The music community in the Twin Cities has been a source of strength, growth, and opportunity for many artists over the years. From Prince to Soul Asylum, to Babes In Toyland and The Replacements, the long list are examples of bands this Midwest haven have developed.
As we move farther from the pause in 2020, there are signs of renewed prosperity and reuniting again as a community. At the same time, there are still wounds and ways our musicians want to see our community change in the new year.
We asked musicians all over the Twin Cities to share their wishes, hopes, and dreams for a better 2023. These discussions were then passed onto venue owners, music bookers, publicity directors, and radio personal to share their responses and insight into why things are the way they are. The goal is to generate discussions that influence change and commitments to improving our scene.
Responses from artists were varied and covered many different angles. From questioning residencies and how they potentially take away opportunities for other artists, to wanting more inclusive DIY spaces and unionization, to even questioning how we can make our spaces safe from predators, there are a ton of creative ways musicians are wanting our scene to improve.
Overall there were 5 main reoccurring themes that arose as the core discussions. These are listed below along with responses from leaders in our community. Change starts when we can openly communicate, ask, and learn why our system works the way it does. All voices matter when attempting to improve the greater good.
5.) Earlier Shows and Safe All Ages Opportunities
“I would love for there to be more opportunities for shows at reasonable hours, and for listening room-type shows to be more prevalent,” shares Andy Ulseth. Emily Kastrul of Sister Species seconds this voice with having more all ages shows, “I work with teens for my day job, so I love a show that I can invite young people to. I know a lot of amazing artists who have young children, and more bountiful, early shows that people can bring their whole families to would be exciting.”
Although venues like The Garage, The Treasury, Underground Music Cafe, and Caydence Records host a lot of all-ages shows, there is a lack of early shows and venues willing to adapt that business model. As most musicians also work daytime jobs, there is a huge opportunity for early shows to capture a different audience and provide more gigs that don’t interfere with an early morning job.
Mat Graske at Caydence has hosted Sunday afternoon matinee shows and during the warmer months (April-November) book free sets outside next to their venue on their wooden parklet deck. These opportunities give musicians a chance to play earlier in the day without high ticket prices.
In terms of predatory behavior, Mat starts by sharing that venue workers need to keep in the forefront what is happening around them and monitor behaviors better. Being aware of situations also can be an immediate source for preventing sketchy situations.
“As a concert attendee if you are personally concerned, go up to the bar and order an angel shot. It will automatically alert staff to be aware of a situation to start monitoring/step in on your behalf,” Mat states.
4.) Genre Pushing Lineups
Another large conversation comes building diverse lineups and breaking out of your own bubble. Kate Malanaphy of Keep For Cheap shares “I’d love to see artists play with more different artists. It’s easy to fall into one subgroup of the local scene, speaking even from experience.” Maygen and The Birdwatcher agrees. “We’d love to see more cross-pollination of bands and artists. We truly believe the best magic and best community comes when artists collaborate and share in each others’ gifts.”
A group known for pushing genre borders, Good Morning Bedlam adds “I think we can continue to not feel boxed in by our genre. We can continue to invite in bands that are the fringes. The more we share with one another the more the scene will flourish.”
It’s very easy for bands to fall inline with other similar sounding groups. There’s a comfort in having a support system, unity in building fan-bases together, and ease of sticking together when booking shows. But no music fan is only a fan of one type of music. Variety is the spice of life and can help widen audiences and support, along with spreading networking opportunities for bands.
Jeremy Siers at KJ’s Hideaway shares that although they typically book one artist for one show, the weekends they host two shows, giving the artists a chance to network with new musicians. The offer, “One area to look at to meet new artists could be a jam session. We have a monthly jam session hosted by Ruby Blu and Dante from Space Monkey Mafia which attracts artists from all over.”
For venues, a multi-genre lineup can be a risk for attendance. Audiences struggle with large variations from the main headliner and possible openers. If booked and promoted properly, a varied lineup can work. The Hook & Ladder have shown this drive for creative booking with their community strengthening events and anniversary showcases.
KJ’s Hideaway are not the biggest fans of residencies, as they want to have as many performance slots for as many artists as they can. Jeremy is a strong advocate on artist communication and working through topics like these. He invites any artist that is curious to come on down and discuss new ideas they can further promote and support local music.
3.) Expand Our Diversity
The largest response from artists came with a call for more diverse representation. Lars Pruitt of Yam Haus wants to see more POC and female fronted bands in 2023. Willow Waters pushes for having more “Queer and POC in positions of leadership, namely as bookers, venue coordinators, venue owners, and live sound sound techs.”
Jaedyn James adds “I would kill for an inclusive local fat girl talk show about music or anything run by womxn or queer people that showcases the arts. We need more bipoc voices being heard and amplified. More grants for womxn, lgbtqi+, and bipoc people.”
Diane, host of The Local Show on The Current takes diversity and equal representation very seriously, especially as a lesbian BIPOC. “It certainly isn’t difficult to find outstanding artists on all background in our state. So I just always make sure it’s being represented on my program,” Diane discloses.
Supporting diversity begins with following voice of people who are different from you. Attend shows that offer something different, purchase merch from those artists, and help promote those voices. Music is an expression of the human experience. Artists are the most qualified to share their views and express things we all see and experience.
“Black artists in Minneapolis, in general, are finally being given more of a platform and more opportunity. I am heartbroken that it took the murder of a Black person (George Floyd) in broad daylight, to be given opportunities, to be heard,” SYM1 says. “I want to see our community show transparency on what actions they are taking to to support, uplift, and include Black artists.”
2.) Social Media Influenced Booking
At the core of gigs and decisions in this modern age is social media. Numbers, followers, and what you can draw is a huge factor for venues of all sizes. Social media is the constant business side to an artist. Nur-D states “So often very talented people don’t get the chance to show everyone how hard they’ve worked because their social media numbers don’t invoke dollar signs in the eyes of people who control performance spaces.”
The Immaculate Beings add that “there is a hierarchy happening here and it’s discouraging for so many up and coming artists.” Timisarocker also feels the pressure larger venues give local artists on drawing people, even on slower nights during the week. Instead he believes that they should be focusing on the music and building the scene with relationships.
“Social media numbers have a large impact on how we book, however it is one piece of the overall puzzle,” KJ’s discloses. “The realities are we need people to come to the shows in order to keep our lights on. Social media numbers can help indicate what kind of fan case an artist has.” KJ’s works to balance the need of providing time for artists who need experience and exposure while also booking artists who can reliably fill the room.
Diane at The Current offers advice for artists and handling their social media. “Venue marketing posts are necessary, yes. But they only reach venue followers. So if you want people to show up to your show, YOU must be the one posting. Remember that music fans WANT to hear and see from you. Don’t be afraid to post often. Be creative and mix it up. It’s a lot of work, but it’s what it requires if you really want your music to be heard.”
1.) Opportunity for Fresh Voices
The strength of any music community is in fresh voices. For bands that are starting out, any opportunity can be a huge boost in that growth. “While competition is great and we all have it in us, we should be building with each other at the same time,” Mae Simpson adds. As a more known band in the cities, Mae is always looking for ways to include acts that people do not know, extending those opportunities for new bands.
Bloodline wants to see more opportunities for larger bands partner with smaller acts based on their merit of talent and music. Monopolies that dominate the local scene by picking favorites instead of supporting new artists hinders growth in our community. If venues and bands can consistently look to book and include fresh voices, we encourage our scene to grow.
Mat Graske of Caydence invites more brave folks to start their own venues as there is a definite need for more 100-300 capacity venues. More venues equals more shows for our fresh new voices to develop, gain experience, and bolster our scene. Artists can also explore opportunities outside the traditional music venues by asking breweries, farmer markets, and coffee shops for ways to gain exposure.
Minnesota Music Coalition, Springboard for the Arts and the Mcknight Foundation are all great resources for musicians looking for funding for their art. Diane at The Current also urges musicians to network. “Musicians should also be aware that many producers around town are willing to record people in their home studios for free. Often producers and engineers value the experience. To find these people, you must establish a presence in our local music community by going out to shows and supporting other artists.”
We welcome any venue, musician, and decision maker in our community to share their thoughts in these discussions in the comments. Commit to make our community stronger for our artists. Commit to transparency, communication, and the great goal of a vibrant music scene in 2023.
A special thanks to the artists below that shared their voices to this discussion.