POSTED ON DECEMBER 19, 2012:
Why voices of dissent may save the scene
Despite the recent recession, Tulsa has maintained enough affluence not only to fund massive overhauls of once derelict neighborhoods, but also has found room enough in its pockets to give the arts a boost.
Not all art is flourishing in Tulsa though. According to some entrenched in the industry, Tulsa music has stagnated. Despite Tulsa's commitment to music and the arts, why would some say that city's music has ceased to diversify and flourish?
In general, there are four areas which must be scrutinized when delving deeper into Tulsa's music: the fans, the bands, the venues, and the publicity.
A veteran of Tulsa music, Anthony "PDA" Jenkins has witnessed the scene both as an audience member and an artist, both experiences existing in stark contrast to one another.
"I started performing when I was around 19," Jenkins said. "I didn't know much about the music scene at that age. I didn't even know there was a such thing as local bands because I never went out to see shows unless it was a bigger act like Kottonmouth Kings or Bone Thugs or events like Edgefest and Birthday Bash."
Awareness of local music is indeed half the battle according to Gary "Turbo" Webb, host of RSU Radio's Metal Meltdown.
"I keep reiterating this to bands: they need to get merchandise, make hand fliers, make posters. They need to street team and DIY the hell out of promotion. You can't rely on the promoters to make the show successful. You have to take the ball into your own court," Webb said.
The promotional aspect of local music may be in the hands of the artists, but the availability of space in which to perform is an essential aspect of the equation beyond their control.
In the last year alone, downtown Tulsa has seen the Guthrie Green and the Henry Zarrow Center for Arts and Education built in record time. Another development that has contributed to Tulsa's local music is the renovation of The Marquis and its reopening as the Vanguard.
More venues can make a world of difference in the scene, as it is up to each establishment's discretion to decide who they allow to play.
Local metal artists initially had a difficult time getting booked at the Vanguard, but in the interest of profit the venue now has no such prohibitions, according to Justin Espinales of Two Minutes Hate.
This example serves to highlight the important role economics plays in the fashioning of a music scene, as it is not only the taste of those funding the construction of new venues but the complex interactions of musical cliques that determine who plays where and why.
As guitarist for punk band The Brave Boys and drummer for garage rock project The Levitators, Cameron Clouser has witnessed the ins and outs of pitching your band to a prospective venue.
"I know people who can play anywhere and are totally acknowledged as being some of the best players in Tulsa," Clouser said. "Yet maybe the best bar doesn't want them because it isn't their cup of tea. Venues and bars can be very opinionated. To them it's just business. At times politics have been known to play key roles in who gets to play where."
Unlike other art forms flourishing in the Tulsa area, such as independent film helped greatly by the Circle Cinema, and the local performance and visual arts supported by the Tulsa Artists Coalition and Living Arts of Tulsa, the primary support local music has is a local following.
This aspect of music is a void often filled by youth, Jenkins explained.
"Any smart musician will tell you that they want to play for the youth. Once you have a young fan, you have a fan forever. No smart musician every underestimates the power of the youth," he said. "We try to control the power."
A vibrant music scene is essential to both the cultural and socioeconomic foundations of a community, and T-Town has had many incarnations in its lifetime as a city. It can often be difficult to nail down the crucial point upon which musical success hinges, and even more difficult to define its stumbling blocks.
Some such as Webb see the partisan approach to local music as one such obstacle.
"Fans really need to stop being so elitist about music and stop being afraid to experience something new and different," he said.
Further highlighting the ebb and flow of popular music, Jenkins believes that a resurgence for local bands is in the cards for Tulsa.
"After this DJ/club trend is over, you will see more kids picking up guitars and starting up bands and maybe a new music scene will emerge," he said.
With enough new construction and older venues available, it is musicians who bear the weight of business and promotion, and the population of T-Town who bear the weight, in significant part, of the success or failure of their city's music.
"Whatever brings in thirsty customers or is good, that's what they will keep," Clouser said.
The hard-line, business oriented nature of the auditory arts is a sobering reality. It is important to grasp the transient nature of live music and cast it in contrast to a more stable reality, evaluating comparatively the importance of community involvement.
"You have to get up off the couch and get to a live show," Webb said. "Facebook and the television will be there when you get home."
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