Find other people who do what you do, and then push each other to get better

we_are_jeneric.jpgThe Albany metro ranks 14th nationally* as a center for musicians and the music industry, according to an analysis from an institute at the University of Toronto that includes Richard "Creative Class" Florida.

Albany's ranking is "better than expected." So, um, good for us.

We're not sure how much stock we'd put into the analysis, though. It was based on federal statistics on the concentration of musicians and music/recording industry businesses. We suspect it's a better indicator of the traditional music industry rather than the constantly evolving indie segment that makes up more and more of the music world. (Example: because of digital technology, a lot of musicians now record not in "professional" music studios, but you know, wherever they can.) Also: the study didn't measure "the vibrancy or impact or quality of artists to emerge from a regional scene." (We also don't draw confidence that further study will be based on data from... MySpace.)

But this part, from Richard Florida's write up of the study in Atlantic Cities, did ring mostly true:

But size is not everything, as Nashville's dominance and the performance of other smaller metros show. Smaller places can develop significant clusters of musicians and the music industry. The key here, as it is in so many other fields, is the clustering of talent, as talented musicians are drawn to and cluster around other talented musicians. Doing so, they generate a human capital externality of a musical kind -- competing against each other for new sounds and audiences, combining and recombining with each other into new bands -- a Darwinian process out of which successful acts rise to the top and achieve broad success.

We'd argue it doesn't necessarily have to be some sort of Darwinian competition, though. An example from here: the B3nson collective has supported and promoted each other while sharing talent among its many connected acts. And an event like Rest Fest -- which helps focus attention on what's going on here -- then grows out of all that interconnection.

That's probably true of other industries/scenes, too -- whether it's food or tech or whatever. The trick is to get those clusters started and growing.

*That ranking is from the "when small metros are included" list. The Albany metro doesn't rank in the table included there because it only includes metros with populations of 1 million or larger.

[via @chris_churchill]


Comparing any normal city to a professional music city like Nashville is pointless. There are a lot of people in Nashville who get paid to play music and also write music. That is not normal.

One of the problems with the Albany "audience" that the musicians are supposed to be competing for is that it doesn't exist. Sean Rowe sells out big local shows now that he is on Anti-. I used to sit in the Lionheart and drink tasty beer and listen to him sing the same damn songs for years. You couldn't pull out a five dollar bill to buy a pint anywhere in town without having that guy growling in your ear. I had some people over to cook some burgers in the backyard once and the guy just showed up, ate some of my lillies and what looked like a Japanese beetle, and then started into that song about motorcycles and red heads. It was as good then as it is now. And no one in Albany paid attention. The songs aren't better now, people just want to check out the local guy who got famous (if living in the woods eating chipmunks and being on NPR counts as fame). Same thing with Phantogram. They haven't even played a show in Albany since they got popular, have they? Why is that? Because they never had an audience here, for starters.

And if the RestFest people wanted to build a scene, why didn't they have Rowe play at their Fest? Instead he will split the minimal local audience on their biggest night. They can't be blamed for the hurricane last year but that seems like a pretty big screw up.

Albany isn't different from many other small city scenes with all the politics and hipsterism and everything that has nothing to do with art and music and movies. Maybe if Phantogram took out the Parlor on tour, that might change. But that just doesn't seem to be how people think around here. Maybe once they get out, they have no desire to go back.

We actually asked Sean Rowe if he wanted to play Rest Fest this year but he is playing a show at Valentine's instead. Nothing we can do about it but hey, we tried!

Well, I guess that is evidence of that "Darwinian Process" that the authors of the article claim is a necessary ingredient for a scene too succeed. I think it is a bummer.

I think the definition of a thriving music scene is one that allows for more than one option of what show to attend. Saturday, September 8th finds Albanians with the decision whether to go to the second night of Rest Fest, listen to Sean Rowe at Valentine's, or go to the Plaza to watch Local Legends Live. Three of what are most likely many options for a night out. If these are the problems we are faced with -they are good problems.
Limiting our options in order to prevent "splitting the minimal audience" is akin to saying Albany would be better off with one bar so that people don't have to choose which one to go to.

I also must say that Rest Fest during Hurricane Irene was one of the most incredible musical events I have ever been to -far from a screw up, the energy and support these local musicians give to each other (whether they're playing together on the same bill or on the same night in different venues) is commendable, not contemptible and is exactly what a thriving music scene needs.

@Code Monkey - Phantogram wasn't Phantogram until after they got signed. But they did very well in Albany when they were still Charlie Everywhere.

As for "no desire to go back," I'm pretty sure Sean Rowe still lives in Troy. And he's doing his CD release show in the scuzziest room in town, so clearly he still has some love for the "scene."

Ok, so why haven't Charlie Everywhere aka Phantogram come back if they were doing so well here? And when did they "do very well"? Wouldn't you want a triumphant homecoming?

I'm all for the Rest Fest and local music scene succeeding. But I'm a realist. Did I have fun at the Rest Fest last year? Yes. Did I also have a sick feeling in my stomach when they announced the tickets were free due to the hurricane? Hell yeah. Someone paid Titus and Deer Tick. It wasn't the free ticket people. I doubt it was all the people having a great time either. That hurricane sucked. And I'm pretty certain that event lost money. That isn't something a sustainable music scene can do.

If you were the one fronting the money for the artist guarantees for the Rest Fest I bet you'd think Rowe's show on Saturday was a bummer.(In case you were wondering, I don't think Sharon Van Etten plays at the Egg in one of the best sounding rooms anywhere and then comes back and works for the door in an old church where the sound is not quite the same) I'd bet there was a collective "Are you kidding me?" when they learned about the Rowe CD release. This is a very tough business. Very few people without trust funds succeed. The Rest Fest is one weekend a year. It would help if it was THE music event for that weekend. The Albany music audience just isn't that big. And I would really like to see events like Rest Fest succeed. I've had a hell of a great time at a lot of venues that didn't last. Hurricane parties are great fun but not a sustainable business model. There was some great music at the Larkin 5 or 10 years ago. With the rain we got today their basement is probably flooded and that building has been vacant for at least five years. One of the recent great music venues in Albany. Boarded up.

I've lived in some other cities - seems to me Albany just lacks the base of extras... Fine with me... Give me the eight or nine people I know over the two hundred I don't know and don't care about... What's the problem? Not enough attention?

A lot of good music has come out of Albany, and more keeps coming - enough said. It's not really about Albany, though.

Also, good job RestFest people.

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