Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What’s Wrong With the Scene?! Pt 1 by Bavu Blakes

On a Saturday night not long ago, I stopped by the Open Labs beat battle event at the Mohawk here in Austin, Texas, to perform a 20-minute promo set. I also went there because I assumed it would be a solid opportunity to market our November 13 Soulful Texas Hip Hop Live show at the same venue.

So I did the set, and it went fine. But during – and especially before and after – my performance, I noticed a funny energy in the crowd. There were many local artists, crews and cliques in attendance and, of course, dozens of beat makers and producers from all over the country. I sensed a lot of confusion in the air, and a lack of purpose you could almost taste. There were hundreds of people at the venue, yet it felt mostly empty. Maybe I'm crazy, but whatever it was, this energy was disheartening.

Later that night, I went by Ruta Maya to give some posters and flyers to Matt Sonzala of Austin Surreal, who is promoting this Soulful Texas Hip Hop Live show. And again, there was that weird energy in the crowd which included many local artists as well as some fans. It felt like night of the living dead in there!

Overall, it ended up being a depressing evening despite the fact that I went on a date with my wife in between the two events. I think I shed a couple of tears when I was praying and falling asleep that night. I've had plenty of less-than-inspiring nights on the town, but this was ridiculous. I was questioning my role and involvement in my local scene, and realized it's not just a local issue. It's everywhere, and I want to help change it.

When you face a problem, you can complain, ignore it or do something. And what I've described in these first five paragraphs led to me starting this column, where I'll speak from my own experiences and travels in an effort to help you help me help us... in every town. I've titled this series with a perennially tired question: What's Wrong With the Scene?!

In Every Town, USA, there's at least a thousand people trying to make it in the hip hop game. Some of them aspire to become independent rap gods like the Dude Devin or the Kweli Talib, while others dream of signing a big major record deal with somebody like Jay-Z or the late Shakir Stewart. Others just want to run their city, so they can allegedly put on for their city.

I, for one, would like to see Texas become a stronger producer and exporter of hip hop and soul talent compared to our more typical role of consumer and importer/buyer. Most rappers, promoters, dj's and folks who seriously love the music, culture, etc., have a common goal to put their city, state or region on the map. So what's stopping them, umm I mean, us? Answer: a lack of casual fans.

Well, if you want to build a following and/or scene for yourself or your whole city/state, the most important ingredient in your recipe is the casual music fan. Casual fans are not the hardcore heads and die-hard rap consumers willing to step out often just for the experience, or to see what the dj's play. Casual fans are not the guys who show up and act like rappers on the weekends. They aren't the hardcore critics who take everything way too seriously, either.

Casual fans are people who spend $20 to $100 or more to have a good live music experience on any given night, especially when an artist they love and respect passes through their city on tour. Casual fans are people who regularly buy CD's at the store, or from digital retailers like iTunes. Meanwhile, back on the local concert scene in Every Town, USA, the locals are constantly and unknowingly running these casual fans off! And out the door goes the chance to expand this typical local show environment aka the same 20 artists and their people standing around in a room.

I theorize that a casual fan has a great time at endless touring shows in venues like Stubb's, Austin Music Hall and Emo's in Austin. Then they stay home until the next Lil' Wayne, 3-6 Mafia, Z-Ro or Anthony Hamilton comes through town. But when these fans casually venture out to a local show, what do they experience?

We'll cover that in the next installment of What's Wrong With the Scene?!

Back to the lab,
Mr. Bavu Blakes

[Email your comments, questions, feedback, criticism, etc., to Mr.Blakes@gmail.com with "What's Wrong With the Scene?!" in the subject line.]

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