I was catching up with a friend that I hadn’t seen in a while last week and we started talking about making music. Now, I’m a proponent for scenes to be supportive places for new artists to share their art, so when they expressed a desire to play at least one show by the time they graduated, I strongly encouraged them to. “But my songs aren’t very good … I’ve barely written anything,” they protested. They seemed to have this underlying fear that they shouldn’t be allowed to perform because they didn’t know how a sound system worked, or had only written a few songs here and there and had never really performed them in public before.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a DIY show, but I can assure you, they are, and I cannot emphasize this enough, not full of virtuosos that are about to bring about the next Golden Age of Music. And that’s OK — they in no way need to be. This environment was created in order to give artists a platform that they normally wouldn’t have if they didn’t have a wealth of experience and connections. Sometimes, artists forget their chords, melodies or even lyrics when they’re on stage, and that’s part of the beauty of it. With DIY, perfection is in the imperfection. These shows are humble, intimate and full of opportunities to explore new artistic directions.
I think that over time, these spaces, which stem from underrepresented people creating a space to call their own, started to shift into a more commercial environment that demands a certain almost polished sound at times. I’ve been at many shows where an artist bravely stands in front of a crowd for the first time as their voice shakes because of how nervous they are, and while most of the crowd offers constant cheers and support, others sit towards the back and snicker. Not only does this reject the origins of DIY, but it discourages others from sharing their works — its intended purpose in the first place.
You might say that it’s easy to just “forget the haters,” but as someone that has experienced the anxiety of sharing personal projects with an audience and still refrains from doing it too often, I know that that’s much easier said than done. Artists put not only a lot of time, but a lot of emotion into their work, and the thought of exposing themselves only to be laughed at and metaphorically pushed to the side is terrifying.
Now, I don’t think that’s to say that criticism should be swapped with fluffy words of praise that lack substance. I think constructive criticism is absolutely essential for artists to grow and improve their art. If you know an artist well enough, giving them suggestions is a great way to promote their growth. But tweeting about, say, how bad the vocalist for PBR and the Rolling Rocks is, does nothing but emit negativity into the world.
In case it wasn’t apparent, I think DIY is really special. The fact that people care enough about music and art that they could convert their basements into venues for lesser-known, possibly unconventional bands and artists to have opportunities they normally wouldn't is exemplary of the passion that fuels the scene. It’s not about putting on shows with groups that have been around for years and years. DIY is about allowing new artists to come into their own, experiment, and share their experiences with an audience.