Just a few weeks after I published my essay on the New Brunswick, NJ music scene in the 90’s, after I finished reading
“New Brunswick, New Jersey, Goodbye: Bands, Dirty Basements and the Search For Self” and after publishing my summary of NYC Music Venues in the 90’s, the New York Times published a piece on how up-and-coming bands from the NYC suburbs are turning more and more to suburban audiences rather than the (perceived) “big stages” across the river in New York City. (See Regional Section: “Shunning the Bright Lights”, NY Times, October 21, 2007).
The sub-headline reads:
Suburban bands once flocked to the city. Now many seek success closer to home.
It’s an interesting little piece, although, those of us who came-of-age in music-centric towns have seen this type of thing happen for years. Hell, Ronan Kauffman wrote a whole book about it. I guess life in New Brunswick was a little different, as it was a self-contained music center – a musical destination, if you will. Bands knew to come to New Brunswick to play, and kids knew that New Brunswick was a place to turn to when they wanted to hear some tunes, whether they were part of the local scene of not. If we couldn’t find it in New Brunswick, we quickly turned to New York City for our fix. New Brunswick was first, New York was secondary.
The most important point made in the article is probably about how the entire musical landscape has changed since the proliferation of the Internet and its bastard children, such as MySpace. Back in the 90’s If you were a band, you only had two options to create a fan base: put out an album and distribute it or play live. These days, of course, bands don’t need to be too geographically-focused and can acquire large masses of fans much quicker than they ever could. (Which makes me wonder: Is the Internet pulling attention away from music hubs like New York City, because people from Jersey, for example, may be discovering bands from out-of-the-way Pennsylvania or Delaware? Perhaps they’re taking road trips to see shows in places they would have never, ever heard about before the Internet came along? Furthermore, are less and less young artist flocking to big cities, which may no longer be their only key to “making it”, as those cities might have been 10 years ago? I’ll leave that question for now…maybe a topic for another day.)
The lead singer of the band Last Goodnight, who is featured in the article, even gives a nod to my favorite musical venue, the basement:
We used to play in the basement every weekend, and we loved it,” Mr. John said. “It’s really hard to keep a band together in the city — everybody wants to do their own thing, and then you start splitting up and changing members. We grew up together, and we stick together. Why move to the city when you live two hours away?
In my own homage to the basement, I wrote the following two weeks ago:
The Melody Bar was just one of the “commercial” venues which helped put these acts on display, but the basement shows that were scattered throughout the town’s dilapidated houses were what truly fueled its musical fire. This would often be considered the “underground” scene in many cities but, in New Brunswick, this *was* the scene…
The lead singer of the Long Island-based band, Envy, share the following:
“For a while we hated coming to New York to do shows,” he said. “We had to deal with parking and all these mundane details when we were so close to home, where you don’t have to deal with that stuff. There would always be this awkward buildup, no real climax…”
Interesting stuff. Interesting perspective. In a world where the Internet has taken the reigns of the music industry, just how important of a role do the big cities still play in the initial success of a band?