One of my favorite things about the Athens music scene is how it’s perceived from the outside. Usually when some entertainment reporter/lifestyle blogger talks about it, they trot out the ol’ “home of R.E.M. And the B-52s” line. As well they should, considering those bands are our most famous exports that aren’t drenched in red and black. We have nationally (and internationally) recognized talent that can be tossed into nearly every press release in town and it evokes an immediate reaction. Very few people can claim to dislike both bands when they’ve heard them. So that’s nice.
What bothers me, though, is that is where it usually ends. Well, ok, sometimes there is mention of the Elephant Six collective with our resident indie darlings Neutral Milk Hotel. That gets us a bit further but I rarely see acts like Drive-By Truckers and Widespread Panic name checked. I usually chalk this up to the fact that Panic, as a long-touring jam band, is seen as an almost rootless spiritual entity and DBT hasn’t broken through to the mainstream as much as they deserve. All valid. All understood.
But at some point we’ve stopped having that musical name recognition for our modern era acts. I’m left to think that either a) we just don’t have any good ones (LIES) or b) the advent of the Internet has amplified everyone at all times, drowning out scene voices such as ours. I’m leaning more towards letter “b.” I mean, I run a music website. I know how many TONS of emails I get a day from indie and pop bands alike that I never get to read. Literally everyone is in a band. We’re coming back to the gatekeeper model where sites depend on PR folk to send quality stuff and the rest gets tossed aside. The danger comes from when everyone is covering the exact same thing and the great stuff gets shut out for the popular good stuff.
So why not change directions a bit? I’m aware that I’m just spouting opinion here so stay with me. Our two biggest bands are done. Why not start aggressively marketing Athens as an INDIE MUSIC INDUSTRY MECCA? Let’s see if we can’t get some more labels here. How about music oriented tech companies? Folk who will stay small-ish but pack that critical punch? R.E.M. laid that groundwork a long time ago when they chose to stay here instead of moving somewhere like NYC.
One of the lovely not so secret secrets about Athens music is that we’re very fond of ourselves. There’s a lot of reasons to be, honestly. Historic, great venues. Interesting bands. Long history of awesomeness. But we can’t keep riding on the past. Let’s build on it instead. Take those same independent ideals and apply them to this new age of Athens. Let’s figure out how to keep our talent in all areas from leaving us for ATL and NYC and the like. We’re proud of our music here, let’s see if we can’t start helping musicians and others in the music business make a decent living. Let’s start playing on the world stage again.
Any practical ideas? Leave ’em down in the comments!