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Home / Articles / Opinion / Sordid Tales /  Empty-seat syndrome
. . . .
Wednesday, Mar 02, 2011

Empty-seat syndrome

Support local music, or not—it’s up to you

By Edwin Decker
Having bartended live-music clubs in San Diego for the last 25 years, I can say that this city is home to some of the best bands in the country. Unfortunately, there’s never been quite enough of a fan base to sustain them financially. For whatever reason, San Diego’s always had a somewhat thinner following for local music than most other major cities.

Now, complaining about this doesn’t strike me as particularly lame. It’s frustrating to see a band as kickass as SweetTooth playing in front of 20 people when a propped-up poser like Sisqo would attract more bodies by plinking Zimbabwean polka melodies on a busted thumb piano. However, it’s when the complaints about low attendance become a narcissistic blame-game that it begins to rub me the wrong way.

For instance, I recall an old drummer friend, who played in a series of failed art-rock groups, constantly complaining about how San Diegans are shallow, sun-worshipping, condo-residing automatons who don’t support local music. He eventually became so weary of the empty seats that he decided to strike back at those shallow San Diegans by quitting the business and depriving them of his “musical genius.”

Now, this guy was no Chad Farran but even if he were, who did he punish by quitting? It wasn’t the people who didn’t come to his shows. (If they didn’t come to his shows in the first place, how could they miss his genius?) No, quitting the biz only punished the people who came to his shows—his fans.

Ah, yes, arrogance and ignorance—the ultimate combo plate.

Arrogance and ignorance are what kept this guy from asking the questions any performer worth a damn would ask when his or her band doesn’t draw: “Are we as good as we can be? Did we rehearse enough? Are we doing anything different from what the 8 million thousand hundred other bands in San Diego are doing?”

And what about marketing? I know it’s the crappy part of the job, but you can’t bitch about attendance if you don’t promote the show. Over the years, as a live-music bartender, I can’t tell you how many bands play the blame-game for a slow night. It happens all the time. After the show is over, they’ll march up to my bar and demand to know where the hell all the people were.

“That’s the question I was going to ask you,” I’d say.

“What do you mean?” they’d respond. “I didn’t see one flyer, poster, Tweet or Facebook invite to the show.”

“So.”

“I’m just saying, Adam Gimbel you are not.”

At that point, he or she would usually say something that closely resembles, “Hey! I’m the rock star here. Marketing is your job.” To that, I’d usually respond with, “This ain’t The Garden, and you ain’t Gaga. On this level, marketing is everyone’s job.”

Practice and promote, practice and promote. After that, it’s out of your hands. Like the Christians say, “Let go. Let Godsmack.” Perhaps my Rock ’n’ Roll Serenity Prayer will help you see things my way:

Godsmack grant me:
The serenity to accept the seats I cannot fill, the courage to aggressively promote the gig and the wisdom not to put flyers on public property (because you can get a big fine for that).

Anyway, the question is: Who’s more shallow? The people who don’t come out to support local music, or the people who call people “shallow” because they’d rather chill than flit around with the music-scene scenesters every night—or play poker with friends, bowl in a league, volunteer for a cause, congregate for Bible study, read or write a novel, or maybe just drink in a bar where there isn’t a loud rock band mowing down their auditory cilia like a tank on a toothcomb. Besides, I’m the last person to whom you want to complain about empty-seat syndrome. Because, as I recall, I didn’t see you at any of my shows.

You think the music business is slow, try spoken word. Talk about not being able to get people to come out. When I perform spoken word, I can’t even get my stalker to show up! It’s always the same thing: “Uh, I’d like to be there, Ed, but I don’t want to breach the restraining order.”

“Then why are you are under my bed, Raymond!?”

Point is, people clamor for spoken-word shows the way artificial-insemination candidates clamor for Gary Coleman’s frozen semen. So, spare me your woe-is-me tale of empty seats.

That said, it’s probably true that many San Diegans need to be better educated about the local scene. For those of you who enjoy live music but tend to only see bands that come through town on tour, a friendly word: Don’t buy in to the myth that touring bands are somehow better, or more exotic, just because they’re from somewhere else.

If you do, you’re missing out on all the fantastic local groups that are every bit as good as your Green Days and your Springsteens and your Black Eyed Peases—acts like The burning of Rome, The Silent Comedy, Barefoot Hockey Goalie, Steve Poltz, Gregory Page, Sweet- Tooth, The Mentals, Drowning Men, Bunky, Rafter, Superunloader, MC Flow, Vokab Company, Cindy Berryhill, The Devastators, Revelations, Transfer, Tomcat, The Dabbers, Mower— are you bleeding kidding me with this list? And there are so many more. And they’re playing in the bar down the street. And the best part is, you don’t have to arrive early to snag a seat. Or is that the worst part? Whatever.

Write to ed@sdcitybeat.com and editor@ sdcitybeat.com. Visit edwindecker.com to listen to Decker’s uplifting spoken-word piece, “Stabbing Sisqo in the Face.”




 
 
 
 
 
 
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