Life in a Local Music Scene

Anthony Orrico, Writer

For every musical artist or band that becomes popular, there are 100s that never see the light of day in terms of mainstream success. For all those bands and artists, the pleasure and enjoyment of playing live has to be enough success for them. The expectation of money and fame can not be the primary motivation for playing music. If that is the case, they will be consistently disappointed. I have had the privilege in the past 5 years to play in multiple bands in the local Southern California music scene. I’ve played over 100 shows in that time, and done countless recording sessions. I used to read about music scenes in the past like the Seattle grunge scene in the 1990s and the New York City Indie Rock scene in the early 2000s. I would wonder if something like that was even possible in this day and age. To my surprise, when I joined my first band I found that there was already a thriving community of artists recording their own music and putting on their own shows. The scene doesn’t subscribe to one style or genre of music, although most would say it’s rock-based. All different kinds of music is performed from punk rock, indie, pop-punk, low fi, metal, classic rock, experimental, jam, and so many more. 

From the perspective of a musician, or in my case a drummer, every show is different. Both of my bands heavily utilize Instagram to book and promote shows. Most shows we book are from bands and venues that we have worked within the past. You may ask, “how did you get shows when you first started and had connections?” The sad truth is, and I’ve found this to be true for many bands starting out, is that they are forced to do what are called “pay to plays.” Basically, pay to plays involve a “promoter” finding your Instagram page, and seeing that you don’t have many followers or posts. They realize that you are a new band, and will then message you with a show offer. The first thought is: “Great! This is awesome, we get to play a show.” You obviously accept the offer, and then the dreaded details follow. The promoter says you have to sell 50 tickets at 15 dollars apiece. If you don’t sell all the tickets, then you owe that difference you didn’t sell. The worst part is that you rarely get any money from selling those tickets, and if you do it’s usually a laughable amount. Not all pay to plays are like this, some will give you a fair share of the money. But the scene is full of sleazy promoters who will take advantage of bands who don’t know better, musicians who are just desperate to play.


These pay to plays are good for one thing, which is meeting and connecting with other bands. Just like any other profession, it is imperative to make connections with other bands. That’s how you get better shows, how you start getting your name out in the scene more. It’s pretty much the only way to advance your band; you have to make friends with other bands. It’s important to have a “give and take” mentality. If a band messages you and invites you to come to play at one of their shows, remember. That way you can reciprocate the favor, and invite them to play at your next show. 


Everyone prepares and experiences playing live differently. I can only speak for myself, but at first, it was nerve-racking. Not the playing part, but everything that happens before you take the stage. First and foremost, you want people to show up to the show. The thought of playing in an empty room is much more terrifying than playing in a room full of people. Second, there is your own mood. You’re not always going to be feeling your best when you have to play a show, and that can affect your performance. I’ve played shows sick, depressed, angry, and injured and I’ve always fought through it. The fear you feel when your human limitations get in the way of your passion is not unique to music. Third, and I think is the most critical, is you have to anticipate what can go wrong. Something as small as where you are going to park and load your gear into the venue can be easily overlooked. I’ve had things break right before a show. I’ve forgotten critical parts of drums, and have had to borrow other bands’ equipment. Anything can go wrong. At my band’s very first show, someone locked the keys in the van and we had to call AAA to come unlock the car. 


Any given show can be different, but generally, I start my night by finding out information about the venue. If it’s a place that I’ve played at before, I can skip this step. But if it’s someplace new, I try to get there earlier and find out who’s running the show. I also try to find where I can put my gear, and if the show is running on time. If the show is at a house party or an “unofficial venue” you really have no idea what’s going to happen. You’ll have to adjust accordingly. Professional venues like the Fox Theater, and the House of Blues, are the easiest shows to get ready for because they usually have you show up hours before the doors open. They’ll have you set up all your stuff, and sound check everyone to make sure everything sounds perfect. Professional venues are the way to go if you can get those kinds of gigs. House shows and DIY venues can be great, regardless if the sound system isn’t perfect or if you’re playing in someone’s backyard with your drums set up on a dirt mound. A lot of the shows I play are the latter and are really unorganized and chaotic. If we’re not the first band to perform, I’ll usually wait until the band before us starts playing before setting up gear. As a drummer, I have an endless amount of equipment to carry from my car to the stage. Once the previous band has finished playing and they vacate the stage, I begin setting up my gear. For most shows, there is usually a 15 or 20-minute gap in-between bands to give the next group time to set up. Our sets are usually 30-45 minutes. Most of the actual playing is a blur to me since I have so much adrenaline pumping through me. It’s hard to remember a lot other than loud noises, dancing, and sweating. 


When I was younger, I believed that being a famous musician was all I ever wanted to be. I thought anything short of that was a failure. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that isn’t so true anymore for me. I love playing music, and I especially love playing it live in front of people. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, and while it is fun to play for a large group of people, I’d be just as happy playing for 10 people every night. Success isn’t money or fame, it’s doing what you love because you love to do it and nothing else. Below you’ll find a list of bands including my own in our local scene everywhere from Riverside and San Bernardino to Los Angeles and San Diego. Come out to a show sometime. 


  • Dead Radio (My band)
  • The Extrangers (My band)
  • Hoity Toity 
  • Loser Parade 
  • Archer Oh
  • Ear Ringers 
  • Reasons Above All 
  • Lydian Arrow
  • The Place On Rugby 
  • The Flying Cruisers
  • Sept 
  • Honey Revenge 
  • Odd Robot 
  • Cold Cut 
  • The Hayds 
  • DIY Valentine 
  • Autumnwood

There are so many more I couldn’t possibly list them all.