Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

April 29, 2009


Dusty Horwitt, Washington Post - In 2006-07, I covered the financial state of the local rock music scene for Washington City Paper. My research revealed that even before the economic crisis, it was much harder for up-and-coming D.C.-area musicians to reach fans or to make money than it was 30 or 40 years ago.

Perhaps the greatest barrier to success is that local musicians and clubs agree that artists can play no more than once a month in the Washington area because if musicians played more often, they wouldn't be able to draw a significant crowd. Digital media has probably contributed to this impediment by providing literally millions of reasons for potential fans to stay home.

The band I covered most closely, Rockville's talented Hotspur, had 20,000 My Space friends, but voluntarily abided by the one-gig-a-month rule. So, too, did Fairfax's My Favorite Highway (now signed to Virgin Records), with more than 46,000 My Space Friends. . .

Older rockers, including Maryland-based bass player Steve Wolf. . . say that bands played more frequently in the 1960s and 1970s when there were more venues for live music, less competition from home entertainment and an opportunity to be heard on local radio .

"I bought my house because of airplay on WHFS for one record," Wolf said. In 1985, he was a member of the Tom Principato Band and someone handed a copy of the band's record, "Smokin'!," to a deejay at the Bethesda-based station. The airplay led to packed clubs and a European tour. Arbitron ratings archived at the University of Georgia show that WHFS reached an audience of 86,000 to 112,000 unique listeners each week in 1985, when "Smokin'!" received regular airplay. Unlike many Internet fans, local radio listeners didn't have to travel far to attend shows. . .

Hotspur has appeared on DC101's "Local Lix" show, which airs on Sunday nights; it is one of the few on-air venues for Washington area artists. According to Arbitron ratings, the listenership in 2007 averaged just 3,000 people for every 15 minutes. This inability to reach people also is reflected in artists' pay.


Blogger larry rogers said...

Times are tough all over. I've been a professional musician for over 40 years. There was a time I could play 5 or 6 nights a week without traveling more than 100 miles from home, (north central West Virginia). No more. The once a month rule seems to apply here also.

April 29, 2009 12:14 PM  
Anonymous Mairead said...

Part of that, of course, is record/tape/cd sales. Before recordings became trivially easy to make, take, and sell at a gig, the gig itself was the only way for people to hear their fave musicians. Now live performance is less important and often even inconvenient or impossible to attend.

The Watersons have been faves of mine since the early '60s when I heard them on British Forces Network in Germany. I've managed to catch a live performance exactly once in the nearly 50 years since then.

Tradeoffs, tradeoffs.

April 29, 2009 4:48 PM  

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