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My thoughts on why smaller venues play an important role in a new band’s formation

/ 12:00 AM February 28, 2017

I can still remember that it was in 2003 that I got to watch for the very first time in a small venue, several local indie bands. It was in a former Italian-themed restaurant which was roughly converted into a makeshift bar complete with a small stage, adequate lighting, and a simple yet effective sound system.

As I am trying to recall, it now blows my mind that at least three of those bands who were part of the big band line-up that night would become very successful and highly popular bands a few years later on down the road.

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In fact, one of those former indie bands is still around and doing very well to this day. That local band I am referring to is Sponge Cola. In fact, I ended up purchasing their very first EP a few days after I got to watch them perform. Deep down I knew these guys would make it big one day via their very impressive showing that night who got the crowd’s attention. That much sought after EP by Sponge Cola was made available in the now defunct Tower Records for a limited time before it was quickly declared out of stock.

Indeed, it is was very humble beginnings for a local band like Sponge Cola because now they are a household name here in the Philippines and have been since the mid-2000’s and that is where they had begun… in smaller venues that are often overlooked by many and not known to feature soon-to-be major bands in the making.

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Looking back… it made me realize that bands want to perform in front of a crowd whether it is in front of a handful of people or to a jam-packed capacity that would make the venue standing room only. They just want a fair chance to show what they can do and a “giving” crowd willing to listen appreciatively to them. Plus, exposure for them is another reason that these young, upstart and aspiring bands perform in smaller venues. Their musical journey has to begin somewhere.

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The importance of smaller venues

Which leads me to this and I can’t reiterate enough that it is essential and a must that all aspiring bands “test the waters” first in smaller venues before gradually moving up to bigger and better venues in the metro circuit. Why so?

Let me get down to the nitty-gritty here. Not everyone will like what I will say next but I was never one to mince words if I feel it is for the greater good and to be informative as much as possible to the uninformed and unaware.

Obviously, performing in front of a live audience is not for the faint of heart. You will not always be cheered, rooted for, or in rare case scenarios, even applauded for your efforts unless all those in attendance are supportive friends and family members as I had seen in the past when a band had zero talent and had no business being there in the first place.

I can cite another example… there was even one unfortunate instance when the indie band’s lead vocalist was so obviously nervous singing in front of a crowd that he was forgetting lines to their songs which led to some very awkward onstage interaction among the band members themselves while everyone else looking on was wondering what was going on?

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I could hear the people around me whispering and saying unsavory things about him. It got so bad that they were already booing the guy to stop attempting to finish the song and to just leave the stage instead and have the next band perform already.

This led to the band’s set to be abruptly cut short and to my knowledge, they have never performed again after that poor showing in their very first gig and what ultimately would be there last. That was a deal breaker for them as also a rude awakening. As an audience member that night, I should say that that was truly unfortunate because the rest of his band members had shown some direction were it not for the singer getting lost in the sound and being intimidated by a zealous crowd.

But that is the reality of the situation… you will never know the kind of people who are watching. And, of course, members of the crowd go to these gigs even in the smaller venues expecting the new bands they will watch to be at least confident enough of themselves that they can finish their entire set and have come fully prepared for the gig. Who in their right mind anyway would want to attend a gig expecting the worst to happen? You would always want to have an enjoyable night and get your money’s worth for the prize of the ticket stub or that ink stamp on your wrist.

Any way you look at it, especially from the band’s perspective, it is really a “tough way” of building up your confidence to be able to perform in front of a crowd who could either be the more laid-back type out to enjoy the night or the more rowdy and obnoxious type hell-bent on raising distractions and throwing disruptions throughout the night. More often than not, it is a mixed crowd. If you can perform, at least, fairly okay to great, then the set will go much smoother and without any problems. The crowd will cheer for you instead of booing you to get off the stage.

Because if you can’t handle a few dozen people looking at you and listening to you perform—Yeah, throw in a few smart a**** in the crowd because they will always be there—then what more with a few hundred people around if you come in unprepared or are too self-conscious? You might as well walk into a lion’s den with your hands tied behind your back if you are in one of the two aforementioned situations. Much better yet, do not even perform to save yourself the humiliation you will have set yourself up for in the first place.

You are really going to be on your own and the only people you can depend on are each other in the band. The bouncers can’t stop the crowd from booing or yelling obscenities at you if you keep flopping onstage in the middle of your set. It is something that you just have to avoid from happening by being ready the second you set foot on that stage. Practice, practice, practice and everything should turn out fine.

With everything said, you know now. You have to ask yourself if you are “made” for this and if you have what it takes to pursue this kind of career because the path to becoming a famous local band is a long and bumpy road full of twists and turns and you will be betrayed by not a few “snakes” along the way. These are the kinds of people you really have to watch out for and avoid at all costs because they will pretend to be your friend and backstab you in the end. Trust me… I know because I have had so many “off the record” conversations with numerous bands over the years.

Now going back to the subject at hand. Of course, it is always best to get the attention of the crowd the right way and that is through your music first because if they happen to have any preconceived negative notions about you, all of that unjust criticism can instantly change with a solid set of songs performed at your optimum best.

Then eventually, you will win over the crowd and will become one of their favorites to watch each time you get booked to perform in any venue, small or big. That is the traditional way of building up your following and garnering crowd support.

Currently, there are still a number of reputable smaller venues around in the metro for whom a huge number of bands—both indie and mainstream and for some who are in the middle of those two emerging “worlds”— have become “home”.

A few popular venues, though, have unfortunately closed down in the last several years. Thankfully, this has not dampened the desire in most of these bands to continue playing in any other venue that would welcome them with open arms. As a fan, I would certainly miss these bands should they decide to stop gigging simply because there are not enough venues left. I dread that thought from ever happening.

To the uninformed, there are a lot of “hidden gems” performing in these smaller venues as I have discovered on my own the first time I went to a venue more than a decade ago. While a majority of bands who are new are still rough and in the process of finding their true selves musically, one thing that cannot be denied is the passion they all have to do this. That quality will always bring out the best in them and you will hear it in their songs.

On a final note, to all the owners of the smaller venues in the Philippines who provide a stage and audience for the young, aspiring and upstart bands to perform in, you are doing a great service in ensuring that these bands get their chance to improve their musical skills in front of a live audience. In the process, you give them hope to chase their dreams. Indeed, you will never know. One day, some of those bands you had given the opportunity to perform when they were still unknown to many will belong to the next batch of bands to become BIG.

This is a never-ending productive cycle that greatly benefits young and aspiring bands in motivating them further to hone their craft until they become seasoned musicians. I do hope this cycle will remain for generations to come.

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