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Bands and Local Hero Syndrome
By Alana Mileras
Alana Mileras is the co-founder and co-CEO of Refugee Entertainment, LLC, an independent record label and publishing company. Refugee Entertainment, LLC specializes in developing the careers of national-caliber recording artists through its innovative marketing and promotion techniques, aggressive sales programs, and strategic partnerships with industry affiliates. Visit http://www.refugeeentertainmentllc.com/ for more information.
You hear of them very so often, a whispered rumor circulating around the city parameters. The gossips' adoring gazes are only outnumbered by the disappointed glances, the split decision between hyperventilating worship and disdainful indifference.
You, my hopeful, young band are witness to "Local Hero Syndrome," a scenario that describes many ex-local-hopeful bands that failed to receive universal acceptance outside of their own fair city. This isn't a put-down to bands that try and just don't make it, or were poorly managed and locked up in unfavorable contracts. Rather, it is a pointed description of those bands than never bother to try at all.
Local Hero Syndrome is alternately bestowed on and bemoaned by many. Bands and artists who qualify for the title have a rabid, single-city fan base that wear their hometown pride's shirts, chant their name, attend their shows and buy the band shots. These fans constantly remark on their favorite band's current unattached status and can't fathom why they aren't signed. The more pertinent question, perhaps, ought to be what is it that their favorite band is doing to prove that they deserve to be? Every band wants to work with known entities, those industry professionals whose names you recognize from liner notes and their own reputations. But bands often don't think of exactly how they expect to attract this level of representation if no one beyond a 100 mile radius has any notion of who they are. Remember, you're not only competing against every other local band but also every other full-time touring band. And which seems the safer bet: a band who is beloved in a single city only or one that is endeared across a multi-state region? After all, industry reps are thinking, how badly can this band want it, how dedicated are they really if they can't be bothered to travel out of their own city?
Like sports teams, the energy and dynamics of an adoring crowd are often reason enough to perform live. Audiences that have watched your band's evolution, that understand the sly lyrical references to local mainstays elevate performers to unsustainable highs. It's quite understandable then to be temporarily blinded by the glare of the spot lights, to lose the perspective of your group's position in your own city, surrounded by enthusiastic friends and family, as well as fans. Hometown devotion is a key element to building a stable bridge between local band to regional success. It is fundamentally important to have and build a local fan base, but all too often bands get comfortable in the local admiration and "stardom," and the indulgences of covered bar tabs that come with the warm feelings.
But it's hard to be a rock star when no one recognizes you outside of your native city. It's even harder to make a living playing the same 10-15 clubs every weekend, in front of the same fans, family, friends and bar groupies.
Of many local heroes I know or know of, zero are making a living in the music industry unless hosting a radio show or owning a karaoke company count. Most work an odd assortment of seasonable or retail work: the local music instrument store, or construction or landscaping, while the others left the music side altogether and became accountants or attorneys. To those bands that recognize a familiarity in this situations, take note - this could be you. You could be the one rehashing the "glory days" when everybody at the local bar knew your name.
If your audience is primarily friends and family or people who can tell stories dating back ten years ago, you must begin band outreach, which is polite wording that means you need to stop playing to the same 200 people in your hometown, hit the pavement and get to work! No one else is going to do it for you.
Some bands predictably take the "I don't want to mess with what I've already got going on" approach. But it may be better to evaluate the reality, which is, "What is it you really have?" If you're not selling enough of anything to quit your two day jobs and pay rent, it seems that not enough is going on.
So what do you do to avoid this career cessation? How does your band make it work? It's quite simple, so listen closely...expand your tour area. That's it. No big corporate secrets or expensive marketing stratagems needed. And no, playing the suburbs of the same city you are from doesn't count. To put it bluntly, unless your band is able to sell 5-10,000 CDs on your home turf, gig multiple days a week, and have such strong demand for your merch that it is selling out every few months, how do you expect to realistically sustain yourselves? If everything that is your current situation remains the same, how can you expect it to change for the better?
So, if Local Hero Syndrome sounds like your band or sounds like it could be, it can easily be remedied. It's really as easy, and as hard, as becoming acquainted with Mapquest and phoning some venues outside of your comfort zone (a.k.a. at least a two hour drive time from your house). It can be scary, but perhaps it's better to think of how much more frightening it will be in ten years if you do nothing. You can do it, so get out there and start working it!
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