By now, many of you have probably seen last week’s SF Weekly cover story heralding the ruination of San Francisco's music scene, as well as the suggestion that the booming tech industry – and the rising rents it brought with it – is (mostly) responsible. As someone who has worked in the Bay Area music scene for over 20 years, I have to agree with many of the distressed comments within that story. Shit be going to hell in a Chrome laptop bag.
Every week seems to bring more bad news. Music venues are closing (222 Hyde), morphing into swanky cocktail lounges (Cafe Du Nord, the Red Devil Lounge, 222 Hyde, Esta Noche), or being threatened with potential noise-phobic neighbors (Bottom of the Hill). Longtime local musicians – everyone Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees' John Dwyer to Nick Waterhouse and Mike Donovan – are leaving town, either because they can't afford the cost of living or they've grown tired of the city's current landscape. It feels like, if something isn't done, this once art-focused city will become as bland and boring as Cleveland (but without the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame).
So, what should we do? Should we just sit back and complain – or, worse, point fingers at the tech world, blaming them for all that is dark and doomy?
Having DJed, booked bands, and written about the Bay Area's music scene, I'd like to offer, in the words of Jonathan Swift, a modest proposal. Why not ask the tech world to join forces with the music scene? How about we make these supposed enemies work together, in the hopes that a joint effort could revitalize SF's foundering musical landscape?
How, you ask, should we bring these forces together? Well, here's a few suggestions:
The live music scene desperately needs live performance spaces. Many of the current tech companies are building stages right in their office compounds. Some, like Hipstamatic, actually throw regular parties with hot touring bands. Why not have these tech companies host local artist lineups on a regular basis? Not only would they be paying the musicians, but they'd be helping introduce them to new fans. And you could even open the shows up to the public, a good vibes marketing move any good PR person would adore.
Bands don't have money for the important things – like food and, maybe more to the point, recording. Last year, Converse paid for local artists Antwon, The She's, and Warm Soda to spend a day putting songs to tape at SF's Different Fur Studio. How easy would it be for someone like Google to do the same? They could probably find that kind of change underneath the vestibule cushions. As for food, we've all heard about these cereal rooms and taco bars and iced shot luges. Why not invite all the starving musicians in town to come in and devour the leftovers?
If musicians have to work three jobs just to make rent, they don't have time to actually work on their craft. Why can't we have a similar support system like that of New Zealand or Canada, where bands apply for arts grants – helpfully supplied by tech companies, perhaps? –allowing them the free time to workshop new material? Or perhaps tech for-profits could start non-profit off-shoots dedicated to this kind of thing – like Zoo Labs in Oakland, which offers two-week-long residencies, in which bands learn everything there is to know about composing, recording, and promoting their material.
This is the tough one, right? The tech industry can't be expected to solve this mess. But maybe the developers making cash hand over fist could. Right now, they have to provide a small number of affordable housing units for each market-rate ones they build. Why not tell them they have to construct an additional number of apartments for musicians to rent? Or give out housing stipends to artists, much in the way SF does for teachers who want to buy homes?
Venues, Part II
Ian Port of SF Weekly said it best when he recently suggested that instead of mourning the clubs that are going away, we should make sure to embrace the ones that still exist. This is not just for tech workers; it's for everyone: Only by seeing more shows, and not just on the weekends, can we continue to have live music. (Also, the mid-week parking is easier, not to mention the lines at the bar are shorter.) And at those shows, everyone should order lots of drinks and tip prodigously as well. Even better yet, buy the band a round of drinks. They sure could use them.