Carolina Music United seeks to promote unsigned bands

By Caitlyn McGuire
July 9, 2013

On any given Friday night in Columbia, finding local live music isn’t too difficult. The independent, unsigned and open-mic music scene is booming more than ever with a range of genres and artists.

But it still can be disorganized, so four S.C. musicians have taken matters into their own hands with Carolina Music United. Their goals are simple: unite local musicians of different genres, share ideas, promote these musicians and strive to eventually reach musicians all over South Carolina.

Similar efforts have been tried in larger cities and states, but rarely has the idea been promoted in South Carolina, with a history as diverse as the sultry sounds of Eartha Kitt, the jazz of Dizzy Gillespie and the acoustic music of Hootie and the Blowfish.

Carolina Music United founders Alex Roberts, Allen Bishop, Blake Arambula and Benji McKay say it’s time South Carolina musicians united.

“There are indie bands checking out rappers, country bands hanging with the metal kids,” said McKay, a member of The Lovecrafts. “Everyone can learn something from someone else.  No one knows everything.”

With over 30 bands and musicians already part of Carolina Music United, one meeting under their belt and a local musician compilation CD released, the founders say they still have a lot to figure out.

They might look to Iowa for some pointers.

Chris Ford, an administrator at the Des Moines Music Coalition, said it started with similar goals and now has reached and exceeded them. Just like Columbia, Ford says Des Moines is a city of unique local music talent but that artists often do not have the resources or knowledge to become recognized.

See also the Des Moines Music Coalition’s Facebook page.

Established about eight years ago, the Des Moines Music Coalition has attracted local musicians and created one of the most successful multi-artist concerts in the area, the 80-35 Music Festival, named for the two main interstate highways that connect in Des Moines.

Ford said he can relate to the challenges Columbia Music United may be facing and knows what the group should do to become successful.

“Have people that are making these things happen and are respected by the music community,” Ford said. “And use volunteers and the community. Make these people a part of it.”

Arambula, one of the members of the Columbia band Death of Paris, said the community will be a large part of Carolina Music United’s success. For now, however, no one is actually leading the group. The founders are trying to keep it organized while keeping in mind they also are local musicians.

“We don’t know everything. I prefer to think of us more as organizers,” McKay said. “Someone has to set up the forums for the people to discuss the ideas.  We’ve done that. Someone has to be a focal point at the beginning for people that are interested in the idea. We’ve done that. Now the idea can survive and maintain itself without the direct involvement of any of us.”

The four founders so far have organized events and projects, recruited radio stations to help artists and united rappers and rockers. But Matt Snow of the Beaufort based band The Apprehended, a coalition member, sees a problem

“I think the music scene has been dying out,” Snow said. “There’s good diversity represented in South Carolina, but audiences have been dying out.”

Arambula said that for the past few years “there’s been a lull.”

Listen to Arambula explain why the coalition has attracted bands across genres.

“There hasn’t been those one or two bands everyone has to go and see,” he said.

He said local music used to be about seeing a great band as well as socializing with others.

“It was more like an event,” he said. “We’re trying to get back to that by uniting these bands and getting them recognized.”

But the coalition’s founders also aren’t short on confidence and know what can be used to their advantage.

“We have radio stations that play local unsigned bands.  We have press that writes about local unsigned bands,” McKay said.  “We have local music podcasts.  We have websites dedicated to local music.  We have a ton of support in this town that a lot of time goes completely unnoticed.”

The music scene in Columbia, Arambula said, “can compete with any city that surrounds it.”

See a map of four of the area’s more popular music venues. Zoom out to see all.

See also: Society tries to keep blues alive in Midlands

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