing counts. If one person left that day and was like, “Huh… SeepeopleS, you say? Why, I’ll try it!” then we owe Chris an edible arrangement.
So, Sound Engineers of Portland, why are we not playing local music at set break more often? There’s no downside to it; in fact, it’s an investment in our local arts community. I mean of course, yes, if the band is traveling with their own engineer, then we have no control here in town, but a lot of times we do have control, and we should, much like Wham! did, choose life. And by life, I mean local music.
Here, let me dismantle your arguments** against doing it:
Argument 1: There’s no good local music to play! What? Come on, who even are you? Here’s me listing a crapload of local artists of all genres from whom I’ve heard really great music in like just the last few months: KGFreeze, Jaw Gems, Kafari, Mosart212, SeepeopleS, Covered in Bees, Pigboat, Sylvia, Spencer Albee, Sterling Black, Mouth Washington, Ghosts of Johnson City, Eldemur Krimm, Battery Steele, S.S. Cretins, Sara Hallie Richardson, Herbcraft, Sea Level, Kenya Hall, Sunset Hearts… I could go on, but I feel like my point is made. All of those bands have very compelling, well-mixed, legit-sounding recorded music. So go get it! Which leads me to the next argument:
Argument 2: I don’t have any of their albums! Do you have Spotify? What about an internet browser on your phone that can navigate to bandcamp? How about Soundcloud? Or email? Do you have email? Because it has been my experience that these artists are more than happy to get their music to you if it means you are going to help them promote it. Why not curate an ultra-bitchin’ local music playlist on Spotify? Forget I said that, I’ll do that. Whatever, you can too, just like, listen, it’s so easy to procure music for a purpose. What you may not have is the interest in doing it, which brings us to…
Argument 3: What’s in it for me? Such a good question, thank goodness the me generation set us all up to think that the only reason to do something is for personal gain. There is, of course, personal gain to be had here, though. You probably didn’t get into sound design for the money (HAHA) or the prestige (HAHAHAHAHAHA) of the thing, no - you got into it for passion, yo. Or because you’re a musician yourself and didn’t want to sell out to the man to keep your art alive. Hey, I’m in the same boat, so I hear ya. But promoting your fellow musicians (or your own band(s), that’s fine too) helps to grow our scene here not just by generating sales for these albums, which is an unlikely outcome at best, but by lending legitimacy to the local music made here. You, as an insider in the music scene, are looked to by others as a tastemaker and an influencer, whether you realize it or not. So use that power for good!
Plus, most sound engineers aren’t working at big venues that only host touring bands, and in Portland, even those venues are often hosting locals on certain nights. For every big show, your bread and butter is likely smaller shows with local bands, and, well, let’s keep those jobs coming, right? If local bands don’t book shows, you don’t work as much. I call the economy we’re in the “fighter” economy because we all have to fight, tooth and nail, to keep our jobs, to bring home any money at all, and to just fucking survive. Not a one of us has the luxury of not thinking about our current economic turmoil and even if you’re wealthy, frankly, the rug can be ripped out from underneath you at any time. So fortifying our fortress of industry - the local music industry - is a necessary activity. You add water to the locks, and all the boats rise up.
Argument 4: Playing local music at setbreak means that people won’t stick around to see the next band. Well, I mean that’s debatable, but honestly, if someone doesn’t want to see the next band, hearing Alice in Chains rather than Johnny Cremains isn’t going to keep them in the room. Music is so subjective, it’s such a crapshoot, that anything you think is real about what people think about music is probably off. Every time we release a SeepeopleS record (and there are five of them, so the test sample size is enough to make a generalization), we choose a single and say, ok guys, THAT is the single, let’s do this! And then we start sending the record out to critics and friends and they’re like, uh… that’s the single? It really should be this. THIS is the single, this is the song we all love, you fucking dummies. And anyway there’s so much music out there that people who aren’t in the know will just think you’re playing some fucking new shit and they’ll be like, oh man that guy is so cool what is this cool shit he’s playing? Which: let’s explore that for a second…
Argument 5: Local music isn’t as “cool” as some shit that has been legitimized by the Youtubian hive mind. WRONG. So wrong! Listen, there are some legendary music scenes that people always go back to, New York Post-Punk and New Wave at CBGB’s in the 70’s, Nashville country in the 1950’s, Seattle grunge in the 90’s, Bronx rap in the 80’s, LA glam rock in the 70’s, all these scenes and more, the thing they have in common is that they just didn’t give a single fuck about what anyone else was doing and they had a good time doing their thing with each other. They knew they were doing something badass and interesting and worthwhile and therefore looked inward to find art, rather than outward for approval and validation. And it was for THEM and them alone. The Sugar Hill Gang wasn’t rapping for the Upper East Side where the money was, they were rapping for their neighbors and friends who had no money. Yes, in all of these cases, eventually people with money came around to turn the whole thing into enterprise, but before that, it was just a community scene. And we’ve gotten so far away from that, it hurts me sometimes. Some art is solitary, I get that. But music is by its very nature a social thing used by almost every culture on earth to celebrate or practice ritual or achieve higher consciousness. Youtube, regardless of what Lorde might tell you, is not a community. Lorde was playing to an audience, not a community, and that is why we’ll likely never hear about anyone else from where Lorde is from, wherever that may be (where is Lorde from? Whatever, who cares).
Alright, look, my point is this: to build anything great, it takes all hands on deck. So I look to you ALL, ye who can control the music in your entertainment venue (that goes for bartenders, baristas, restaurant staff, whatever) to invest back in your community art scene for zero money down by playing local music on your PA systems. The same way that you have locally made art hanging on the walls, yes, its the same thing. DO IT! Come on, fucking… look, I didn’t say you had to do it EVERY TIME, ok? Yes, you can play your fucking favorite Smiths playlist or Miley Cyrus’ new album or whatever, of course, yes. I’m saying add the locals, find something you like and play it. So much of it is free, too. Ya feel me? GOOD. Portland rulez!!!!
**All of these arguments are fake, I haven’t talked to a single sound engineer about this. You might all be on board, in which case, great! Can’t wait to hear what you play.