Did Technology Kill Your Local Music Scene?

Diver_shortsThe internet forever changed how we consume and create music as individuals… but what about as groups? Anyone from the pre-internet music era will surely tell you stories of how particular cities possessed distinct musical personalities, aka music scenes… but do they exist today? Can they exist today like they used to? And what does that mean for talent now? 


Concert mobile phoneBy independent digital strategist Hisham Dahud 

This conversation was sparked during a recent episode of my weekly podcast On Repeat with artist manager Derek Brewer, talking about how bands progress today when he mentioned, "back when there were real local scenes for bands…" 

I had to stop him and follow up:

He's not wrong.

Think back to San Francisco in the late 1960s with the hippie movement. Or Washington, D.C. in the early 1980s with hardcore music. Or Athens, Georgia in the mid-‘80s with indie rock. Manchester, England in the 1990s, and of course Seattle in the 90s with the rise of grunge. 

The common thread?

Groups of likeminded musicians in a given region would absorb the same music culture. They'd listen to the same music, shop at the same record stores, read the same magazines and perform at the same venues. Once a really good band or artist did something that really resonated for everyone else, others emulated it and you had the birth of a sound specific to that city. That sound also was usually followed by a distinct lifestyle component that then was exported around the world. 

In other words, those select bands who broke through had to build followings on their own and learned to build a business (or semblance of one) around their ability to draw crowds locally. Building a touring business from there was thus an evolutionary step. 

Today, however, places for people to congregate around music culture seemingly don't exist on a regional level anymore. Sure, there are local venues… but the need to build, sustain and spread "a scene" is seemingly not as imperative for bands and artists (and even fans) anymore. Growing up with the internet, many young artists are instinctually thinking, "why focus on my backyard when the world is waiting?"

As a result, newer artists today are advised told to produce as much content as possible instead of building a local community for support. Instead, those communities are built on social media without regional boundaries. And once someone does discover a breakthrough talent, you don't see labels, industry execs or consumers looking to a band or artist's hometown for similar talent anymore. 

Beyond digital, physical played a role as well… the death of physical music. A great piece in The Guardian once summarized it well:

"Where scenes coalesced in the past, it was often around a record shop or a club where people could hear particular sounds. In the late 80s, for example, regulars at the Hacienda were able to hear the Chicago house and Detroit techno imports that underpinned Madchester. Right up to the mid-90s, people would ask their friends for recommendations and share mixtapes, even if those friends were obsessives like High Fidelity's Dick and Barry, championing anything obscure and ridiculing the ignorant.

The internet, and all it entails – MySpace, social networking, file-sharing, blogs – has destroyed the importance of the physical ownership of music. Now, everyone has access to every kind of music, digitally and instantly. We no longer depend on other people and their imports, club nights and mixtapes to discover new sounds."

Obviously there are great benefits to having such wide and instantaneous reach, especially for independent artists, but there is something to be said about the communal effort of a group of people coming together to forge something unique that spreads. Plus, having this sort of access is a huge win for consumers, especially those that don't live in a town with a thriving music community. 

In the end though, is it really all the internet's fault? What about us as music fans and consumers? How about labels? Should they hold some responsibility in fostering local communities and emphasizing the important of supporting regional talent? Does anyone even care that talent is local or not anymore?


Hisham Dahud is an independent digital strategist based in Downtown Los Angeles. He hosts a weekly music/tech podcast called On Repeat and also lectures adjunctly at ICON Collective. Follow him on Twitter @HishamDahud.

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  1. More connected than ever? I think not. I started working in the record business at Discount Records in Berkeley, CA. In the early seventies working at a good record store, i.e. 20,000 titles +, was a very sought after gig.
    It was a community and I met lots of great people and had instant rapport through a shared passion; music. Years later when I was managing a band in LA, looking for that deal, I used to go to Tower Records on Sunset at least once a week and sometimes on a Friday Night when I had nothing else going on.
    It was crowded, music was playing and there was so much to check out. We didn’t need to lose it all, so fast. First piracy, then iTunes, which took us back to the singles era of the fifties and early sixties, then Spotify played on that frustration and got the labels to cut a deal that included NEW RELEASES. The knockout blow that sent the remaining sales of physical music to the mat. Never should of happened, but it did. That and a free “legitimate” tier that made young people feel stupid if they actually bought music.
    Now the biggest problem? Stream ripping, lots of it. So if streaming is so f…ing awesome and the only future why are 30% of streamers downloading music to their hard drives?
    I’ve got over one thousand albums in my living room and when people come over that’s where lot’s of them go first. Never have been asked if they can look at my computer and check out my music. Same with books. I love it when I go over to someone’s house and they have lot’s of books.
    I don’t like it, I feel ripped off

  2. Technology can also be good for Indie and established artists seeking custom instrumentation added to their songs giving them that full band ensemble sound. I used jamsz recording studio online from the comfort of my own home and my vocals and songs are now a full production EP.

  3. I don’t think the scene has gone away, it’s just underground. You’re not going to be able to find it in the yellow pages, you need to go where the subversive and emerging musicians hang out. I help run a rehearsal facility in San Francisco and we are expanding early next year due to the demand. At the beginning of this summer, we began hosting bands for a free monthly showcase. After our second, we had to expand to Slim’s.
    There’s a community of hungry fans waiting for you. You need to find and connect them!

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