In the late 1970s, British punk rock group The Clash poised the question – “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”
Many region musicians ask the same question of themselves. Should they stay in Northwest Indiana or relocate to a place like Chicago, Nashville, New York, Austin or Los Angeles, where the music scenes are renown?
“How do you measure success?” asked Chad Clifford, frontman/guitarist of The Crawpuppies.
Clifford supports his family with music, but only by being diverse. Along with releasing original music CDs and performing with his group, he maintains a solo career, owns a music store and coffee house (Front Porch Music in Valparaiso) and is a partner at The Alley Recording Co.
It depends what kind of success one is looking for, said singer, songwriter, guitarist and “Nashville Star” TV finalist Nicole Jamrose.
“There is plenty of corporate work available," she said. "We also live close to Chicago so there are endless opportunities for work, whether playing out live or doing studio work. Like anything in life, success in music depends on how bad you want it."
Clifford believes “success” is possible, but being a “rock star” is not. “There are many opportunities for independent musicians today, but the days of the rock superstar are a thing of the past,” he said. “I don’t think there will ever be another Beatles or Led Zeppelin. The market is too fragmented. While that makes it easier to be heard, it has made it much harder to make a global impact like those bands did.”
“It’s very possible to make a living as a musician in the region. Many local artists prove it every day through hard work and dedication to their craft,” said Mark Mybeck, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for The Nomad Planets and co-host of the regional radio program “Flying Around The Sun” on Hammond’s WJOB.
“Leave the region to succeed in music? Absolutely not,” said long-time area songwriter/musician Marc Daniel Nelson, chief engineer and partner at The Alley Recording Co. “We live in an Internet-driven world. Creating, writing and producing music doesn’t have a set (geographical) boundary.”
“It’s difficult to be successful in the region, but it’s difficult anywhere. Fortunately, with technology and social media, it’s made it much easier for musicians to get global exposure without leaving their homes,” added Jamrose.
Talent will shine through
Prior to the Internet, region groups like Oscar & The Majestics, of Gary, found global success. The quartet’s career was re-booted this year thanks to Sundazed Records, re-issuing the 1960s band’s original singles as an anthology collection, “No Chance Baby.”
“We’ve been successful worldwide,” commented group namesake and lead singer Oscar Hamod and his bassist brother Sam Hamod, 40-year veterans of the Northwest Indiana music scene. “We’ve been referred to as ‘legendary garage rock heroes,’ and never left the region. We’re still here. If you have talent it will shine through. You just have to believe in yourself, know your music is good, and work very, very hard to be successful.”
“There are people doing music for a living in the region, but it gets more difficult every year because enthusiasm from bar patrons and club owners gets less and less,” noted Griffith’s Joe Winters, drummer for international touring blues group The Steepwater Band.
It’s certainly easier for cover bands to make more money in Northwest Indiana, said radio host Mybeck, a 22-year veteran of the region music community. “Even with the close proximity to Chicago, it a tough road to travel as an original artist in Northwest Indiana.”
“If restaurants, clubs, bars, etc. looked at music as a solid way to brand their business, it would increase their profits and help bands as well,” added international-selling jazz guitarist Bryan Lubeck of Valparaiso. “If a venue is choosy about artists and hires only the best ones, even if they are a bit more expensive, then people will know the business as one that always has great music and come there. It takes a while to build a brand, especially with music, but the pay off could be great.”
Like Winters’ Steepwater group, singer/songwriter/guitarist Tristen Gaspadarek spends a lot of time on the road.
“Leaving home, touring and performing is the oldest pillar of the music industry,” said Lansing native Gaspadarek, who played locally from age 14 to 23, relocated first to Chicago and now resides in Nashville, Tennessee. She believes one can have a full time music career while staying region-rooted, but leaving opens more doors and more chances to succeed.
Lubeck is proof moving to a major music hub is not a necessity.
“I’ve been asked many times to move to L.A. or NYC, but I’ve had great success here in Northwest Indiana building an audience by being a medium fish in a small pond verses a small sized fish in the huge big city scene,” said the jazzman who has sold 30,000-plus CDs as an indie artist during his 12 years as a solo player on the regional scene.
It would take a paradigm shift, Jamrose said of revitalizing the region’s original music scene.
“The industry would have to move to this area," she said. "Also, people would have to get interested in original music and I don’t think you can force that to happen. Clubs like Northwoods in St. John offer ‘original music nights,’ but the turn out on those nights is nothing compared to the turn out on nights with cover bands.”
The only way for the regional music scene to thrive again is for the fans to support it financially, said The Steepwater Band's Winters, "because at the end of the day, if clubs aren’t making money they can’t pay the bands."
Winters said fan support should include buying the music of local artists. “Don’t just listen online for free, drop $10 on a band’s CD if they have some good songs,” he said.