Rock and roll (preamble)

To be honest, I sat down to finish a post I had started months ago entitled “All agencies are not created equal,” in which I illuminated the differences between the types of communications businesses you might come across. In reality, the piece would be a thinly veiled slash across the faces of the all the businesses that purport to be “full-service marketing agencies,” when in reality they’re nothing more than sub-par to average graphic designers or template-based web development farms.

Mean-spirited? Maybe. Probably. It bites my ass that anyone can call themselves a marketer these days as long as they know Photoshop and WordPress (two things that actually have little to do with marketing). It ruins the market, and it ruins consumers’ perceptions and trust.

Instead of that morsel of vitriol, you get this one. I realize that trading in one bit of my rancor for another is like choosing a shot in the arm or the buttocks. That’s how it goes.

I went to a show recently at Season’s Downunder Club on Main St. in Bangor. Performing were two well-regarded, award-winning bands from Maine, both polished and professional. Both have a rock sound with wide appeal, and played originals mixed with covers by popular artists. The show was decently promoted by local standards. The Downunder Club itself is a comfortable space, with good sound and a clean environment.

Unfortunately, the crowd that came to the show could best be considered light.

This was illuminated again at the recent Friday Night Live event at the Bangor Comic and Toy Convention. This well-planned and publicized event featured a slate of bands from across the state. Some of them are used to sizable draws in the Portland area, and some have received national and international press. Bottle service was provided for those of legal drinking age. The crowd at this event, however, was also light, and by the time the headliner took the stage, the crowd had mostly dwindled away.

It’s a phenomenon I see often in the region. As a musician as well as a businessperson, I mull it over frequently. The lack of attendance at shows is something I’d expect from a smaller community — I don’t imagine bands are packing bars in Millinockett, or Milbridge, or even Machias, for instance. But for all the cultural growth Bangor has experienced and championed lately, there seems to be consistently light attendance at live music events here.

Most musicians from the area can tell you tales of expecting reasonably strong crowds only to find themselves playing to a crowd of five, ten, or none.

Venue owners weave similar stories. Many in the area I’ve spoken to have drastically reduced (or outright suspended) their live music offerings, simply due to low draw. It’s easier to install a jukebox or hire a DJ than pay a band when the return is so low.

I don’t think the phenomenon is limited to Bangor, Maine. All across the country, attendance at live shows has suffered, music sales have declined, and the days of the “rock star” are gone. But here, in a city that’s seen rapid cultural growth of late and that’s seeing an increasing number of venues appear, I have to wonder: where are the audiences?

Is the market here yet? And what can be done to help it?

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll tackle the question here in this blog. I’ll look at the market, the venues, and the artists — the three entities that have ultimate responsibility for creating a music scene in any community.

Rock on, brothers and sisters.

Matthew Chabe

About Matthew Chabe

Matt Chabe is a principal at The Galleon Agency, an integrated marketing agency based in Bangor, Maine that helps businesses around the nation maximize growth. He is the chair of Bangor SCORE, a seven-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, and drives way too fast for his own good. Matt graduated from University of Maine with a BA in marketing and a minor in psychology.