Sharp Notes January 29 2004

PARTING SHOT: I've got some advice to impart to you, the members and followers of Atlanta's local music scene. Yes, of course, you haven't asked for any advice from me. But you'll get it anyway, dammit, because I'm leaving and that's the kind of thing people who are leaving allow themselves to indulge in.

Yes, after five years, three months and a week, give or take a day, I'm taking off my matching skinny-tie-and-suspender-set with the piano-keys design and turning them in to the front office to await my as-yet-unnamed successor, who will no doubt earn the right to don them at some future date.

What have I learned? Lots. For instance: Any press is good press for bands, particularly when you can slam them in a way that sort of sounds like a compliment on first read. And CDs by defunct local bands cannot even be given away, generally, though infants find them every bit as fun to bite on as your multiplatinum Justin Timberlake disc.

But mostly I've learned that you can pretty well divide local acts into two broad categories: the strivers and the doers.

The strivers are those extremely talented artists who know they have an important message to impart to the world, who ache for the chance to share their very unique musical gifts with the teeming masses who need to hear every bit of it. They're the ones who have secured management and are shopping for a deal, who plan to drop product into the market during the third quarter, and have hired publicity for a full-scale campaign, complete with industry V.I.P. reception, comp'ed drink tickets and band-logo beer coasters. All this even though they're still playing 10 High on a Tuesday night. But their career trajectory is heading straight up, and it's never too early to start preparing for massive stardom.

And then there are the doers. These are the people who think it might be pretty cool to become a famous rock star, but who are too busy having fun just playing music to get much consumed with that. They're the people motivated less by celebrity than by an even more primal desire: to alleviate boredom. They're folks more concerned with creating entertainment than crafting great art — folks who understand that the purer art is merely an extension of entertainment. These are the local musicians and promoters who create theme nights, theme bands, spectacles and theatrics — or, simply, really fine music performances — not as a career strategy but just because it's fun. They like music, not only as a job possibility, but because, well, it's normal to like music.

I suppose it's inevitable that any music scene will have a certain number of strivers and doers. And it might do us all some good if the doers did a little more striving, since it certainly develops civic pride when our most creative acts attain a larger level of national notoriety.

But ultimately, it's the doers just doing what they do that makes a local music scene thrive.

So my parting advice to the musicians: Be a doer. (And to the music followers: Support the doers.) Stay open to opportunities, sure, but also keep focused on the bit of wishful thinking that suggests good music doesn't need to be marketed, it finds its own audience (or its audience finds it).

Before it's a job, before it's a spectator sport, before it's a product to be consumed, music is just this weird communication that's as basic to our humanity as language, or as, uh, liking OutKast.

Godspeed you ATLiens and urban cowboys, New South sophisticates and redneck savants. It's been fun.