Jesse Dean is a vocalist, guitarist and lyricist for Narcotic Self, a hard rock/metal band. Dean and the band have been a part of Omaha’s music scene for over 15 years.
When I was asked to write about the heavy music scene in Omaha, I was a little overwhelmed. What could I say that would have a positive impact? Or any impact at all, for that matter? This is a place I’ve grown in and care about deeply. What can I point out to people to make them take a serious look at how to help build upon it? How can I bring us closer together?
My first thought was to urge this local music community to treat the Omaha scene as something sacred and special. I assure you, Omaha has it made! We have the absolute best music community right at our fingertips. Musicians have better opportunities here than almost anywhere else in the country. We’re also a community that genuinely cares and wants to help artists.
What is holding us back?
Well, the thing “holding us back” might be the one thing that has brought our community closer together and provided more opportunity. Omaha is isolated. This isolation makes it very difficult to travel and create networks. Omaha is a far sprint from major cities like Denver, Minneapolis, or Chicago. But traveling to those cities can quickly show you how much harder it gets to even get a gig in other cities. I urge fans, musicians, bartenders, booking agents, club owners and everyone else to make an effort to talk about the music, songs, and BANDS! Bands in surrounding cities, bands in your city!
When was the last time you bought an album and fell in love with it? Shared it with your friends and had something to talk about and connect over? Just doing this can create a huge movement. Des Moines, and Kansas City aren’t far and could be a great place for all music lovers to travel to and see or play music! Or you might just decide to take your chances to be the next big internet sensation instead. (Yeah right.)
Let’s be real, though. The game has completely changed. Music as a whole is suffering, and heavy music is not making anyone large stacks of cash. The constant bombardment of media is hard to cut through and compete with. Potential fans have 3D movies and video games to occupy them, when they’re not obsessing with how many “likes” their selfies might get. Some sweaty metal-head with a guitar isn’t enough to compete with that anymore. We now live in an age of musicians with face paint, masks, animated video walls and gimmicks to sell tickets to concerts. Not to mention $75 concert T-shirts.
BUT … the power of music still exists. And let’s not forget that a song can change the world. So I say to everyone in our community, make a difference with your music! Stop complaining and pointing your finger at whatever and get back to work! Get out of the house and promote yourself. Wait let me say that again…. PROMOTE YOURSELF! You have to sell tickets to your shows! You sell them! Don’t say it’s a promoter’s job, a venue’s job, or “if only” this or that. Do EVERYTHING yourself and do it the best you can.
And to be clear, I do not mean “pay to play,” nor am I saying not to. I mean do things for you. Get your own show, and get every single person you possibly can through that door! The popularity contests between band dudes and your self-proclaimed underwear model girlfriends are a dead end. So you got people (or paid waaaaay too much money) to hit some “like buttons” somewhere. Big deal. Throwing after parties will end up having more people at the party than the actual shows do. (Only people will drink all the beer you bought, and trash your house while you think you’re making new friends and fans.) Focus on writing simple but great songs. And I don’t mean play guitar in front of your webcam over and over again either. Write songs, and get them into people’s heads. Promote yourself everywhere, and play shows. Then repeat until death.
Being in a band is hard work. It’s a hard life. It is harder now than ever before. Heavy music is not accepted or understood by most people, and honestly we don’t want it to be. This music is for US! Not them. We have enough not working in our favor already. So we must support each other in nothing but the most positive of ways. People will be quick to tell you everything that’s wrong or not good enough about what you’re doing. Even people close to you that say they’re “Trying to help”. Don’t listen to that negativity. Believe in yourselves without a single doubt. Spend your time writing songs and promoting yourself. Having “a look” is only important in the realm of radiating your own self-worth. If you need special magic make up, matching bow ties, 10 stringed metal guitars, or the coolest band t-shirt, your focus might be a little off. If you can make some killer visuals, great! But at least work on making your music good and unique first. Good music, an extremely hard work ethic, thick skin, and a willingness to forever follow through … that is all you need, the rest is bullshit.
Don’t get me wrong. Like I said, my aim is to promote positivity and help create unity in the music in Omaha. I have been guilty of getting sidetracked by all the hype of “How it’s supposed to work for bands.” I just see how much lack of music there is in music anymore. The amount of time spent on everything else far outweighs the time spent on creating actual content. Maybe the game-changer can come from getting back into music, first and foremost.