BALTIMORE– Making it in the music industry is hard enough, but making it as a band seems to be getting even harder.
On top of all the other challenges–constant practices, turnover in the band, travel, working other jobs to pay the bills–there’s a new one: getting young people to come to a show without the bells and whistles and expense of a major event.
“It’s hard to get people out to come and listen and enjoy themselves, it seems like there has to be more of an event,” said Justin Link, the lead singer for Joy Classic, an up-and-coming alternative rock band based in Baltimore.
“I know when I was growing up, you would go to a local show at certain places around [Baltimore] and it would be packed and it would be a band no one knew,” he recalled. “I don’t know why it’s changed, it just has.”
And so has the music– rock ‘n’ roll in the 70s, punk in the 90s and pop music at the start of the century. Over the last few years there has been an even greater rise in pop music with the ascendance of artists like Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and One Direction.
On Billboard.com’s 2014 end-of- the- year “Top Artist” rankings, One Direction was No. 1, Katy Perry No. 2, Beyonce No.3 and Taylor Swift No. 4.
Electronic dance music, often referred to as EDM, also has increased in popularity, giving disc jockeys like Calvin Harris, Avicii and Kaskade a rise. Many people today attend concerts where entertainers are mixing music on stage instead of playing instruments.
There are even music festivals like Electric Zoo in New York City and Ultra Music Festival in Miami specifically for DJs to perform.
“The fact that whatever genre we may be–in the city that we live in and play in–we’re kind of outliers…you’ll see a lot of electronic, that kind of thing, and that’s really big around here right now, so you know as far as finding a niche in this city, it’s kind of tough,” Link said.
So what does it take for a local band to break through in times like these?
Even with many people looking for a full-on event instead of just music, Link and Joy Classic are trying to stick to their principles.
“We love the music first and it seems like with our generation coming to shows there’s a lack of that, they have to have something other than the music so that’s been lost—that’s been I think our biggest struggle: getting people to listen to just the music,” Link said.
The main way the band has worked to have its music heard has been “playing around, honestly– just putting in the groundwork and playing local shows and then opening up for bigger bands, touring bands and then actually touring yourself,” said band member Bob Elder.
Joy Classic has gained public attention by playing with bands touring nationally. On Heavy Lights’ U.S. tour, Joy Classic opened at shows in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York last December.
Joy Classic has also received attention through articles published about the band. The Indie Rock Cafe website named the band “Artist of the Week” last October. The Baltimore Sun called the group one of the “best up-and-coming Baltimore bands of 2014” last December.
The band also has its own website, Facebook page and Tumblr page.
The band is trying to gain more widespread public attention by giving more performances farther away from its home base in Baltimore. The members want to gain new fans instead of continuously playing local shows and drawing the same crowd that lives within 15 minutes of the venue, Elder said.
Last month, for example, the band played at a music festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina called Phuzz Phest. The festival began five years ago and over 60 bands played at the weekend-long event this year.
A more obvious way the band works to get noticed is by continuing to make music. Joy Classic released a new single, “Friendly Encounter,” in late April. The song will be in an album planned for release in late summer or early fall. The band previously released an EP, but this will be its first album.
One of the band’s biggest struggles was figuring out what type of sound they were going for. Another struggle was finding the right combination of musicians as several people have rotated in and out of the band.
Joy Classic has been a band for two years. Link and Elder formed the group in Portland, Oregon, but moved to Baltimore to work with another band member, Matthew Robinson. The band consists of five members: lead singer, Link; guitarists, Elder and Denmark Luceriaga; bassist, Robinson; and drummer, Joshua Davis.
This lineup has worked together for the last few months. The band is named after a beautiful garden in England.
“I think that for a while in the beginning, we weren’t exactly sure what we wanted the band to sound like…but now with the people that we’re working with here in the band we’ve kind of found our sound,” Elder said.
That unique sound is an upbeat type of alternative rock. Elder describes the sound as “very crafted…for however ramshackle we may come across, we try to put a sheen on our music and make sure it’s composed and put together and we pick our parts apart 100 times and put them back together.”
A producer who goes by the stage name, Rajur “Real Deep Kool,” and has worked with Boyz II Men and Jay Z said it is important for a band to work together.
The members of the band “have to jive, they all have to be one unit, when it comes to writing their songs, performing, everything—they’ve got to be one unit,” Rajur said in an interview.
All of the members of Joy Classic have jobs aside from the band, but they want to make the band their full-time job.
Right now, the band is basically a second job,and a demanding one at that, with practices three to four times a week for two to three hours a day.
The grind takes its toll. “Time, money, social life, girlfriends–all that kind of stuff seems to take a back seat,” Elder said.
Stephen Newland, the lead singer of Rootz Underground, a reggae band from Jamaica, said in an email interview that many sacrifices come along with making it in the music industry.
“There are many struggles, but the most important [thing] is to always keep heart when other things come and go, including money,” he said.