According to MRC data, music consumption in the United States rose by 11.3% in 2021. The growth, while significant, is still not beyond the norm for the US where we have the largest music market in the world. Year after year, save for 2020 due to pandemic, live music and on demand streaming revenues reach new highs across the country as the growing demand for new music continues. The demand is so high in fact that recorded music in the US has become a significant component of our culture. We gather in downtowns to hear local acts, we save our paychecks to get tickets for national acts, and we listen to them all on demand in the times between. If you’re a young artist looking to grow an audience, there’s no better country to be in. That being said, getting on stage as an up-and-comer or distributing your first records is not as easy as me telling you that there is a market for it. Though every artist gets their start locally, every local is unique, and getting started in the music scene can be daunting without knowing where to begin. In order to aid prospective performers with this problem, Champaign based band The Bashful Youngens shared how they got their start locally in the Champaign-Urbana area as well as some popular spots and words of advice for young talents.
On 6 Taylor Street in downtown Champaign, you can find a bright blue building that hosts a Tex-Mex bar and restaurant called Cowboy Monkey. Depending on what day you walk in, you can find a comedy night, scheduled music performance, salsa dancing, or what The Bashful Youngens credit for getting their “foot in the door” in the local music scene, an open mic night.
Every Tuesday, Cowboy Monkey hosted an open mic night for acts wanting to showcase their talent and get a taste for performance. "The best part about that was not only being able to perform on stage every week,” Bashful Youngens member Aaron Short said, “but meeting the other musicians and artists in attendance and building friends and community.” It’s hard to understate the importance of connections in any profession, but music especially requires knowing others in the industry, and open mic nights are a great place to meet new people and create new opportunities for performances.
Image from Smile Politely.
Those first open mics for The Bashful Yougens were now seven years ago, and the Cowboy Monkey open mic nights are no more. Many performance venues in downtown Champaign have since closed, as well. The reduction in Champaign locations is a bit disheartening, but Short still had a healthy list of places to share. “The Rose Bowl has music every single day and provides a good amount of opportunities to play in Urbana, including the Hootenanny open mic on Mondays,” said Short, continuing to emphasize support for open mics. “NOLA's and Canopy Club hold the open mic nights on Mondays and Tuesdays which are great opportunities to get on stage without having to book a show if you're just starting out or just looking to get some stage time.” In addition, Tolono has a song sharing event every second Sunday of the month at The Loose Cobra.
On the record front, The Bashful Youngens cited SCP Records of Danville, Illinois as help in distributing the band’s first and self titled LP in 2016 after bandmate Carrie Chandler was able to make a connection with owner Jordan Cundiff and his business partner Peter Blackmon. This is a great example of how important meeting others in the industry and how one meeting can create a network of opportunity. On the SCP Records website today, you can find a plethora of publicity and performance opportunities from across the country as well as the company’s own music distribution plans.
Spreading some words of wisdom for the next generation of area artists, Short’s biggest message was to “get on stage as much as possible." As open mics were beneficial for The Bashful Youngens, Short highly recommends doing as many as you can if you want to get your music out into the world. In addition to performances, Short also mentioned the importance of collaboration, telling young artists to “meet as many people as you can, because you never know who might be able to help you out down the road, and who you might be able to help out as well.” Short’s tips seem simple, but they have proven immensely effective. Since their start seven years ago, the band has performed in venues from Chicago to St. Louis and toured across South Carolina, Tennessee, and Ohio. With both a successful EP and LP under their belt, the duo released a new song back in March, and is planning to release their second LP later this year. However, even as they grow in audience they don’t forget where it all began. “Community is everything in music,” Short concluded, "and we have a pretty good one here in CU.”