What’s “The Scene” and How do I Sign up?
A “scene” is typically any recognizable social group, or a subculture that’s known for a specific niche or interest. In Flagstaff there are all kinds of scenes, for example, the poetry scene has a solid group of people who usually meet to perform poems for each other. There’s also a biking scene, a skating scene, and even a country cover band scene. For this article, the scene I’m referring to is the music scene, but more specifically, the younger/college music scene, one that’s more drawn to rock, punk, and experimental genres. You’d be surprised at how many music scenes are thriving in smaller towns; you don’t need to be in a big city or a college town to find people who are inspired by music and dedicated to bringing the musical community together. That being said, it can still be difficult to navigate the scene and find out where shows are happening.
Scenes are heavily genre-influenced and some genres mix better than others, such as rock and punk, rather than EDM and country. While all of these scenes can exist in a single town, some scenes will have a stronger presence than others based on what kind of bands and artists are local. If there are a lot of punk bands in a town, you can expect there to be a strong punk scene. For example, Flagstaff has a lot of up and coming indie rock and punk bands, so the shows (small concerts/gigs) you’d go to here will be filled with people who like those genres.
If you’re into music and you want to go to more live shows, this article will guide you through the process of becoming more connected with your local music scene. Since Covid-19 has changed the way the live music industry works, a lot of these tips may seem obsolete (see go to shows), nevertheless over the course of the last year, many artists have come up with Covid-Safe practices to keep us all safe while keeping the spirit of live music going, such as livestreams. Since most of these tips were made up before the Covid-19 Pandemic, there will be an extra section at the end of this article to discuss the impacts of the virus on live music and how getting into the scene has changed.
Find where the music is at
Let’s pretend that you’ve just moved to a new city in a new state and you want to get yourself situated into the scene right away. Your first step should always be to find where the music is at. This means going onto the internet and researching where the venues in your town are, which mostly turn out to be bars, but you never know what you’ll find if you don’t look! Once you've found venues in or near your town, follow them on social media if possible. Instagram is good; Facebook is usually better because it has an event function that archives old events and shows upcoming ones. You can go through those, pick out local band names, and follow those artists on social media as well. Following bands helps you find other bands in the area, as well as other venues.
Go to shows
The whole point of wanting to get in the scene is to know where all the cool shows are, right? So start going to the shows you find!
If you’re alone at first, that’s fine, I used to go to shows by myself all the time. I know how daunting it can be to show up to bands setting up on stage, people starting to crowd the venue, and no familiar faces in sight. The thing that helped me get comfortable with the thought of being alone at a show was telling myself that I was there for the music and nothing else. It’s easier to let your walls down when you know what you’re there for. I personally made a lot of good friends through dancing by myself at shows- if you start dancing, most likely, people will dance with you and you won’t be alone anymore.
If dancing isn't your thing, you can always just sit in the back and enjoy the music if you like a band, maybe go up to them after a set and tell them that you liked what they played. It might seem intimidating, but bands are just a bunch of people who got together to create and most of the time, the members will be very open to praise and conversations about their music.
Use social media to make connections
My second tip is to try and make friends with people you see regularly at shows, get their contact information, and BOOM- you suddenly have a possible person to go to shows with and also another source of information about what’s going on in the music scene. There’s a reason old (and new) show flyers say “ask a punk” instead of giving out an address; Scenes rely heavily on community based interactions and word of mouth to survive.
Social media also makes it easier than ever to find shows and to make friends with people who are already established in the music scene. You can look at posts to find new venues, bands, and events that the musical community is hosting. You can also reach out to local promoters and bands, ask them what their favorite local artists are or where you can find more creative spaces in town. I even started an account on Instagram, @Flagstaffmoshsociety, to make this endeavor easier. Most of the time, small bands and artists love to interact with their fanbase, but the worst that can happen is that they don’t respond.
Stay active in the scene
Sometimes you’ll hear people say how the scene is “dead” or “dying” and usually that means there are no local bands playing shows or events going on. One way to prevent this from happening is getting involved in the scene yourself. Keep commenting on artists posts, listen to their new singles, and tell your friends about shows or live streams going on. When shows are happening, go to them, and bring people if you can. The scene is essentially the people who are in it, and with no people actively putting time into spreading the love of music, it will inevitably dwindle out. Artists are just as important as the people who support them in a scene. With no music, there’s no scene, but with no people to enjoy the music, there’s still no scene.
How to get connected in a post-Covid-19 world
Obviously now, you’re not going to be going to shows and dancing with strangers. It’s not safe to go to shows, and for the most part, shows are not being booked. While this may seem like a barrier to getting into the scene, there is still social media!Facebook is a great tool because there are tons of groups made specifically for regional and smaller scenes. Even the small town I’m from in the middle of the desert has its own group where people regularly post their band’s new music, live streams, and updates about events. Instagram is a great platform for bands and promoters to hold live streams. People are holding online open mics. Artists are collaborating and throwing online festivals. This is the new age of going to shows and keeping the scene alive- technology has been a great tool for connecting people together when connecting in person is no longer an option.
I hope these tips were helpful, almost all of them were derived from experience and my own personal opinions on what keeps a scene afloat. I was first introduced to live music in my small town, where there was a really tight-knit scene. When I moved to Flagstaff, I had no idea how to get back into the music scene, and I had to do a lot of guesswork and flyer hunting downtown. These strategies helped me find new music, new friends, and a new passion for live music; I hope they do the same for you.