Me and my roommate like to watch silly obscure TV shows at night when the workday is done and it’s time to crack a few beers and whip out the guitars. Right now we’re watching a show from the mid-2000’s called My Name Is Earl. It tells the story of a former petty criminal trying to make good by rebalancing his karma. This got me thinking as I sat on my couch this morning hung over from a late night birthday celebration – what do you need to do to balance your karma in the music world? And if we’re being honest – does karma even matter? After all – I’m always saying that the music industry is capitalism at its finest, so worrying about karma really could be viewed as unnecessary – of course, as I’m sure you can guess, this is simply not true – karma is key, especially in the hyper capitalist world of the music industry.
Some people don’t see this though. If we’re being honest – very few people see this, it’s one of the key problems of the industry. A lot of people see the pure capitalism of the music industry and take advantage of that, not realizing that they are in fact screwing themselves over for the future. Establishing your karma goes beyond just being a ‘good dude’ and ‘supporting your scene’ although those are definitely key factors. Establishing your karma is more about proving that you not only are a part of that all-important community (Which we of course discussed in a previous article) but that you are an asset to it.
As elitist as it might sound most bands are something of a drain on the scene until they hit a very vital turning point when they start to generate income by drawing large amounts of people to their shows. In my experience this usually happens when you can start getting 30 or more people to come to your local shows and you open primarily for touring bands. Until then people are really doing you a favor by putting you on their shows. Obviously bookers have an obligation to have integrity and not mess up (And Lord knows I’ve messed up a lot) but that’s part of their own karma. If you mess up shows as a booker and ruin peoples days then they are not going to want to work with you. The point being – until you are turning a profit for others, you’re contributing to the scene yes, but really you are asking other people to do favors for you rather than the other way around. You might not like this reality, I certainly don’t, but it’s something that we all need to deal with.
So if your band is in some ways a drain on the scene what do you do to help make it move forward and give the scene a reason to grow? Well – the best bet in my experience is to contribute to the scene in ways beyond your band. Obviously your art is important and should be a priority, but you will find that if you are willing to book shows, document the scene, let bands sleep on your floor, attend all of your friends gigs and generally be a part of what moves the whole thing forward then people are going to want to work with you more. If you are the kind of dude who is at every show and is always just being nice, buying drink and generally being a stand up dude then the scene is going to profit because of you and those who matter will see that.
Yes there are people who really are only in it for themselves and they often do well at first. They set up shows, send out massive amounts of emails, but don’t really bother to care about other bands. They don’t necessarily realize how important their karma is in the industry. But if you become that poser who books pay to play shows and asks for outlandish riders then gradually, no matter how established you are, a new generation of bands who are more dedicated to their core punk principles and DIY ethics are going to come out and start ignoring your work. You need to stay true to the DIY ethos and remember why you got into this thing in the first place – otherwise you are doomed to failure before you begin.
The basic principle of karma is that if you do good things then good things will happen to you. If you look at it in a vacuum that’s essentially how indie music scenes work. If you get your buddy on the list to a show, then he is going to be more willing to help hook up your band with an opening slot with some touring band he knows. If you help to get bands that draw well to a show that your friend is struggling to book then everybody will benefit. These are the types of things that make scene function and help us to find a way forward. It’s not the music always the music that helps establish your band as much as being the guy who everyone can rely on and knows they can count on to help hook up concerts, give advice to others and generally act as a contributing and friendly member of the scene.
It does get better for those who lay it all on the line for their music scene and who strive to be contributing members of something greater – but remember, you can’t count on anyone until they regularly deliver. You need to establish your karma quite a bit before people start trusting you and advancing you the money that you need and deserve. Word gets out about anything you do – regardless of how much you try to hush it up – so if you really screw up, you might be screwed for a while (I have literally moved cities because I messed up so badly in music) but if you do well, well, people just might perk up and work with you to grow the whole scene.