Do It Yourself: Long Beach Musicians on Creating a Scene
By Nik Bates
LONG BEACH, Calif.—The next generation of young, aspiring musicians in Long Beach are becoming more resourceful when it comes to live performances. Trying to stay within the lines of the city’s noise and entertainment regulations, they are organizing shows and benefits closer to community events than concerts.
“Even if you don’t know anybody there, you’re guaranteed to make five new friends,” said Brandon Kent, bass guitarist of the punk rock band Tough Stuff. On March 22, Tough Stuff played a show at The GreenHouse Café in Long Beach, along with Struckout, Olivias and Roman Candles.
Everyone greets each other with hugs and handshakes. They catch up and update each other with future plans for school, music or even just the next weekend. For those attempting to build a career off their music, however, the circumstances could be better. Opposed to a city like Los Angeles, where there are numerous venues for artists of all genres to perform, Long Beach does not have as many regular gigs.
“Everything is built against us,” said Daniel Speer. He is a member of the band Struckout and one of the creators of the Underground Music Society at Cal State Long Beach. “Long Beach is a weird little bubble for shows,” he elaborated. “There aren’t a lot of venues that do all ages shows.”
Many musicians in Long Beach are left to organize, set up and host their own shows. In the punk rock scene, they call these events “DIY shows,” in reference to the do-it-yourself nature of the set up. A majority of these shows take place in houses, but sometimes occur in coffee shop or small club venues when the chance presents itself.
“That’s the nature of DIY places, it’s like whack-a-mole,” said Speer. “Once one goes down, another comes up.” He is referring to the constant shut down of these places due to things such as noise regulations, proper licensing or even the ability to stay afloat through making profits.
The City of Long Beach Noise Control Office offers a list of viable reasons for contacting the police department about the issue of noise. These include music from nightclubs, construction, parking lot sweepers, air conditioners and even loud talking. In order to circumvent the rules, many bands plan for their shows to end at 9 p.m.
“I’m more of an acoustic artist, so my sessions don’t get all that rowdy,” said musician Kathleen Santiago. But even acoustic shows can get shut down. Both Kent and Speer spoke about folk punk singer Paul Baribeau’s performance in Long Beach and how it nearly got shut down by the police.
Venues for these artists rarely stay in business for more than two years, according to Kent. The issues involve compliance with entertainment, business or fire department licensing, the topic of alcohol and noise regulations.
Tough Stuff at the Greenhouse Cafe, March 22nd. Photo by Nik Bates.
“Alcohol is one of the biggest no-no’s,” said Kent. “That’ll for sure get you shut down.” These artists push for sober shows, in order to attract a lager fan base and keep their venues safe from fines, closing or police investigations.
Moreover, this leaves artists to venture outside of the Long Beach for shows.
“We’ve done extensive touring,” recalled Kent. “We’ve done west coast tours that go all the way up to Vancouver and back.” He also explained that Tough Stuff’s most recent tour took them as far as Akron, Ohio eastwards, and Decatur, Alabama toward the south.
“It’s really simple,” explained Kent. “We just exploit social media platforms.” He messages people who run venues across the country, asking them if they would like to have Tough Stuff perform there. They will either respond with a yes or connect them to a venue better suited. “We might ask for Seattle, but we’ll end up in a city two hours south of it,” said Kent.
As far as alternatives in California, many popular places that these local artists go to are VLHS in Pomona, Bridgetown DIY in La Puente, The Dial in Murrieta, and Ché Café on campus at UCSD. This leads to travel expenses and boarding fees that often come out of the pockets of the artists.
A safe and consistent place for these people to play music would allow for a thriving music scene to develop here in Long Beach. The difficulty is trying to keep a venue open that can make a profit without forcing the artists to dish out pre-sale tickets, hurting the artists in the end. Most pre-sale agreements state that if you don’t sell all of your tickets, you still must furnish the money for the total number. That means struggling musicians are left to purchase their own tickets.
In the world of music, this is known as “pay-to-play.”
Friends gather around the musician’s gear outside of the Greenhouse Cafe to chat and catch up with each other. Photo by Nik Bates.
“Overall, your goal is to get your music out there and that’s difficult when you have to pay to play everywhere,” said Santiago. Yet, the small concert business model seems to thrive the most off this tactic. It guarantees them the money regardless of actual physical attendance the day of the show.
“Long Beach shows, being as frugal as they are, will reel in people because of that,” explained Kent. But it’s hard to make a business believe you can guarantee attendance if you aren’t an already established act in the music industry.
“My goal is to start a DIY venue, here in Long Beach,” said Speer. “I think if there’s going to be one person who can do it, it’s him,” Kent explained when talking about Daniel Speer’s aspirations. This is the biggest way these artists can take control of their careers in Long Beach.
There isn’t a lack of shows, but a lack of organized places to play. For artists like Santiago, the events are a bit more palpable. She is a part of a group of artists that have built followings on YouTube and are using their music to help out the society around them. The charity concerts and benefits that she plays take place all over California.
“It’s reassuring to know that someone across the universe can actually relate to your music,” said Santiago. Connecting with fans and other artists is what drives these musicians to play live shows. “I’m playing shows with similar bands, and I’m bumping into the same people over and over again,” said Speer. “We’re starting to be friends. It feels like a genuine connection.”
That connection is what drives these artists everyday to pursue what they love, which is performing their music, no matter the circumstances.
Struckout @ Bandcamp
Tough Stuff @Bandcamp
Kathleen Santiago @YouTube