It's the burning question for every artist alive in the digital age: How do I break past the barrier of your iPhone apathy and get you to care about my music? Is it it by playing a ton of shows? Nah, if we can see you play any time that pretty much means we'll see you never. Is it by constantly spamming people on social media? Um, please don't. Your best hope these days it seems is to show your creativity, and individuality and better yet, your personhood in a digital format to get unseen audiences to identify with you. That's the strategy OC Music League founder John Safari subscribes to anyway. It's the reason that in the past three months, the longtime OC show promoter along with OCML digital network's Editor in Chief David Martinez and their tireless crew have scaled back on local bar showcases in favor of hitting music fans where most of them actually live.
“Everything is content first now which it wasn’t before, it was artist and music first," Safari says during a recent sit down at C4 Deli around the corner from his Santa Ana headquarters. "But you gotta get people to know what’s going on so they’ll get out of their house, but they won’t get outta their house unless they already care about it. So we gotta do it through their phones.”
The way to do that, he decided, was to start homepage highlighting OCML and local bands through a series of in-depth artist spotlight videos (also available on their YouTube channel) that allow potential fans the chance to hear from the musicians themselves about who they are and why they do what they do. It sounds simple. Almost too simple. But the fact that someone out there realizes that getting a person to care about a person in a band before they can care enough about the band itself (at least enough to go out and see their show) is taking our obsession with social media in the entertainment world in a positive direction. Building a rapport and a sense of who a band is just as important as a slick music video or a few thousand plays on Spotify.
“The idea is that we’re trying to be everything MTV should’ve been before they went Teen Mom and all this other horse shit," Safari says. "We don’t really talk about about their music all that much in those videos. It’s more about what inspired you to be a musician, what performances rubbed off on your performance? It’s not about ‘let’s promote your music’ it’s about ‘who are you?’"
This documentarians take on local music started about three months ago with a weekly rotation of artist interviews with OC staples like Bristol to Memory, Poor Man's Change and Well Hung Heart. The videos drop on Sunday afternoons on OCML's You Tube channel as well as their social media sites to create some sense of consistency while targeting a time when most people aren't busy checking out some other more popular band on the weekend. They follow that up the next day with a weekly Monday podcast in which Safari and other guests discuss pointers on how to market your band, the dynamics of promotion in the digital age and new, up and coming bands.
Though Safari and his crew are still committed getting people out to see their shows,several years of the same strategy of throwing up fliers, pressing CD comps and infiltrating the same bars over and over just wasn't working out the way they wanted it to.
“I think with the live shows and being against pay-to-play so vigorously, we’ve come to a point where we need to not have as many shows because it’s too easy for bands to get on shows and they’re not doing the work they need to do for themselves."
The system of creating allegiance online for both their brand and their bands requires them to win, the "hearts and minds" of people who they could never reach with a half dozen showcases per month. After all, these days even in the local music scene you don’t go to shows to become a fan, you go to shows because you are a fan. In some cases, even for lesser known bands OCML works with, the strategy has proven effective. A good example is another weekly feature OCML runs called ReAmp, that features full bands doing acoustic sessions of their best tracks.
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"There’s one band that we brought it called Motions only have a little over 100 likes on Facebook but their video was viewed the most so far because they pushed it the most," Safari says. “For me that’s a testament to the fact that numbers don’t mean shit if you know how to work.”
That also remind us that no matter how much algorithmically-induced voodoo is at work in the social media popularity contest bands have to deal with, there is still plenty of room for old fashioned elbow grease and in person marketing—aka meeting people. Talking about your band to anyone who will listen and showing love to others doing their thing and just being a cool person that people want to help is what makes a video series like OCML's valuable to the band trying to become the next big thing.
“The phrase 'support local music' sounds so whiny, I hate it, Safari says. "When you come out to support and that’s why you leave when I get off stage. When you come out to enjoy local music, you’re gonna party with me when I’m off stage and maybe even be there before to see the band before me cuz we had a beer before I went up there. I’m not promoting a show I’m saying come hang out with me."