My weekend often includes live music. It’s my happy place, my sanctuary, my release to a week of responsibilities and demands. But when our work week ends, the local musicians and bands are just beginning. Often, our favorite bands have jobs too and after work on any given day, they rush home only to pack up their gear and set up at a local venue to entertain us. Now, I’m not pitying them. They get paid to do what they do (sometimes they even get paid well), they have the adoration of their fans, they get to play and create music, to be a part of something pretty special. However, I understand that it’s not all glitz and glamour. There are things that go on behind the scenes that many of us are not privy to: hours of scouting venues, fighting for fair pay, and sometimes adversity with some of the musical community. I was curious about what happens behind the scenes. I reached out to some of Philadelphia’s local talent (that have been featured on One Unified in the past) to get a behind the scenes look into the world of local music. Thank you to Krista Doran of Stems and Seeds, Bill Luber of Chowder, Dean Rubenstein of Jah People, Larry Bishov of Hotlanta, Paul Baroli of Steal Your Face and Brodi Valos of Dirt Road Anthem for sharing your insight with me and our readers. Your contribution here and musically is greatly appreciated.
How long have you been in a band?
Brodi: I’ve been with Dirt Road Anthem for just about two years now. First band I was ever in, I played a trumpet and I was 10 years old.
Bill: My current band, almost 9 years. On and off with other bands since 93-94 maybe.
Krista: Since 2007, so 9 years now. Wow – I didn’t even realize that.
Larry: Since 1969 (in different bands)
Paul: Pretty much my whole life. I was in the elementary school band and was in my first rock band at 15. I’ve been in Steal Your Face for the last 10 years.
Dean: I have been in Jah People for 3 1/2 years.
How would you describe the culture in the local music scene?
Brodi: If I had to describe the local scene in a word, I’d say it’s “intimate”. Everyone pretty much knows one another to some degree.
Bill: I personally find the music scene somewhat healthy. I say somewhat because I don’t like the constant battle between bar owners and bands that deserve respect, when it comes to pay. If a band has a good following and puts butts in the seats and the cash register is ringing all night, why give us a hard time about our pay. We’re not asking for ridiculous money. Just want what’s fair. We spend time at practice a couple times a week, we do homework and learn songs, we buy expensive equipment, and lug all that heavy equipment and load in and load out. That’s a ton of work. Most of the owners don’t even promote. I’ve actually had one bar owner say “not sure why you guys even get paid, all ya do is sing songs.”. That’s clearly not the case. It’s a business for us too. If we bring a hundred people and the average person spends 50 bucks, that’s 5,000 dollars. And it could have been more if they promoted the show as much as we did. So if we do all the work and bring all the people and load all the equipment, why complain about our tiny paycheck. But as far as culture amongst other bands, I don’t really have any issues. I like and respect every band.
Krista: For the most part, there is a feeling of camaraderie and unity. Many of us have become good friends and will support each other by going to shows or doing shows together, give advice, share contacts, support causes together, etc.
Paul: Little of this. Little of that.
Dean: Unfortunately, I’ve found that the vibe in Philly has been mostly “every band for itself”. There have been some crossover and cooperation in the past, but lately there has been less and less collaboration, both musically and business wise.
Have you ever encountered a “situation” with another band that left a bad taste in your mouth?
Brodi: No, not that I can think of. I don’t always get along with everyone, but who does?
Bill: I have had some situations that have left bad taste in my mouth but the good thing about that is I dont have to be in their band. So for me, if I don’t like something another band did, I am old enough to know not to deal with them anymore and just move on. No big deal.
Krista: Absolutely. I mean, we have always been very supportive of our friends and other musicians that we know. On the flip side of that, yes, there have been some that have decided to try to discredit us. We work hard at what we do and it shows. For anyone to try and influence others to not support us, or anyone else for that matter, is pretty ridiculous. It doesn’t hurt us because our fans and friends are very faithful. It does however, hurt the music scene as a whole, and I don’t think these particular musicians even care about that.
Larry: Not in my experience.
Dean: Certain guys from bands feel the need to carelessly bash other bands and musicians on social media. This type of behavior often contradicts the righteous ideals that they claim to be practicing.
Why do you think some bands find the need to bash/criticize other bands?
Brodi: You’d have to ask them for their reasons. I’ll criticize weird, pretentious, rock star, super hype stuff. It just seems so crazy to claim that they’re going to rock someone’s face off in a place that has a 12 foot ceiling. Or the guys my age claiming that they’re getting or giving out record deals. Come on, dude… no one gets those anymore.
Bill: Musicians are notoriously stereotyped as egomaniacs and look at music as a battle for who’s best. I personally, in my years, have only encountered that a couple times. When I first got into bands, I was kind of expecting to hear so much shit from jerkoff so-called superstars but that never really happened. I have heard a couple people say “Chowder sucks” or “how come you guys hire Chowder and not us, they ain’t as good as us?” Ya know what I say? Fuck them guys. I could care less. It’s like an actor reading a review of a movie he or she was in. The movie does great in the box office but there’s that one critic that didn’t like it and slams the movie. But in the end, the theaters are packed so what do ya say? Fuck em. So as long as you’re working hard and the music connects with people and everyone is happy, so am I. That’s all that matters.
Krista: There are two reasons in my opinion: Jealousy and wrong assumptions. Bashing is never acceptable. In pretty much all situations, the one bashing is really the one that ends up looking bad. It also shows how unprofessional they are and makes it hard for them to get gigs at certain places.
Larry: Insecurities. Their ET (ego to talent) ratio is way out of line.
Paul: You’d have to ask them.
If you’re asking me about some of the things I say and post, well I know a lot of my friends, family, fans and even band mates wish I would keep my mouth shut sometimes. That’s not who I am. If I have something I feel needs to be said I’m going to say it.
I have a great respect for the fans. Music lovers. People who spend their hard earned money and valuable time to see a band. I appreciate that more than I could ever say. I think those people deserve certain things – like authenticity. If someone is asking me a question or reading on social media what “is on my mind” – I take that seriously, and I’m going to respect them by being real.
There’s a couple of guys and bands out there I’m pretty vocal about. I should also say I like to think I give plenty of kudos when they are due and that there’s plenty of bands I have lots of “criticisms” or things I could “bash” but I truly never want to bash anyone or be negative and don’t. There are some people out there and some things happening that I have some responsibility in. Maybe it’s regret on my part. I gave people a platform because they manipulated, misled and used me and my band, fans and family and I don’t feel good about them misleading anybody else. Sometimes I speak up and ruffle some feathers. Through the course of my musical career, as I think anyone in any career would, I’ve come across some not so good people. I’m not the kind of guy to stand by and keep quiet, it’s part of what makes me who I am.
Dean: It’s mostly jealousy and ego driven.
Has the environment changed since you started performing?
Brodi: From elementary school recitals at J.H. Brown to a Bud Light sponsored act. Yep, I’d say things have changed for me. But in all seriousness, things have changed a bit in the live music scene. There used to be so many more original acts and listeners who wanted to hear their music. There are still original groups but the local scene is more cover oriented.
Bill: The environment has changed a little. When I started, rock music was more relevant. More people were rockers and rock music was king. Now ya got industry pushing kiddy pop music like Justin Bieber and stuff like that. It sells to kids. This is what’s wrong with music today. Christ, there ain’t even music on MTV anymore. Doesn’t MTV stand for music television? But recently I have seen a couple young bands that have been playing. One I like especially is The Dead Leeves. These kids are teens. One of ’em ain’t even a teen yet and they play as well or better than some of the older guys. What’s really great is they are playing “real” rock and roll. It’s really great to see. Another band I have seen recently is Angus Road. Another group of young guys. Very good band. Just awesome to see a 15 year old play the Beatles. Hopefully those bands can keep this going.
Krista: I think it has. The scene is definitely changing, and for many reasons. The economy, of course, has played a big part in things. People don’t go out as much or spend money like they used to. There’s also a lot more places choosing to bring in acoustic acts or DJs who charge much less than a full band, leaving less places to play. It used to be that on a Friday or Saturday night, the question wasn’t IF you were going out to see a live band, it was WHERE. Now, a band is lucky to get more than 30 or 40 people out. There are many others, but those are two of the main reasons.
Larry: It’s very hard to find places to play and the pay has hardly changed in the last 20 years or so.
Paul: It’s constantly evolving. Mostly – people and bands come and go. Lineups change, venues come and go.
I’ve been fortunate enough to stick around for a little bit and learn from some guys who have been able to do this for a long time. You have to ride the waves.
I do think for me the environment that has changed has been in the amount of people who support us. There’s a hunger for Grateful Dead music like I’ve never experienced. I think part of it was their 50th anniversary in 2015 and also that there’s a lot of bands playing this music at a high level right now, each with their own unique flavors and interpretations, on a local and national scale. Around here, on any given weekend night Steal Your Face, Splintered Sunlight and Box of Rain can all have successful shows within a 30 mile radius playing the music of The Grateful Dead. That’s a pretty incredible thing for me to try and grasp.
Dean: The local scene, at least in the Northeast region, had been much more inclusive and unified, but unfortunately, there’s been quite a bit of segregation.
How would you change things in the world of local music?
Brodi: Everyone would get a pony and an ice cream cone. We’ll pay for it with the money that bars claim they never make. That’s what ya call “drunk accounting”, folks.
Bill: This is a tough question. I think to change things in local and all music is to get the kids back into rock n roll and show them what it’s like to have musicians play their own instruments and join with other guys (or girls) that play and then form a team. A team that has three, four or whatever amount of people that bring their talents together and become one that can combine sounds and form songs that can make people feel emotion. I hope it can happen. I hope it’s not too late to get the kids back. If it does happen, rock n roll will never die.
Krista: The only way is to set an example by being professional, gracious and staying humble. Always, always be at your best. This not only affects other musicians, but also the bars/club owners and the people who come out to see us. Set realistic expectations because when you promise the world and don’t deliver, it makes the scene look bad as a whole.
Paul: It’s all going the way Jah wants it so who am I to say?
I think a lot of us who play music would love to be able to get together more. Socially and to play together. It’s just hard to make it happen. One of our friends has to get mugged or something.
Dean: I’d like to have more multiple band events to give fans a chance to hear bands that they typically may not see perform.
What advice do you have for young and/or new musicians coming up in the music scene?
Brodi: Cliché as this may sound – Just do it! And find a good lawyer. If all goes well, you’ll most likely need one. Possibly more…
Bill: My advice for the young kids would be to play with your heart. Do it for the right reasons. Do it because ya like it. Not because it can get ya laid or because everyone will think you’re cool. Do it cause music grabs your soul and ya want to to grab it back. Stay humble and work hard. Practice every day. Love what you do!
Krista: Do your homework and learn your craft. Don’t just get a few people together and start a band. Practice! Practice! Practice! Don’t go out half-assed. Make the investment in a decent sound system. Learn how to market yourself. Ask seasoned bands or musicians you know what works for them. Align yourself with professional people and do what they do. Take pride in what you do and appreciate it! Don’t act like you are a “Rock Star,” because you’re not. If you were, you wouldn’t be playing in a cover band at local bars. Be realistic and remember there is always someone out there better than you. Price yourself in line with other bands – don’t “undercut” just to get a gig. This lessens your worth! Most of all don’t be a dick to people. Make people feel good about you and the music you play.
Larry: Keep playing even if you suck because after a while, you won’t suck.
Paul: If you believe in yourself enough to want to attempt to do this, believe in yourself enough to be yourself. Stay true to yourself, don’t compromise yourself or your art. And remember that what you’re doing is important. It’s an ancient art form and it brings people joy. Always do it for the right reasons.
Dean: Play to have fun, utilize social media, it’s a great tool to gain fans.. Try to open or co-bill with popular bands who’s fans are your target audience. Stay humble.