by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & Marketing Alchemy & r & & r & Trying to create an art scene from scratch is like effing around with alchemy. Even in an age of atom splitting, it's less costly to just go poking around the dirt than it is to collide base elements until you get gold.
The alchemy of art scenes is similar. It's a complex process under any circumstances, but when the elements involved are as fickle and hype-mad as pop bands, you might as well get your rosary. No matter how well you build it -- with effective city planning, an arts-friendly government, proper density, eager audiences, profitable venues -- there's no guarantee you'll strike hipster (or hip-hop, or metalhead) gold. Despite all the work seemingly being done by the Verner administration, Greater Spokane Incorporated and RAWK to foster an all-ages scene specifically and a more robust scene in general, there's still that massive, make-or-break question mark: the marketing. No matter how good the scene you have is, if no one knows about it, who's going to flock?
Unfortunately for the city, you can't sell a musician on Spokane the way they sold the U.S. Figure Skating Association. (If you could, Browne's would be a little Williamsburg.) It's gotta be a soft but bankable sell. It has to be viral, but with a concrete hook.
You gotta have good bands, yeah, but you also gotta have a proper record label. It's a hell of an X factor in building scene credibility. Labels speak to a wider range of people than single bands do. They actively market. They don't break up just to pursue dithering side projects. In the mid-'90s, a ton of people flocked to Seattle because of Nirvana's fame, sure -- but tons more came because the success of the band's label, Sub Pop, suggested that fame was duplicable.
Scene building is a complicated equation no matter what, but not having a well-respected, boutique label proudly producing music here makes the math considerably harder.