René Moffatt (center) performs at the Dunes at the inaugural Listen Local First event in October. Photograph courtesy of Listen Local First
The concept behind Listen Local First came to Chris Naoum almost by accident. As Naoum, a legal reporter by day and a diehard music fan by night, spent time around town, he kept thinking the same thing: Why are all these restaurants and stores playing music by Vampire Weekend? Everyone seemed to be buying locally grown food and shopping at locally owned stores, but no one was listening to local music.
Unless you spend time actively seeking out local bands or hanging out at local music clubs, you’re not likely to hear music being made in DC. Naoum, along with graphic designer René Moffatt, decided to bring the local revolution to the music scene.
Together they founded Listen Local First and the monthly Local Music Day. Tomorrow, as you sip coffee, go gift shopping, or grab a bite to eat, instead of the usual Mariah/Sinatra on repeat, you may hear one of 12 holiday songs performed by local artists, including singer-songwriter Taylor Carson, world-funk ensemble The Funk Ark, or the twangy, roots-rock-y Her Majesty’s Orchestra. So far, 20 businesses—including Tryst, Big Bear Cafe, Mellow Mushroom, and Local 16—have signed on to the project.
If you haven’t heard of any of these acts, you’re not alone. DC has an untapped talent base, Naoum says—one that extends beyond the bands you’ll find opening shows at Rock and Roll Hotel and DC9.
“Across genres, there are some really talented musicians in the city,” he says. “There’s more to DC music than just your twentysomething indie rock bands.”
Next week, you’ll be able to catch some of this month’s featured artists live at Wonderland Ballroom. But even if you’re not the concert-going type, listen a little closer tomorrow.
“We’re creating alternate avenues of music exploration. We’re putting it in front of people where they’ll be,” says Naoum. By making the music available to people where they already spend their time, local bands will be exposed to groups who wouldn’t know to check out a concert.
“As a musician, you can only ask your friends to come and see you play so many times,” he says. “Some of these bands have played the 9:30 Club, some of them haven’t, but it’s about building their local fan base up to that level.”
Between his work as an editor for a legal policy blog and trying to find partners and artists for Local Music Day, Naoum has had his hands full, so tomorrow will be the last Local Music Day until February. He’s going to spend January trying to grow the network of local businesses that participate and working on making an all-local web radio station. For him, it’s all about getting local artists’ music heard.
“On the Internet, there’s too much noise. The Internet doesn’t make or break anyone anymore,” he says. “We can help expose these artists.”
The First Annual Listen Local First Holiday Jangle is at Wonderland Ballroom December 15. For more information, visit listenlocalfirst.com.