Our music culture is changing. Where once it was only possible for absolute top-of-the-line acts like Carnival Season to cut a record in Birmingham, now a band can go to any number of local, professional quality studios, or just create their own sounds with software like GarageBand. With the advent of social media, bands can also handle much of their own promotion, marking an entirely new (and potentially, much broader) method of distribution.
But some things, whether it’s booking tours or understanding proper studio etiquette, never change. That’s why Iron City is hosting a Local Musicians’ Night on Tuesday, September 3 to educate Birmingham’s growing music community about the ins and outs of the business, as well as to create meaningful connections within a growing network of clubs, producers and musicians.
Tre’ Brannum, the proprietor of the music blog BhamRocks and the man behind Local Musicians’ Night, got to know the scene well while playing for a band called Sequel in the ‘90s. “When I played, it was cutthroat,” Brannum told Weld in an interview. “There were battles of the bands every week, nobody talked to each other, nobody swapped shows. It was frustrating. We played with the same three bands every single time, and we never got to branch out and see anything new.”
Frustration with the scene – and, more importantly, prioritizing his growing family – ended Brannum’s career as a musician, but he’s optimistic about the direction he sees Birmingham’s music culture headed in. “Now bands collaborate with each other, and we’ve got some great labels sharing that,” he said. “A lot of great stuff is happening, we’ve just got to let everybody know about it.” He remembers fondly seeing a heavy metal guitarist chumming it up with local folkie Jesse Payne, getting to know one another despite the vast gulf between their musical styles, in what might be a good omen for Birmingham’s future.
That friendly atmosphere is aided by the fact that nobody plays or competes at Local Musicians’ Night, since it’s purely for networking opportunities. The first edition was a major success, drawing in 400 musicians – a Who’s Who of Birmingham music, according to Brannum. There will be resources for pros and neophytes alike: screenprinters, CD pressers and gear vendors; producers, labels and radio stations; even promoters and representatives from other venues, which Iron City not only allows, but encourages.
The night will have a few informal seminars on Iron City’s main stage as well. Ages Apart bassist Will Bradley, who also works at Meltdown Media Group, will give a talk about how a band can distribute their music in this day and age. Daniel Farris, who works with Les Nuby and Jason Hamric at Ol Elegante Records, will talk about studio etiquette, punctuality, and the economics of producing.
Ideally, Brannum would like to foster enough of a community of shared experience that Birmingham musicians would finally feel comfortable venturing out of our small bubble. “Bands feel like they’re on an island here, and it’s tough to get out,” Brannum said. “They can record here, they can do really well here, but they’re scared to get out.” Brannum wants older, wiser acts to share their war stories, encouraging younger musicians to book tours, even while setting down roots in Birmingham.
Just as importantly, a more interconnected music scene could lead to higher expectations for each performance. “What I’m looking forward to,” Brannum said, “is seeing the hip-hop artists start intermingling with the rock acts and decide, ‘Let’s put on a show.’ I think that’s one thing we lack – and it’s why people don’t come out to shows often – a lot of times, bands go onstage for a glorified practice, with big PAs and lights. I want to see a production. I want to be entertained.”
These are lofty goals, and they’ll take more than a single Tuesday night to accomplish. But in a city defined by its culture – by its cuisine, by its art, by its history – a more connected, cooperative and adventurous music scene can only be a good thing.
Iron City is located at 513 22nd St. S. Local Musicians’ Night will take place on Tuesday, September 3 from 7-10 p.m. and is free to attend.
CORRECTION (10:35 a.m., 8/29/13): The print version of this story (and the online version, until just now) refers to the work of Tre’ Bannum, when it should refer to Tre’ Brannum. We regret the error, and feel mildly embarrassed.