Arts Desk

Live Chat: Justin Moyer Discusses “Our Band Could Be Your Band” and the Brooklynization of Culture

In an essay for Washington City Paper last week, Justin Moyer argued against the "Brooklynization" of music, which he says has damaged regional music scenes. Not shockingly, his piece, "Our Band Could Be Your Band," yielded some passionate and polarized reactions. Agree with Moyer? Think he's full of crap? Chat with him about it below, beginning at 12 p.m.

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  • Chris Berry / Fan Death Records

    Yo Justin, you flubbed the questions about Baltimore pretty hard.

    For a city of its size, Baltimore has a fantastic infrastructure, although with the closing of Sonar and the transient nature of current DIY spaces, I feel like it's in a transitional period that will be interesting to see where it goes next. Bands exist, venues ("pro"/bar and DIY) exist, labels exist to support Baltimore artists; but most importantly, people in Baltimore actively support bands from Baltimore at all levels, on a scale I personally haven't experienced anywhere else. And yes, because the cost of living is lower, musicians have more opportunities to refine their craft and take it to the rest of the world via touring and putting out records that get distribution. It's not as difficult to make a career out of being a musician if the bar for "having a career" is lower, which is a huge part of why people leave expensive DC for cheaper cities.

    Justin, your response to both of the Baltimore questions revealed that you were valuing an artist's achievements in terms of making money on a local level. Do artists have to make a living to be considered successful, or can they - like a bunch of bands that existed in DC between 1981 and 2006 - carve out their own niche and do things on their own terms?

  • Justin

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Chris. You're right -- I'm not fully up to speed on the Baltimore scene. As I try to say in the chat, I'm 35.

    However, I think it's interesting that the second line of this riposte points out the closing of Sonar, the premiere venue for smaller bands -- smaller than Ottobar, but bigger than Metro/Charm City (closed?)/Wham City (which I thought was closed or moved)/The Red Room (closed?)/The Talking Head (closed?) and other cool warehouse spaces whose awesomeness is avoid eclipsed by their very short life spans. If you're presenting Baltimore as a successful music scene, doesn't the closure of this venue -- and the "transitory" nature of smaller DIY spaces -- show that perhaps Baltimore is more troubled than you say?

    Also, I don't doubt that there are many record labels in Baltimore. Indeed, there are many labels in Washington that aren't Dischord, even if TeenBeat has moved and Simple Machines closed long ago. I run one myself called Mud Memory Records. My question is: How many of these labels are a break-even proposition? Do any make money? Are any sustainable if those in charge go through life changes that prevent them from dumping time and money into them? Are any self-sustaining? If a label can't break even -- as, indeed, the "Brooklynization" or flattening of the "industry" has made more difficult -- is it even really "infrastructure?" Or is it just a vanity project?

    "Making money on a local level" -- you're right. My focus is on this, though I continue to put out records and tour despite the fact that these are money-LOSING propositions. I do continue to do things on my own terms. But I am in the minority. Most people stop playing music or jet to a Brooklyn because they see that they can not only not make money, but will in fact LOSE money if they remain in their regional music scene trying to survive.

    Also, I emailed Fan Death once looking for a publicity list. No one emailed back. What gives? Justin

  • pxssessxd

    Charm City Arts Space moved one door down, The Red Room just hosted portions of High Zero fest, The Talking Head shut down cause it was in Sonar but promoters moved their shows to Golden West and The Windup Space, and Wham City will probably always exist no matter where it is and what they choose to call themselves (I was part of their monthly comedy series not too long back). Baltimore's locals sell out Ottobar (*and* 9:30 Club and Black Cat), and there are a new crop of venues that just opened up that seem to be doing just fine (and on their way to out-growing themselves). There are also plenty of spaces that prefer to not have a public presence that have been insanely packed every single time I've gone there.

    Some of the labels I know of operate like any label- some releases sell out instantly, some take a while to get rid of. The releases that haven't sold well are, no surprise, the new releases. It's important to note that about eleven Baltimore artists have records on Thrill Jockey, and out of those eleven, about eight are current. Additionally, Washington DC label, Carpark has had three Baltimore bands on it's label. Beach House made it to Sub Pop, and Lower Dens, on Ribbon Music, sold out Ottobar on the last leg of their tour.

    I also have to add that Baltimore has a great share of successful and unique record producers / sound engineers- J. Robbins, Drew Mazurek, Brian McTernan, (gold record producer) Paul Leavitt, and Kevin Bernsten (who, in my opinion, does the best analog recordings in the Maryland/DC area).

    Baltimore is doing just fine.

    p.s. Ironically, Chris Berry relocated to New York.