You've probably heard the phrase "DIY" - do it yourself - but what is
a DIY music scene? Essentially, this describes any music or event that's put together without the work of industry "professionals." Specifically, I want to talk about what's so great about DIY shows - the types of shows found in the basements or living rooms of whoever's putting the show together.
When I first started going to school in Philly, I started to hear whispers of "house shows" early on, but for awhile I didn't really know what these were or where they were happening. This past year, I finally figured out how to start getting the invites, and I'm now so fully entrenched in the scene that pretty soon I'll be booking shows myself.
For anyone who doesn't know, I'll walk you through what a typical DIY show is like, at least from my experience in Philly. You walk into the house, and you're greeted at the door. The shows are usually $5, and once you hand over the cash you get a mark on your hand. Sometimes, you roam around the first floor for a bit before venturing down into the basement. Downstairs, you find an unfinished basements covered in colorful Christmas lights, a modestly sized group of people, and a band tuning and setting up. If you know the scene or even the area pretty well already, you probably know and are friends with most of the people in the room, including the band and the people who live in the house. Each band plays their set, and in between bands you mingle with your friends, sometimes escaping to the backyard for some fresh air.
There are so many reasons to love the DIY scene. For one, shows are relatively cheap, both to organize and to attend. As I said, shows are usually $5, $15 or $20 at most. Compared to shows at established venues, and especially festivals which can cost you over $1,000, DIY shows are definitely the cheaper option. And the great thing about putting together DIY shows yourself is that you don't really have to make huge investments. Aside from buying the sound equipment, which you can generally buy used for a discount, all you really need is a space (like a basement).
Another cool thing about the DIY scene is the sense of community. Going to shows week after week with a lot of the same people, you find yourself talking to and meeting people, and eventually you look around and realize that you're friends with most of the people at the shows you're going to. Unlike shows at bigger venues, the bands tend to stick around and chat, so if you're a fan of someone you're going to see at a house show there's a good chance you'll get to meet and even have an actually meaningful conversation with some of the members.
The DIY scene is a great place for bands to get their start and begin to amass a fan base. Bands like Modern Baseball
, and Screaming Females
started off in DIY scenes before moving on to bigger things. Unlike at big venues, bands don't have to prove themselves with big numbers in order to get booked, which means baby bands can actually play shows and work on their performance skills.
One of the best things about the DIY scene is the fact that it's small and local enough that if you see something you don't like about the scene or the shows, you can change things. Individuals have a lot more power to make the scene what they want it to be when the scene is really just your extended group of friends. DIY scenes can provide spaces for people and perspectives that are often crowded out because they're less profitable in the mainstream or in popular subcultures. Since all the national turmoil has been continuing and even getting worse, I've found that it's hard to feel like I have any effect on what happens in the country at large. It's comforting to know that at least on a local level, within my community, I can actually have an impact. I can effectively work to bring marginalized voices into a spotlight, even if it's just a small spotlight in someone's living room.
DIY shows are a really fun and unique way to experience music. These shows aren't polished in the same way that major concerts are. In a way, these shows are a lot more raw, and you get to feel a lot more intimately connected to the music you love. If you can, I would definitely recommend trying to find a DIY scene in your area. This is especially easy if you live in a city - cities tend to be the hubs of this kind of thing. If there's nothing in your area, or it's not really the genre or vibe you're into, try making your own! After all, it's called "do it yourself" for a reason.