I went to a concert recently. Not a big one at the Bell Centre, but a small one at a bar. Maybe 100 people in attendance. It's not something I do often, but I went that night for two reasons: I knew people in the band (Montreal's The Jimmyriggers) and it was a rare Saturday night off from work and I felt I should take advantage of it.
As it happens, I enjoyed myself. I sat down at a table with Gazette music critic Bernie Perusse, who happened to be there that night with a friend, and the three of us nodded at each other repeatedly through both the opening act, folk-country musician Sarah Jane Scouten, and the set from the Jimmyriggers. Perusse later gave the show a good review on the Words and Music blog.
I'm not a music critic, so I can't tell you in great detail why I liked what I did (and didn't like what I didn't). But I liked what I heard enough that I bought the latest albums from both artists.
After the show, I approached Scouten at the bar to tell her how much I enjoyed the show. We struck up a conversation in which she thanked me for buying her album. With the sincerity and encouragement normally reserved for large cash donations to struggling third-world charities, she said:
"Thank you for supporting local music."
I felt kind of guilty. The number of music CDs I have purchased in my lifetime could be carried in one hand. I'm hardly an aficionado of local music, and my purchases that night were the exception rather than the rule.
But what stunned me most about that conversation was
that a pretty girl was talking to me at a bar how unsupported local artists feel, particularly by media. In an age where it's easier than ever to communicate and produce, why are so many still struggling to get noticed?
One thing we've lost in the reduction of local programming in broadcast media is a place where art can be showcased. Sure, you can have a 30-second interview in a two-minute TV news piece promoting an upcoming show, but CTV News isn't going to invite a musical guest to come in and play a few songs. Really the only place where I've seen live performances on local English-language television is Global Montreal's weekend Focus Montreal show, and those involve musicians coming into a cramped, all-green studio that's not at all designed to facilitate the broadcast of music.
On radio, local bands are invited to perform live, but even then the exposure is limited. Major commercial stations relegate these types of shows to hours when the number of listeners is low. With the exception of Mitch Melnick at CKGM, there aren't many big-time announcers in commercial radio that go out of their way to promote local music. And campus and community radio stations just don't have the audience to give enough of a push to local artists.
There are people out there who are trying to compensate for this problem. There's Said the Gramophone. There's Midnight Poutine with its weekly podcast featuring artists who have upcoming shows in the city. They're also planning their first concert for next Friday.
But it would be nice to combine the desire to promote local music with the desire for mainstream media to connect with a younger audience. Surely there's a win-win situation here. If I can enjoy this music, surely others will as well, so long as they get a chance to hear it.
Sarah Jane Scouten performs Wednesday, April 18 at Bar L'Esco (4467 St. Denis).
Midnight Poutine's inaugural local concert, featuring Reversing Falls, Honheehonhee and CTZNSHP, is Friday, March 16 at 9pm at Jackie & Judy (6512 Ave. du Parc). Tickets are $10. See the Facebook event and join the Facebook group for info on future concerts.