Look to Johnny Hugel, a soft-spoken, long-suffering booster of the indie music scene. As half of local music promoter Hit/Play (with Jonathan Lee), Hugel spends part of his time bringing bands to Richmond that don't have the marketing engine behind them to get shows or that don't think of our city as a viable spot on the map. Hugel's seen local bands grow and shrink and says marketing (or self-promotion) is an endurance game.
"When bands first start out, they have some vigor and energy that propels them," he says. It's all buttons and posters for a while, he says, but then "they just think, 'Oh, I'm too old for that.'" He says it's a rare thing for bands to design and send promotional material for show after show, but those that do make the effort like the lonely instrumentalist frontiersmen of Tulsa Drone turn shows into a "special event."
"I think those are the bands that kind of stick out in your mind," Hugel says.
Lee, fellow Hit/Play-er and member of the instrumental group Souvenir's Young America, offers a more sobering opinion of the game. "You can promote the hell out of a show and that doesn't always help it," he says. Lee, whose own band attracts the curious because of its punctuation, says there are three ways to generate an audience.
A. Be in a band with members who have a "huge friend-base." You'll have an audience of pals!
B. Be a band that "promotes a party atmosphere." Such groups as VCR and Pink Razors lure listeners with their high fun quotient.
C. Stick around. Richmond audiences are slow to come around sometimes, so the band that can struggle through five years of poor attendance might find the cultural tastes shifting its way.
Beyond that, Hugel says it's an obscure combination of talent, exposure and luck that ensures a band will pass along its musical DNA to another generation of musicians or fans.
For those bands that have no inclination toward stapling thousands of flyers to telephone poles, Web sites like MySpace.com are a way to potentially get music to 77 million folks without even having to put on pants. Which brings us to Richmond's Ohmega Men, an underground hip-hop trio that is using MySpace as well as eBay and Craigslist, not only for exposure, but also to garner sponsorship for a European tour. The deal: For about $6,000, the Ohmega Men will promote a sponsor's product at those European shows. No takers yet, but they're not giving up.
Most bands are simply using MySpace as a networking tool, posting songs, show dates and photos. It's a way of leveling the playing field, because now it seems every musician must have a presence there in order to not be drowned by the tide of progress. Even The Rolling Stones have a MySpace account, with 5,700 "friends," so all the kids can send poorly spelled get-well messages to Keith.
But then, Avail has 4,200 friends not too shabby. So let's do a little exploring, and see if we can navigate our way across Richmond's music scene.
Networking! From Avail's page, you can head over to Pink Razors, on to Liza Kate, then to Cheap Seats, Aircraft, and Fighting Gravity where it stops, because apparently all their friends are groupies. Or go from Aircraft to You Guys Are Girls (and look they're friends with Rilo Kiley!), to Red Anthem, to Heath Haynes (now in Memphis) before spinning off to Brazil with the legendary Os Mutantes.
So in terms of getting the name out there, it pays to be friendly. And now isn't that what your mother always told you? SBack to Natural Selection