If You Have Less Than a Thousand Followers, Chances Are I’ll Like You: Why Startups Hold a Special Place in My Heart

For those of you who don’t live inside my head, a startup (in my vocabulary) is a beginning band just…starting…up…get it? Anyway, these are the guys who maybe only have an EP out, haven’t toured very much, hang out after other concerts trying to sell their CD, that sort of thing. And this will be my explanation for why I love this stage of a band more than any other.

Now, let’s get one thing straight: I HAVE NOTHING AGAINST BIG NAME BANDS. All bands start in this stage, it’s just the duration of time they stay in it that’s the difference. So being mad or liking a band less because they’ve made it big is just backwards. You can never re-startup a band, so the most you can do is love them while they’re in that stage and hope they progress as far as they want to in music. If I get to know an artist in their startup phase, chances are I’ll follow them through to wherever they go because they got me to love them when they were wee little lads who didn’t have autotune or a headlining tour. So good to get that out of the way.

Now, here’s why I like the startups:

THEY’RE REGIONALIZED

This is more of a side effect of startups than anything. If you’re just beginning, chances are you don’t have the funds to go touring all over the country. So you play in your hometown over…and over…and over. You get a loyal fanbase there first, and usually some other band bros that will have your back and maybe tour with you. It’s really cool to see similar bands all come out of one area and support each other, both musically and as friends. Plus, bands are always pleasantly surprised when they get out-of-hometown followers.

THEY ALWAYS HAVE THE BEST STORIES

Once a startup can scrape together a tour, they learn to rough it. This means living off cheap burgers, sleeping on a stranger’s basement floor, enduring the fellow bandmates for days at a time in the van, all that good, character-building stuff. One of my favorite songs of all time is “Anywhere but Home” by the startup Handguns. As a group that regularly asks on twitter for places to stay between tour gigs, these guys have a close place in my heart. The song itself is brilliant and really preaches the true “gig life” that they lead. It’s a great track for the honesty and connection it has with every verse. Go follow them on twitter and shower them with love from me.

THEY DO IT ALL THEMSELVES

Now, again, I’m not taking any jabs at major label bands, but most people who get signed admit that they were influenced by the producers and other players in the studio when trying to come up with a new album. No band loses all of their integrity, but a few stumble in remembering their band’s vision. With a startup’s first EP, you know that most of it was conceived in a ratty notebook with just the members’ heads bent over it, and that makes the lyrics sound even better.

THEY HAVE A LOT OF HEART

I’m also a big fan of openers. In fact, if I’m going to see a headliner, chances are I’ll like the openers almost more than the big act itself. Why? Because openers have a much different energy than anybody running the show, especially if they’re the first ones to go on. It takes a lot of fortitude to get up in front of a group of random kids, most of which probably aren’t there for you, and play your heart out, hoping they’ll like you enough to remember your name. That’s what I go to shows for – to see a band bring it all to the table. And startups do that in spades. Big names bring it just as much, but they do it in a way to give back to their fans for spending the money to see them. Startups bring it to prove to everyone that they deserve a spot on the map and just rock out their love for music. And you can’t exactly bottle that.

Okay now comes time for the why-did-I-write-this part. A few weeks ago (I’m late, I know) I ordered a shirt off the startup Giants at Large after hearing their split and some of their free songs. I came with a handwritten note thanking me for supporting them in their music. I had never gotten anything like that before, and thought it deserved some love. That note is about three sentences – just thanking me for my order and saying that they’ll have a new album out in August. But that note means more to me than any big name band signatures ever will. They took the time to thank me for supporting them. And I support that kind of love and enthusiasm. Way to go, guys.

So, there you have it. Next time, I’ll write about how you can find great startups. In the meantime, you can follow my music twitter – @hallformusic – and look up some of the bands I tweet about. Oh, and go buy music from Handguns and Giants at Large! Go!

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