When I was six years old, my grandparents took me to a bluegrass concert in the park near their apartment. We packed a picnic and I wore my favorite sundress. I drank lemonade in the sticky July heat, humming to the tune of the banjo. I convinced my grandfather to dance with me and giggled with delight as he spun me around on the “dancefloor” — a patch of grass near the makeshift stage. The band played until the fireflies came out, at which point I drifted into a sweet sleep under a blanket in my grandmother’s arms.
This was my first experience with local music. The first one I remember, anyway. As I grew up, my community continued to shape and expand the way I thought about local music and taught me the meaningful impact it can have on a community.
I attended high school in Minneapolis, a city that takes great pride in it’s local music scene. In fact, it’s named the second best music scene in the country. This isn’t because it breeds big name artists — although it is home to Prince, Bob Dylan and Lizzo. It’s because Minneapolis-based artists have a unique connection and dedication to their city and community.
In 2016, I attended three concerts that featured Hippo Campus, an indie boy band that graduated from a local high school just years before I did. Before Lizzo made it big, I saw her perform alongside a group of other local female artists at Rock the Garden, a summer music festival that brings national and local artists together for an afternoon of music appreciation, dancing and fun (and, the year I went, very sweaty mosh pits in 90༠ weather!)
Throughout my teenage years, I attended dozens of local concerts; each time growing more excited and connected to the art. When I was 16, I was introduced to Caroline Smith (now Your Smith), an indie-folk-pop singer who grew up in Minneapolis. She quickly became one of my favorite artists — she was also my best friend’s sister.
I felt I had a special connection with these artists. We went to the same restaurants, we knew some of the same people and, in some cases, lived within just a few miles of each other. Each local artist I saw throughout my teenage years brought a different genre, perspective and tune to the stage — yet they each sounded like home.
Local music communities like this exist all over the world. The majority of musicians aren’t heard on commercial radio stations; they’re heard in bars, train stations and community centers. They can be found at obscure festivals, local music venues and art fairs. They are the heartbeat of every community.
While local and community-centered musicians have always played a significant role in the music industry, the rise of technology has changed the way consume music in the 21st century.
Today, Spotify is the world’s biggest and fastest-growing music streaming platform. In 2017, the app had 377 million song streams; in 2019, it had 217 million active monthly users. Between 2018 and 2019, the number of people using Spotify increased by 44 million.
While Spotify allows users to create their own playlists, the app’s most popular playlists are curated by the streaming service itself. These playlists account for three-quarters of all followers of the platform’s top 1,000 tracks, demonstrating their influence on listeners’ music taste.
However, these playlists don’t always authentically represent the diversity of the music industry. In 2018, the world’s four biggest music labels, including Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, were responsible for nearly 90% of the content on Spotify. Today, these labels continue to dominate user streaming.
While this promotes artists with rising popularity across all genres, it also limits the visibility of smaller, local artists. But, they’re there. You just need to know where to look.
The nature of today’s streaming world makes it easier than ever for aspiring musicians to put their work out into the world. Localify presents a simple, accessible alternative to Spotify generated playlists that can help us discover them. And, it’s really important that we do so — for the artist’s sake and for our own.
A number of studies show that playing music and participating in the local community has a positive impact on musicians. This isn’t surprising, as it gives these artists an opportunity to share a primary part of their identity with the world. But it also has the potential to significantly impact community members.
Right now, the U.S. is experiencing a loneliness epidemic. Experts say this is largely due to a lack of genuine, human connection, which could be attributed to the expansion of technology. So, while apps like Spotify provide a great platform to start finding new and unfamiliar music, our support for local artists shouldn’t end there. It’s important that we attend live performances and immerse ourselves in the unique culture these artists help cultivate in our communities.
As streaming platforms continue to dominate the way we listen to music, we must remain conscious of what we consume — and recognize what steps we can take to remain loyal to local artists and, in turn, to our communities and ourselves.