|Photo by: Kaitrin McCoy|
The local scene in Athens is a curious thing. While our little college town has its bigwigs, such as Southeast Engine or Duke Junior and the Smokey Boots, there are dozens and dozens of other bands who are just trying to make it.
Academics and clubs can consume an extraordinary amount of time for the average student, and that doesn't necessarily leave room on their schedule for the commitment of a band. Writing songs, rehearsing, and finding gigs culminate into a full-time job for thousands of people. So, why add these stresses to the college life? Why even join a band in the first place?
For upcoming singer-songwriter Kaitrin McCoy, music became an emotional outlet after she came to Ohio University not knowing a single soul.
"When I came here and I wasn't doing anything with music, I think I was just craving it and I needed some sort of outlet. I was having boy drama my fall quarter freshman year and that's always a nice impetus," she said. "You know, I didn't really trust anyone enough to tell them everything about myself, but I trusted my piano and my voice to do it."
Others, such as alternative rock band Dr. Beat and the Beatoffs, got into the scene for a simple good time.
"It's just so fun to play at shows and get people moving. We do it for the satisfaction, in that sense," said lead singer and guitarist Ian LeSage.
However, these things can take some to time to fully develop. In a three-person band, such as Dr. Beat, meeting the right people and finding your groove together can be a process. LeSage and bassist John Kammerer went to the same high school, where they unsuccessfully tried to start a ska band.
After coming to OU, LeSage and drummer Nick Kopko were roommates their sophomore year, and after a rocky start, the two joined First Street Heat. This trio of music majors then decided to start something of their own, and after "a lot of playing together," things finally clicked.
After finding bandmates and developing your sound, the next step is finding open mic nights and contests in which to enter yourself. From here, vital connections can be made that can help to take you to the next level.
"The first time I ever performed was this past fall quarter," McCoy explained. "I played at one of the open mic shows at Donkey. After doing those once or twice, Troy Gregorino, who runs it, heard me and for some reason really, really liked it, like more than I figured someone would with me just starting out, and then helped me get an actual show here."
Gregorino then took McCoy under his wing, and helped her to book a show with local favorites, Duke Junior and the Smokey Boots.
"After I played at Donkey twice, he was like 'Hey, you're really good!' and told me that if I ever wanted a show just to let him know. Then sort of out of the blue he told me Duke Junior needed an opener, and they're fantastic! I didn't know that because I was so new to the indie music scene here and I didn't know how big of a deal that was until after I saw them and realized that these guys were really established," she said.
That's the solo artist route. For a group, doing a Battle of the Bands, like Dr. Beat and the Beatoffs did this past February, is the way to go. Though they didn't win, they still considered the show a success. More importantly, for people trying to break into the scene, getting your name on any sort of bill is a huge step.
More important than playing one-off shows, however, is having something to give booking agents and audience members. Not only can an album help to build an audience, but it aids in getting subsequent shows, and this is something the Beatoffs recognize.
"Recording is definitely important, and we're doing that soon. It helps if you've got something to give to fans so they can hear what you're all about. And if it's good, it'll get you shows," LeSage said.
"You can go into bars and talk to people, but it's much less effective," Kammerer added.
With the aid of Gregorino, McCoy made her debut album, Icky Romantic, this past winter at 3 Elliot Studios. Full of songs about "the act of kind of liking someone and not knowing where that goes and the horrible things boys do to you sometimes," McCoy sells the CDs at her show to help audiences remember the fun, piano-pop songs they heard.
McCoy admitted, though, that keeping those audiences around and building up a fanbase can be one of the hardest parts about making it in Athens. Though social media sites, like Facebook, MySpace and BandCamp can help immensely, they key is still being a captivating performer with new material.
"At first it was easy because I'd just send a mass text to 50 people and half of them would show up, which is really great for just starting out. But since the beginning it's gotten a lot harder," she said. "I think it's because I think the key to keeping an audience that's loyal to you is to have new material once and a while. I finally have some new songs that I'm comfortable performing, but it's still difficult to get people to come to what's basically the same show for a year."
Dr. Beat and the Beatoffs agreed that the key to keeping an audience interested was new material. Constantly writing not only new songs, but good ones, can be difficult, especially with the rest of the workload that comes along with being a college student.
"It's hard to find something that you really like, I think, especially your own music. It's hard to write music that you really enjoy playing," LeSage said. "There's songs that we've come up with that we're just like, 'Yeah! This is super awesome, I love playing this!' And then there's a lot of other stuff that we just cut."
Constantly writing and practicing new music can certainly be taxing for a young adult, especially when those tasks are piled on top of classes, homework, a job and friends. It could certainly be tiring. So, why do it at all?
Besides having fun and gaining an emotional outlet, performing on stage can be a rush and be a huge ego boost, which both McCoy and Dr. Beat and the Beatoffs emphasized.
"I love when I can look out and I can see people dancing and moving about while we're playing. That's the greatest. It's just really cool," said Kammerer.
"I'm still really, really touched when someone says, 'I like you and I believe in you.' I never get tired of someone liking my stuff because it makes me feel really, really happy," McCoy stated. "I think the other really rewarding thing is after I play a show I feel like I could conquer the world. I just always want to go out and do something really awesome afterward because I feel just incredible."
The work is time-consuming and can be intense, though as Dr. Beat and the Beatoffs continually said, "It's just a good time, you're in a band, you know?" But after all the concerts and all the work, the local scene can pay off for those who choose to pursue it. You just have to be willing to put forth the effort.
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