Whalen: DIY success found in audience

Philly’s house show culture boom stems from participation.

The Mezingers played a surprise house show at Golden Tea House in West Philly on April 22. | Rachel Del Sordo TTN
The Mezingers played a surprise house show at Golden Tea House in West Philly on April 22. | Rachel Del Sordo TTN

On April 22, Philadelphia rockers The Menzingers played a last-minute album release show at the Golden Tea House in West Philly. The show was announced early in the day for that night. Within 14 minutes of the doors opening, the show was sold out, packed wall to wall with sweaty punks. 

For me, it’s awesome that this kind of energy exists.

For example, one of my favorite Facebook comments from a fan on the Golden Tea House’s initial announcement of the show read, “We’re driving four hours and breaking a kid out of school ‘Ferris Bueller’ style to make this. Hope we get in.”

So as the semester ends and everyone’s minds avert to panic mode as finals begin, it’s worth talking about what that energy can mean for the summer. Whether you are staying in the city or going home to suburbia, there is no reason your Philly angst can’t stick around.

While for some, summer break means beach trips, retail jobs and additional classes, for bands all around, it’s open season to make stuff happen. Many musicians don’t have empty calendars just waiting for gigs to fill the dates.

School and work keep many grounded in their hometown, save a couple high-mileage weekend shows.

Come summer, however, class lets out and vacation days kick in. Whether it’s cross-country touring, taking the time to write new material or spending a few weeks in the studio, the next few months are a great time to do it.

So what does that have to do with the audience? How does that energy I mentioned play into what bands are doing?

Because the audience is the fuel that drives the scene.

Something that is often lost on people is the importance of the consumer. Think back to Econ 101 for a minute and remember the basic laws of supply and demand. If no one is demanding, what’s the point of supplying?

While we all love the Hollywood image of a couple of friends playing in their basement and getting discovered by Columbia Records off of a YouTube video, it probably isn’t going to happen. Even the modern Internet stars that did get seemingly discovered overnight only did so after they obtained an exorbitant number of plays or hits.

The point is, the audience has to play their role in keeping the scene moving. Nothing is more frustrating for a band than to drive an insane number of hours to a venue to end up playing to the sound guy. Even if you take money out of the equation and pretend that gasoline can be substituted with good cheer and laughter, you can still imagine the irritation of performing to an empty room.

Most local musicians that I’ve encountered are realists. They aren’t playing house shows so that they can jump on MTV the next day. They play them because they enjoy doing so and they want the audience to find enjoyment in their music as well. Bands don’t record new music because its members think it will make it on Billboard, but because they have a passion and want to share it.

But part of being a realist is knowing when no one cares. And that reality can stop those creative dreams pretty quickly.

So my advice? Show you care. Attend a show, buy – or at least download – new music and represent some local band merchandise. Get that fuel pumping for summer.

Philly’s scene is blistering with excitement at the moment. As seen at that Menzinger’s show, the energy levels are up. So go ahead and be a part of it. Jump on Facebook and Twitter and see who is playing where. Listen to some new tunes. (I recommend Roof Doctor’s new album, “Mobile Freedom Home.”)

If there’s a theme to what I wrote about this semester, it’s that the local scene is not a clique, or a select group of people. Anyone can join the party. The venues are people’s basements, the musicians are poor college kids and the music is worth listening to. Whether you want to jump on stage as a musician or jump off the stage as a fan, the floor is yours.

Jared Whalen can be reached at jared.whalen@temple.edu.

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