As venues close and cost of living rises, musicians meet to share tips on survival (corrected)
More than 30 artists and professionals from the Cambridge, Somerville and Boston music scene came together Thursday for a meetup organized by “Boston Emissions” radio personality Anngelle Wood so musicians could share experiences and ideas on making their work into a sustainable career.
Hours before the meeting came the news that The Middle East nightclub complex in Central Square was listed for sale, potentially reducing the number of places artists have to showcase their work and engage audiences in a city that has already lost several other art venues.
A panel of music professionals – Genie Santiago, Carissa Johnson, Edrie, promoter Steve Theo, Once Somerville talent booker Bridget Duggan, Jenny Bergman and Wood – talked and took questions from the public about music promotion on and offline, booking events, collaborating with artists from other genres, touring, crowdfunding and building foundations for a sustainable career in music. The theme at at the event, held at the Jungle Community Music Club in Somerville’s Union Square: reigniting the Boston music scene.
“This is really a hard city to stay in once you’re out of college, because it is so expensive,” said Edrie, of the band Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys. “It’s a very tough environment to sustain any sort of music career.”
Edrie, who manages her band, said that while clubs have closed – and The Middle East and its five stages have been off-limits since sexual assault allegations against an owner – she has found a way to create performance spaces by partnering with nonconventional venues. In 2017, four years of effort paid off when she booked a show at the Museum of Science in Boston.
For music artist Carissa Johnson, survival as a local musician is credited to leaving to play elsewhere.
Johnson recalled a scene 10 years ago, when she started playing in the city, that had “a lot of smaller places, and a lot more 18-plus shows. And now we’re seeing the decline of live music,” Johnson said. “It’s been discouraging – but it has also allowed me to find the need to tour.”
Santiago, an R&B and hip-hop independent artist, has also struggled to keep a sustainable career in music in an increasingly gentrified city. Santiago still needs to hold a full-time job to support her music career and pay her bills and said her secret to survival was a network of supporters.
“It’s expensive out here, and I feel like little by little I’m getting pushed out,” Santiago said. “I would go under if I was doing this by myself. I need to depend my friends and people who are more established, to share resources and create opportunities for each other.”
Johnson agreed that working together and building a community is the way forward for the local art scene. “We need a room full with people to figure this out: How can we make it better? How can we work together to make live music a thing that people get excited about?” Johnson said. “I think that if there’s a will, there’s a way.”
The conversation touched on ways of managing a social media presence, how to organize a do-it-yourself tour, what merchandise and promotional content artists must offer fans and ways to look effectively for collaboration opportunities and artist networking. That made the meetup valuable for Rayna, a singer in a new band called Muzzins.
“I’m interested in learning from people who have been there before. I’m looking for mentorship, guidance and role models,” Rayna said. “I love creativity, and when you get to see a room full of creative people together, something powerful happens.”
More meetups will be scheduled, Wood said. “We’re not going to solve the world’s problems,” she said, “but at least we’re going to get to know each other a little bit better.”
This post was updated Jan. 26, with corrections to details about the singer Rayna and the band Muzzins.