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Davis, California

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Breaking into the Davis music biz

Breaking into the music industry is hard work, and even though it’s small, the city of Davis is no exception.

Local musicians and bands report that while it can be tough for Davis-based bands to book shows in professional venues, there are plenty of opportunities for success to be found by networking at house shows and free gigs.

Matt Sevrens, a member of the local indie/pop band Lions, Bats & Bears, believes that the biggest hindrance to notoriety in the industry stems mainly from the local venue’s refusal to book local talent for their live entertainment.

“The best advice I got for being a band in Davis was from veteran [band] Shayna and the Bulldog. They basically said, if you want to book outside of Davis don’t say you’re from Davis,” Sevrens said in an e-mail interview. ” It’s true … I had actually contacted [a] venue multiple times before saying that we were from Davis and got no response. But I finally just gave in and said we were from Sacramento and pow, we get a show.”

So what is it? Do the local venues such as Sophia’s Thai Kitchen and Uncle Vito’s just have a never-ending grudge against Davis bands? Well, according to Neil Rudd, general manager at KDVS 90.3 FM, that’s exactly it.

“Local venues stopped booking Davis bands because in the past it proved hazardous,” Rudd said. “The bands would fall through and were very inconsistent. But it’s getting better now. Bands who are now taking themselves more seriously are getting shows.”

Even though Sevrens and his band feel a certain resentment against this predisposed prejudice, a lot of the local talent that he refers to doesn’t necessary feel the same.

“There are a lot of bands who are pretty well regarded but it’s just a different scene,” said Madeleine Shernock, member of Oh, Foot, a folk music band, of those who don’t care about getting local gigs.

Oh, Foot, along with Retrospekt, prefer performing at house shows, usually hosted by KDVS.

“There are different subcultures in the music scene, but for us, it’s just about having fun. We don’t promote ourselves in that way, we aren’t serious in that sense,” said Evan Davis, a junior technocultural studies major and singer/songwriter for Retrospekt.

Tim Kerbavaz, the band’s manager and sound engineer for multiple projects in Davis, also said bands in Davis prefer to play at house shows rather than paying gigs.

“In Davis, the biggest market is house shows. Everything is volunteer, so I can see where that isn’t as appealing, but it’s a tremendous resource for band’s exposing new music,” Kerbavaz said. “It’s a great way for audiences to listen to local talent without making it all about ‘the money.'”

Those who are well known in the underground music community don’t have a dire need to self promote because they are thoroughly content just playing with touring bands at local house shows.

“Booking shows in Davis is actually less difficult than many people imagine.  I have never had to book a show for myself. People usually ask me to open for touring bands,” said Molly Raney, a solo artist who performs under the name Poppet. “I have almost always succeeded in setting up shows, and my experience is that host bands are extremely encouraging to artists of almost all genres, and they genuinely want to give people a chance to perform.”

So, according to those who circulate the underground arena, there is no problem at all. But this does not address Sevrens’ concern that local venues do not cultivate an environment open to local, new talent.

“We’re trying to strengthen the scene, and make it more cohesive and open, but we need more venues to do shows at. Like I said, there aren’t really any venues to play at, so we have as many places to play as people offer up their houses,” Sevrens said. “I bet there are tons of freshmen bands who have tons of talent but they just don’t know about the scene and the scene doesn’t know about them.”

Though it would be ideal if everyone got shows based on their talent only, as Kerbavaz pointed out, this rarely happens.

“It’s all about who you know, like any industry. It’s not so much merit-based as it is connections-based, but hey, that’s show biz,” Kerbavaz said.

Both Kerbavaz and Raney agree that success depends on the artist’s ability to network.

“My best advice for new bands: start attending house shows frequently. Get to know people who work and volunteer at KDVS.  If you have any recorded material, take it or send it down to the station so it can be added to the KDVS library,” Raney said.

According to these musicians and their managers, it’s not difficult to break into the Davis music scene as long as going mainstream is not a band’s long-term goal.

“Most bands prefer house shows because you’re allowed more freedom. Venues are generally more strict, and just need music for people to dance to, they don’t even really listen to it,” Rudd said. “House shows are just less exclusive at the same time.”

Shernock and her band mate Zac Bauman, a junior classics major, couldn’t agree more.

“The majority of bands in Davis are playing genres that are not acceptable in bars. They’re much more experimental, which honestly does better underground,” Bauman said.

At the end of the day, this is how the music industry works, no matter what the location.

“The way your music sounds is a factor of marketability. There’s lots of music saturation today. It’s the biggest factor in commercial success,” Kerbavaz said.

BRITTANY PEARLMAN can be reached at arts@theaggie.org


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