EBASS: Revitalizing a Community of Songwriters

Last week I walked into a friend’s house with a camera, some recording equipment and offered to shoot live, one-take videos for a collection of 9 up and coming Boston area songwriters for a fraction of what I would normally charge for something like that. I may have given myself an ulcer wondering how it would go, what kind of personalities I would run into, and how I was going to shoot footage that the people would dig, make it unique enough so each video had it’s own life, and finally edit all this stuff and get it back to folks in a relatively quick manner. Well, it all went well…shockingly enough. And while I was filming and technically working during these sessions I also got to enjoy a true cross section of music bridging genres and styles and all sorts of different voices, even though all were played on acoustic guitars and sung. It was just another reminder that there is an intensely large and vastly talented pool of gifted musicians and writers in this town. The diversity just in a genre that people tend to generalize into “singer-songwriter”…meaning person with instrument and singing playing ANY kind of music in my opinion…is far more than a label can do justice to. And to be able to cross pollinate within that genre is a judgement that we should take and run with sometimes. Community building is at the heart and what is important.

(Sophie Kohn performing her song “Fourth of July” during those aforementioned sessions)

In the past two years, in particular, I have noticed a “replenishment” of sorts in young, upcoming songwriters around town (especially in part due to the haven that the Lizard Lounge Open Mic and Tom Bianchi provide for such folks). There is a HUGE population of songwriters here in the general Boston/Cambridge/Somerville area. There is no questioning that. I also wouldn’t question the fact that many of them are struggling to find gigs, find likeminded people, and find where they fit into this bigger equation of musical vastness that we have here in town. Sure enough, it can be a scary prospect. With venues dwindling and new artists popping up each time a guy or a gal picks up an acoustic guitar and spews their feelings onto a notebook the places to play and people to play them is an unbalanced scale. But there is hope and people trying to make a difference. One of those folks is Hailey Magee and just a year into establishing EBASS (Emerging Boston Area Singer Songwriters) she has created a safe place and community for those folks looking for it.

(Hailey is joined by fellow EBASS member and musician Maxwell Bailey for RLR’s ‘Duets’ series)

Magee says that she noticed the chasm between emerging local artists and “established” performers in Boston. Talented emerging musicians had difficulty booking gigs, promoting shows, collaborating with others, and developing strong audiences because, as newcomers to the city scene, they didn’t have the resources they needed. Hoping to break down the barriers that separated new and established artists, she created a Facebook group which soon erupted into having over 500 members and garnering the attention of 20 community partnerships.

In a short time there has been much movement and an evolution with the collective of songwriters with Magee at the forefront. When asked about the progress and growth of the group she remarks, “I feel so, so good about EBASS, and ridiculously lucky to work with all of our partners who have helped get EBASS off the ground. We’ve gone from 100 to 500 members in six months, held over 15 events, and are starting an open mic in January. We’ve even received funds from donors who think we’re on the right track. The driving factor is really the need, in this community, for a community that acknowledges, respects, and books emerging talent, resources notwithstanding. Every EBASS member can relate to that need, and they’ve been amazing in helping make it a reality.”

(David You brings his bluesy pop sentiment to the “Hailey’s House” sessions last week)

But like all things, there are certainly challenges in driving something this large with sufficient force. As one might imagine, lots of folks want to benefit from the kindness and drive of others to create harmony within a population of artists but only a rare few really wish to exert the effort to give back. With EBASS budding at such a rapid pace, it can be hard to keep on top of it all and harness that expansion with so many moving parts. “Sometimes I worry that EBASS is growing too fast!,” Hailey says. “For the time being, EBASS is a one-person show. I love building the group from the ground up, but I could always, always use some help. Graphic designers to make show posters, web masters to help with our website, virtual gurus to coordinate our social media, google sheets pros to manage our member database, folks willing to hang our posters around town… I’m eagerly looking for volunteers to contribute any time they can.” And folks can certainly help out with things. The website of the community has all sorts of information and opportunities for folks to volunteer and get involved.

The future looks bright for EBASS in providing artists and writers a place to connect and a voice to share what they are up to. But, there are certainly uphill battles to win in the process. Hailey has high hopes for more growth and expansion in the short and longterm stating “My long-term vision for EBASS includes a four specific things. First, a team of volunteers who help me coordinate our work! Second, EBASS events in every corner of Boston – not just the Somerville/Cambridge area. Third, more EBASS events in home/intimate spaces (I wrote about the need for non-traditional venues in a blog post here: http://www.haileymagee.com/writing/). And, finally and most importantly, I want EBASS to become a legitimate, registered entity like an LLC or non-profit.”

And of course, that growth may come with giving up some of the responsibility of the day to day operation, but at the core the message remains the same for the group and its members. “Over time, I want EBASS to be recognized as a music entity that intentionally books diverse, enriching bills. I’m talking diverse in terms of genre, gender, race, class, and age. Inclusivity is a definite problem in the Boston music scene, and I think a community of emerging, inspired artists has the ability to buck that trend!”