The Importance Of Community (And I’m Not Talking About The Show)

Growing up the only child of two parents who moved from Ohio to Michigan out of necessity rather than choice when I was just making the transition from elementary to middle school, making friends was not something that came easy for me. I was kind, sure, and I had no problem interacting with other kids at school. For one reason or another however, when the final bell rang I almost always went home alone and spent the evening entertaining myself and/or hanging out with my parents. This is not a complaint or another tale of teenage ‘woe,’ just a statement of fact so you know where my story begins.

When I was a teenager my parents urged me to get more involved in church, and I did. I participated in youth group, which met every Wednesday, and through doing so I met other lonely kids who never felt like they fit in anywhere else. Understanding how it feels to be on the outside looking in, even when you’re just a tween, was something that bonded us and helped forge a friendship of sorts that unfortunately does not exist today. We each grew up and grew apart. Some people stayed in that town, but most moved away. I think I distanced myself the most.

Around the same time I got involved in the church I also began growing more interested in music as a business, though I’m not sure I framed it that way at the time. There were venues in our area, though most required a ride from my parents to access, and whenever I could I would beg the people who brought me into this world to accompany me to a rock show. They would oblige because they’re seriously some of the greatest parents in the world, and together we would take in live music from artists at every level of success. Most groups had their roots in religious music, but that mattered little to me at the time. It was music all the same, and it fascinated me. Not just the sound coming from the stage, but the way it brought people together while simultaneously lifting their collective spirits. I remember recognizing the fact there was something special to that from a young age, and in a way I’ve spent my entire life trying to share it with others, as well as better understand it.

What I have learned, and what I was fortunate enough to discover at a young age, is that music cultivates community in a way that few other art mediums are able to accomplish in this day and age. Most think of a community as a physical place, but that is only one definition of the term. A community is also defined as being a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. When you’re in a venue watching a band you love surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands of people who feel the same way you are a part of a community. You can feel the energy of the room, both in the roar of the crowd and the indescribable way the sound pouring through the speakers inexplicably improves your mood. You don’t even have to be sad to feel the change. Good days are made better by music, and great days are made unforgettable. Not just because of what is happening on stage, but because of what is around you. There is something beautiful and incredibly powerful about that, and it may surprise you to know that same overwhelming sense of power and happiness can be found on the business side of music as well.

Last weekend, as those of you who read this blog on a regular basis no doubt recall, I traveled to Pennsylvania to represent Haulix at Launch Music Conference. It’s a three-day event intended to inform and inspire those who dream of making music their career, with panels filling each day and unforgettable performances capping off each night. This was my first year in attendance and I admittedly had no idea what to expect. I had been to other conferences, including numerous trips to SXSW, but for some reason I knew none of that would prepare me for a trip to rural Pennsylvania. What I found, and what this trip helped me to remember, is that sometimes the greatest communities arise from the least likely places.

Friday morning I was speaking as a panelist on the second of many panels that would be happening that particular day. The topic of my panel was protecting what’s yours in the digital age, which in my case meant talking about Haulix and all we do to combat piracy. It was a great experience, with a surprisingly large crowd in attendance, but when it ended I thought my day was pretty much at an end. It was barely after noon, but for whatever reason I thought I had said my piece and everyone would just want to move on.

I was wrong.

Not long after stepping off stage I was approached by some people who simply wanted to say they had never heard of Haulix, but would definitely be checking it out. That was more than enough for me, as it meant I had (hopefully) done my job well. Then another person came up with a question about watermarking, then another about piracy in general. All good conversations, but nothing I hadn’t heard before.

Then it happened. Out of nowhere a group of five or six young men approached me with hands outstretched for introductions. We exchanged names, which I immediately knew I would struggle to remember, and one of them began to explain how they were all longing to start their own record label. The catch was, they all happened to be part of a music tech program at their college, and they wanted to use their on campus studio as a place to record the talent they would release on said label. This meant any products made, or releases distributed, would also need to go through the school approval process. They couldn’t just ‘start a label,’ but they also knew a traditional label structure would never be approved by school administrators. It was a question unlike any I had heard before, and almost immediately after hearing it I felt a wave of excitement sweep over me. Not because I had the answer, but because I could sense their drive to succeed and have their label become a reality.

In the minutes that followed, the students and I discussed a few ideas on how they could skirt around a typical business model while still running a quote/unquote ‘real’ label that administrators could get behind. I don’t know that we found an actual solution, but we probably spent upwards of fifteen minutes discussing various possibilities and what might happen if they were further explored. I even met a professor from their program, and he chimed in with some thoughts of his own. After that, I noticed two publicists in the room I knew and asked them to share their thought, and before I knew it our group had almost doubled in size. If everyone at the conference made up a community simply because we all were passionate about music, then this group was a subset of that community who had come together to solve one goal. Most of us had no stake in whether or not these kids could start a label, but we sensed their passion and it made us excited to help them succeed. We wanted it for them as much as they wanted it for themselves, and I don’t think I even put that together until I was alone in my hotel room hours later.

The energy I felt during my time with those students didn’t end when our conversation came to a close. In fact, I walked away feeling as if my mind were racing with fresh ideas for my own projects. Somehow by feeding off the passion and energy of the group I had caused my own thought process to find new paths to creativity, which lead me to solve a number of problems I had been facing in my own professional life. I was so inspired, in fact, that I grabbed my notebook and took it to dinner with me, and spent over an hour in a bar writing page after page of plans for the future of Haulix.

At one point the students who asked for help with their label appeared at the restaurant. We exchanges pleasantries, but no further discussion was had. I think we could each sense the other was using our mental notes from the prior conversation to plan for the future, and we respected one another’s need to get those ideas out of our minds and onto paper before they became impossible to retrieve memories.

I don’t know if it was the fact those students chose me to ask about their label, or if it was being at the conference in general, but something about being surrounded by like-minded people who shared a similar passion for music inspired me to work harder at accomplishing my own goals. Like the scene you find at a great concert, there was an energy to Launch that was palpable, and if you focused hard enough I swear you could feel it propelling you forward, urging you to push harder and fight for what you know you can achieve. I think we all need that kind of energy in our lives, and the only way to find it is by getting out of our comfort zones and interacting with the global music business community whenever possible. This may be possible through computers to an extent, but nothing holds a candle to the awesome power that can arise from working alongside other individuals passionate about music in a shared space. That is where community thrives, and it is where you too will thrive if you give it a chance.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.