#1. Indie Music
I spent my college years struggling in the independent music scene, playing woefully uncomplicated songs on an acoustic guitar like it was the coolest thing in the world, apparently unaware that several people way more talented than me had attempted this very thing before.
Warner Bros. Records
And several way less talented people have attempted it since.
Without exception, every single musician I have ever played a show with has been gracious, encouraging, and welcoming. Amazingly, it's the people who are on the fringes of the scene that are the problem. Record store owners, show promoters, and fans ("fans" here meaning "fans of the scene" and not "fans of music") tend to be some of the shittiest people you can imagine. It's a collection of professional armchair critics who risk absolutely nothing yet can't be bothered to nurture the community or create any music themselves. The scene is more important than the music to them, and they want to keep the scene in as tiny a bubble as they possibly can. So they ridicule any newcomers that weren't approved by college radio or Pitchfork magazine by simply repeating opinions they have either heard or read without offering anything of their own to the mix. (Because if you do, you might say the wrong thing and lose your scene points, and then you will be shipped off to rap metal camp.)
Where you will be issued an iPod full of 10,000 copies of "Break Stuff."
Case in point: One night at an open mic, some classic beard-glasses hipster in the back looked up from his computer after I'd finished playing my first song and asked if I took requests. This is a terrifying question, because I don't know how to play too many songs besides the ones I have specifically written with my limited vocal range and skill set in mind. I kind of mumbled something along the lines of "Well, I'll try, what do you want to hear?" And Baldo McBeardface (he was bald, too -- the universe stole his hair for being a cock trumpet) proudly announced, "I will give you $10 to stop playing."
In his defense, back then I looked like I really needed $10.
I will be the first to admit that I am by no means a mind-blowing talent. I will never be able to make my living as a musician, and I will never achieve the respect and adoration of a Haddaway or a Justin Guarini. But give this a listen for a minute or so, if you can:
Regardless of whether you like the song, it probably isn't the absolute worst thing you've ever heard. It is by no means the most aggressively unforgivable mountain of fiendshit ever bled from the anus of a Goatwhore roadie. At worst it's utterly forgettable. However, rather than simply ignoring me and continuing to troll Friendster for the teenage James Joyce fans he was still capable of impressing, Beardhead Q. Taintbutter decided to show the entire coffee shop how clever he was by belittling the 20-year-old kid perched clumsily on a stool in the front for singing songs he wrote in his bedroom to anyone who wanted to listen. I mean, it was open mic night. The whole point of an open mic is for people to get together and perform stuff without any expectations. If you're just there to watch, dead silence or polite applause is really all you're supposed to contribute unless somebody is up there spitting racism into a microphone. But that's absolutely the norm for tons of scenesters -- hate everything, but don't contribute. Then you win, I guess.
Jack Newton via Commons.Wikimedia.org
People have to see you being trendy and aloof, though, or else it doesn't count.
There was a seriously trendy record store near my college that had shows once or twice a week, and I bothered these guys constantly to let me play, even just a 10-minute set to open for another band. And I gave them a copy of my first album as soon as I got it pressed (you can still find it on iTunes and Amazon if you're feeling really, really charitable about decade-old CDs today) and asked them if they could please review it on their website. I didn't sell them a copy, mind you, or ask for a good review. I gave them a copy for free, as a local musician whose face they recognized because I came into their store all the time, and I asked them to write whatever they wanted about it, just to get it out there.
Keep in mind that this wasn't in Seattle or New York or Los Angeles or D.C. The scene where I lived wasn't fiercely competitive so much as nonexistent. But they never agreed to let me play, and they never wrote a single thing about my album. In fact, I came into the store a few weeks later and saw it priced for sale in their used record section. I gave them an album that I'd spent what little money I had to record and produce as a struggling young musician in the very scene they claimed to support, and although they wouldn't deign to write even a shitty review about it on their website, they were more than happy to turn around and sell it for a 100 percent profit. The joke is on them, though, because I am certain that no one ever bought it.