At the start of every calendar year, millions of Americans will choose a usually daunting, unsavory-sounding task to undertake in the interest of self-betterment. Alas, very few are still thinking about their New Year's resolutions by the time July rolls around, but there's no time like the present — or a slow news week — to ponder how we can not only improve ourselves, but our community at large.
For our Colorado Springs music scene, I've heard wildly varying opinions over the years about the health and vibrancy of the scene, or whether there's a scene at all. To quote local guitarist Eric Blackmore, "If all that were required for a scene to exist were talented performers, every town of over 5,000 persons would have a thriving musical community."
A lack of talent isn't a problem here, but most experiencing local music from the "inside" would agree that nobody's going to mistake us for Austin, Seattle or Athens anytime soon. Most pieces on what musicians are doing wrong are demeaning and misguided, so let's take a look at some of America's most common resolutions and how musicians and music-lovers alike can apply them to make 2016 a successful year all around. What's the worst that could happen?
1) Be Nice
For musicians, the obvious and boring equivalence is "practice." But I'd recommend, more specifically, to turn your competition inward. All musicians have egos, and everyone wants to compare favorably to one's peers. However, the most powerful musical displays I witnessed in 2015 were moments of collaboration and tribute. The music scene lost much-beloved figures in ItsReaLight Love and Chris Forsythe, and the response from the community was genuinely touching to witness. When musicians devote time and support back into the scene at large, in addition to promoting their own careers, the results are almost always going to result in a lot more happiness and soul for everyone involved. When you tear down someone else's band to make yourself look better, you're basically being the Ayn Rand of the local scene. Do you really want that?
As for music-lovers, the health benefits of walking, specifically out one's door and into attendance at a local show, are universally known and accepted.
2) Learn Something New
For those who are on the outside looking in at the music scene, this one is pretty obvious — why not try your hand at that guitar this year? There's nothing that brings a scene together like a little empathy. For the already musically inclined, try writing a song in a different way, pull out your Brian Eno "Oblique Strategies" cards, or try writing on an instrument with which you're unfamiliar. You don't necessarily need to be Prince and start writing songs on the concert harp, but you'd be surprised how much creativity is inspired by shaking things up a bit.
Oh, and checking out a new act never hurts.
3) Save Money
As a music journalist, I go to sleep every night on a bed of gold doubloons and precious gems, so money is a topic for which I feel a bit uncomfortable giving out advice. It should go without saying that artists shouldn't pay to play. You also probably shouldn't spend all your gig earnings on drinks, and paying for the extra analytics on social media isn't the best deal. If you go on tour, actually put a little thought into the routing. This might save you the indignity of rethinking your entire life while huddled in the green room/janitor's closet, wishing you had an extra five dollars left to buy milk.
Despite these many hazardous pitfalls, you might be interested to discover that many local shows are free! You can, and possibly should, attend them.
4) Travel to New Places
We all have our own musical genre preferences, which is fine. There's no sense in trying to develop an objective metric to judge the merits of any given style of music, because you already know the types you prefer are totally the best. You could spend your time doing something constructive, like developing metrics to measure the sadness of any given Morrissey song.
That said, you'd be amazed how little borders ultimately matter in music, and there's no better way of broadening one's horizons than trying something new. Unsure about hip-hop? The local hip-hop scene is inventive, energetic and welcoming. Scared of metal? Some of the kindest people I've met play in local metal bands. Think jazz is insular and strange? Well, maybe it is, but it's also extremely fun, and this city has a wonderfully passionate fanbase. If you're a musician, I highly recommend booking shows with artists who operate in different spheres than you do.
Of course, these endeavors can be even more fulfilling in front of an audience.
5) Drink Less, Quit Smoking
For better or worse, this one doesn't require a great deal of reframing to be applied to any music scene. The best advice I can give you is, for heaven's sake, don't use health reasons as an excuse to switch from whiskey to vodka. Look at what it did to poor Lemmy Kilmister.
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