The support of fellow musicians helps drive Grand Rapids’ music scene. But in this Local Spins guest column, The Wallace Collective’s Muske wonders why audiences for compelling, original live music aren’t bigger.
This is a city I adore.
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West Michigan's music scene
We try, we fail, we succeed and we are damn proud of whatever it is we are creating, and it shows.
Good or bad, it shows.
Grand Rapids has a buzz in the air that’s exciting to be a part of right now. In many ways, that buzz is well-received. Any number of bands/artists/performers representing the West Michigan creative scene are breaking out and gaining national attention, sometimes even international attention.
There are people staying close to home and growing what we have right here in West Michigan as well. In some ways, I feel the people staying close to home have the harder job. The West Michigan arts scene is a wonderful, vibrant, growing, fluxing, trying, beautiful scene that is cutting its teeth and just breaking in. We have to carve our way into this fine city before we can truly break out of it.
But as a place for musicians, Grand Rapids is equally as exciting as it is frustrating.
I play in a band called The Wallace Collective and we have seen nearly the full spectrum of what this city will and/or will not offer a local band. What we find most amazing: the support from the other artists in this town. Grand Rapids is incredibly communal. There is an insane amount of talent here, we all know it, and we all work really hard to support each other. That has been the most inspiring and humbling thing about being a musician in West Michigan.
THE CHALLENGE: ATTRACTING A NON-MUSICIAN AUDIENCE
On the frustration side, this means many of our fans are musicians in other bands. A typical night as a performer in West Michigan brings your significant other, sometimes family, sometimes a few close friends, and your creative peers out to support your show. Of course, this is only if they don’t have a show booked themselves or there aren’t 10 other local gigs all over the city, all within which we have friends playing on those respective stages, too. Are this many local shows all over town a good thing? The answer, I believe, is yes. The problem is there aren’t enough of these “fans” to go around.
So, a question constantly crossing my mind is, “Am I doing enough?” For every show, The Wallace Collective posts social media events and keeps them updated, with a detailed website that is easy to navigate and looks fresh and exciting. And we spread word of mouth through the open-mic crowd and at all of the shows we are able to get out and see. These things work, most of the time. Other times, we simply shake off the dust and keep going.
I specifically recall a show in the winter of 2012 where The Wallace Collective, Grand Rapids singer-songwriter Lucas Wilson and two highly respected Philadelphia bands – Up the Chain and Hezekiah Jones – played The Pyramid Scheme. The turnout was less than spectacular, even though we had positive press, multiple radio spots the week of the show, promoted heavily online, and went all out with the graphic design work for the printed flyer and online presence. There were just over 100 people in a great venue that holds more than 400. We were surprised, embarrassed and disappointed that all of our hard work failed us.
The lack of support in our community from non-musicians has always baffled me. Don’t get me wrong, those who do show support are amazing and loyal. But their numbers are small considering there are so many incredibly talented acts that play free shows (or those with a nominal $5 cover) all of the time that deserve a listener’s attention.
EXPANDING THE ALL-AGES SCENE AND GROWING THE WEST MICHIGAN FAN BASE
We also seem to lack common ground for adults and students to come together and perform in the same venues. For a few years now, downtown Grand Rapids has been in dire need of an all-ages venue that builds community and provides a safe environment for everyone. To grow and break into the scene, I believe we need to cultivate a more sustaining audience here first before we can move on to a national platform.
Credit must be given to our local media, though. We have many local magazines, blogs and promoters scouring the local scene endlessly every week to compile a list of shows they feel their readers need to know about. They highlight bands and give their readers a little more insight into how a band fits into the community. Their words often drive the voice a band uses to promote and relate to an audience with.
Our community radio station (WYCE-FM 88.1) and media center play a pivotal role in promoting local music. It is a gateway even for people channel-surfing on their daily commute to hear something fresh, local and, hopefully, exciting. If you are a musician in West Michigan, please help promote your local media outlets. They are your best tools and your best way for an audience to find you, and they are working really hard to help you find an audience.
That audience also benefits from something important that I believe makes our local music scene stand out: tone. One of the single most encouraging things to me is how much we musicians care about how we sound. It’s rare to find a Grand Rapids band that is working hard in this city with crappy gear and thin tone. I’ve been to many shows where a national headliner sounds worse than the local opener here because we really give a damn about how we sound. It’s important: The better you sound, the happier your fans are.
Sound good, work hard, work together and keep going.
Grand Rapids is just starting to get interesting.
About Brandon Muske: Thoughtful really does describe singer, guitarist and banjo player Brandon Wallace Muske, who along with Olivia Johnson and Kevin Fein comprise the core group of The Wallace Collective, an ever-evolving Grand Rapids band that bills itself as a “thoughtful” folk-rock and Americana outfit. A native of Cadillac, Muske started by playing plenty of open-mic nights in Grand Rapids, where he first met Johnson and fiddle player Jeffrey Neimeier (one of the “usual suspects” in the group). The Wallace Collective earlier this year released “The Wallace Collective EP,” full of gorgeous folk innovation. Get more details about the band at its official website, then catch Muske and The Wallace Collective live this summer here:
June 22 – Globe Vision, Holland (6:30 p.m.) Details online here.
July 26 – Woodruff’s, Ypsilanti (9 p.m.)
July 27 – Rocky’s Bar & Grill, Grand Rapids (10 p.m.)
July 28 – Lemonjello’s, Holland (7 p.m.)
Sept 14 – Props and Hops Festival, Manistee
Email John Sinkevics at email@example.com.
Copyright 2013, Spins on Music