Live Music: Dead on Arrival

Welcome to Miami-Dade County, where the clubs play disco, the musicians whine, and the rock fans languish

And to follow Galvez's advice and distribute flyers, advertising more than one show on each. Bands could recruit a few local businesses that are willing to split the printing costs in exchange for some cheap advertising. They could get serious about mailing lists and stop relying on voluntary address forms left on tables in bars. A far more effective way to increase the size of a mailing list is to pay somebody to canvass the clubs with a clipboard and register people, then get a bulk-rate mailing stamp from the post office to reduce mailing expenses.

"[The bands themselves] must create a scene," Galvez says. "Concentrate it. Get in touch with other bands and bunch up, get together. Befriend other bands and throw festivals and events, whether it's a heavy metal band and a folk band and a hippie band. Screw a lot of these bars and these associations and Guitar Center-organized contests, or radio station-organized compilations and things like that. Do it yourself. Basically, be proactive. That's all it is. Be super proactive. Be more proactive than in any other city, because you're not going to get the opportunities you would somewhere else."

His call to organize is well advised. Using the strength of their numbers, local musicians must also demand the support of instrument retailers; local radio and television; nightclubs, restaurants, and other entertainment venues; and newspapers. These measures require effort, mostly by way of phone calls. Maybe even a boycott, or a demonstration or two. But then, with all but a few live music clubs closed down, musicians should have plenty of time on their hands.

Everyone recognizes, of course, that bands are not to blame for the public's poor regard for local music. Miami-Dade's club owners share responsibility to create an atmosphere in which people want to listen to live music. With a few notable exceptions, they have failed.

"In my opinion, there are no music clubs in Miami," proclaims Glenn Richards, another veteran local music supporter. For three years Richards hosted and produced the local music show on the now-defunct rock station WSHE. Before that he was music director at WVUM. "There are only bars with stages in Miami. Music is an afterthought in most instances," he says. "They care about selling drinks. That's what they're there for. And then it's kind of like, 'Now what else can we do? Oh! Let's book a band.' And they don't care about staging, they don't care about acoustics, they don't care about lighting, they don't care about PAs. It's like, 'Oh, we'll just plug in some amps and they can play.'"

But Richards, currently the promotions director at WZTA, insists that music clubs must be designed for music. "Music [has to] come first and then the bar is built around it. But that's usually not the case down here. They figure 'Okay, I'll book some bands,' and they actually book some decent bands. But if the air conditioning is bad and it's hot, or the ventilation is bad and it's smoky and you can't breathe, then people won't come back. Or they think: 'We'll have the band play at midnight, but I'll tell people 9:00 and I'll get this big crowd in here drinking, and then I'll have the band play and everything will be great.' They forget the band has day jobs, so a lot of groups can't take those gigs. And the people who come out to see those bands, they have jobs or school. And they can't stay until midnight in the middle of the week. These clubs won't book a band on the weekend because they have a good regular crowd. They don't need to book a band. They don't need any other entertainment. So it's self-defeating. They just shoot themselves in the foot left and right."

There are plenty of club owners who are really supportive, Richards admits. They have decent stages. They provide decent sound. They do what they can; their hearts are in the right place. But then they have somebody clueless booking the bands. Or they don't do adequate promotion. More than almost any other business, Richards says, bars and nightclubs are prime examples of that old Madison Avenue maxim: When you don't advertise, nothing happens.

Certainly not everyone reading this article is a club owner or musician. But even the general public has a stake in this game. Losing a local rock scene is akin to losing a symphony orchestra or an art museum, those bastions of culture we so often hear labeled as signs of sophistication in a community. But locally produced rock music is culture, at its most insistent, sensitive edge. The large societal issues tackled in the Sixties by icons such as Bob Dylan -- those same kinds of issues, only with a more contemporary, local angle -- are the topics that permeate the songs of local bands. They put words to both the hope and the despair felt by everyone in our community at one time or another. To lose their viewpoint would be tragic.

"People should know this stuff," Space Cadette's Galvez stresses. "You want culture? It's up to you. People say there's nothing to do down here, but as far as I'm concerned there's plenty to see and hear. We're just lacking places to do it, and lacking people who will make that long-term commitment. There's got to be people who love it."

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