How live music is promoted in Lansing

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The world of music can be intimidating. From producers to agents and publicists, bringing music to a stage is complicated. The music business has changed with technology, however it still is an industry built around people.

Giving  visibility to Lansing artists in genres ranging from hip hop to bluegrass and rock is the objective of many, but the job of a few.

Poster by Travis Valentine

Sample of a promotional poster used by Mac’s Bar.

 It is the promoters’ job to find and book the artists that bring empty stages to life. It is their job to ensure that artists get an audience and that the music scene continues to grow.

Tommy Plural has been a fulltime Lansing music promoter for more than 10 years.

“I started playing shows in the Lansing area in 2003 at the age of 15,” he says.  “I first put on shows in town in 2006 and started hosting house shows in 2008.”

Throughout his career, Plural has focused on  Lansing. “Between a couple regular venues and house show spaces, there’s almost always an interesting show happening,” he says.

It is the variety of music in the city that has managed to keep the  scene so active, Plural says. “Lansing always has a strong core of people advocating for alternative and independent music.”

Poster by Travis Valentine

Sample of a promotional poster used by Mac’s Bar.

This independence in styles and performances “gives Lansing the edge over other small cities, in that our music scene is incredibly interesting and doesn’t rely on a single music style,” he says.

Such variety also creates problems.  Finding audiences for specific venues can become difficult if not impossible. “Ten years ago, we were still mostly relying on putting up posters, handing out flyers, and doing interviews with local media to spread the word about shows,” Plural says.

“We still do most of these things, but the internet and social media have become the primary means of communication and promotion in the music industry.”

Claire Postelli agrees. She  does most of the social media promotion for shows at Mac’s Bar in Lansing. “I build the Ticketweb, make sure it’s on our website, promote it through our socials,” she says. That primarily means promotion on  Twitter and Facebook.  

Her duties  give Postelli a unique chance to understand the diversity of the Lansing music community.

Poster by Travis Valentine

Sample of a promotional poster used by Mac’s Bar.

In her time as a promoter she has seen that “there are definitely different communities you can see; sometimes it’s indies, sometimes it’s metal, sometimes it’s rap.” she says.

Postelli agrees with Plural that the scene is diverse enough to support many talents. And nearby Michigan State University benefits from the variety of venues present in the area.  

“I think it’s a great place for student musicians to have as a resource,” she says. And it is also a great place for more experienced musicians to  play.

As Postelli has heard her boss say numerous times, “we help offer the space for the music scene to grow.”

Travis Valentine got into the business to promote himself. It is not uncommon in the music industry that promoters, publicist and agents were once on the receiving end as artists.

“I started because I play, and I discovered that the easiest way to get on bills was to book them myself,” says Valentine, owner of Lansing Live: by Travis.  “I became really good at it so I stopped putting myself on it and started doing it for other bands.”

Valentine works closely with many local bands to create shows. Examples include The Plastic Bears, Lee Cleaveland and Vincie D.

“It is never one band,” he says. “You group a few bands together according to [their] experience and sound so that their fans will get to know other similar bands, expanding the audience of all the present.”

That makes Lansing  unique, Valentine says. Having large high schools and universities around helps artists find each other, while creating temporary bonds.

“You really have to invest in them while they are here,” he says, “but you also have to encourage art to be made.”

Working closely with bands is tough. Valentine feels the need to help them out as much as possible, he says. However, this can often lead to bands being overbooked, which negatively impacts their brand.

“I’m 30, and I’ve been doing music since I was about 14,” Valentine says. “ I’ve been in a dozen bands and I’ve done all sorts of things so I know what kind of shows to avoid.

With this knowledge, Valentine is able to bring artists from their bedrooms to the stage, working with them to make a change.

“Overall when I find bands that I am really passionate about and I am really interested in, it makes me work harder for them and for other bands in the area because I can use those bands and their audiences to get bigger crowds.”