How do we get the word out about our new activist street band?
January 1, 2020 7:05 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I have been trying to get a new percussion and brass/reed group off the ground in Los Angeles: an activist street band, in the model of the Boston Area Band of Activist Musicians and other HONK! bands in New Orleans, Austin TX, Portland OR, and globally. HONK got its start in Somerville, MA, and there's been an annual festival of HONK! bands from around the world for the past 14 years. No HONK in LA so far...

We had a pretty decent turnout at our first meeting in September, but since then (we had rehearsals in October and November), attendance has fallen off and we haven't added anyone new. Mainly, I've been trying to reach out to the local activist and musician community through social media. I've gotten involved in one of the local environmental groups as well, and have reached out to other movements a bit, but haven't had any luck with recruitment.

There are a few non-political brass bands in town. My networking attempts with those folks have gone nowhere so far.

My questions:
1. What's the best way to recruit musicians locally? More social media ad dollars, more in-person networking, or what?
2. How do we get people to come back after their first time? How do we build engagement and community?
3. What are your tips for recruiting and engage other performers, like dancers and puppeteers and such?

Any ideas would be most welcome! We have our first gig planned for 10 days from now, so time is of the essence.
posted by guzzalina to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Regular ads in the indie paper?
posted by oceanjesse at 9:14 PM on January 1, 2020

I don't have specific advice, but I am wondering...have you been crystal clear in explaining what this is? From the links provided, I can't say I get what these groups are for. What kind of events would you play at, and in what context? What is the fundamental WHY of these groups? In other words, what is the thing that will motivate people to say, "Yes, this is an activity I want/need to be part of!"

Sidenote: I must say, the name of the movement is unfortunate, given the white supremacist connotations of "honk." If you're advertising with the acronym HONK, I suspect I'd find your events subconsciously off-putting, just because of that word. "" almost felt like my risky click of the day, y'know?
posted by desert outpost at 11:53 PM on January 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Boston resident here—Honk has been active for 15 years, predating social media in general. It has an established name in activist music circles since before the current clown/fren BS. Right now it has unfortunate connotations, but within the players Guzzalina wants to attract, it’s an unavoidable acronym.

As far as the purpose they serve, BABAM and Honk show up at protests and demonstrations out here as peaceful protestors and supporters of liberal causes. Honk also runs an annual festival of marching bands.
posted by pxe2000 at 3:13 AM on January 2, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: another Boston resident -- our neighborhood, Jamaica Plain, has an activist street band (JP HONK!) that plays/rehearses outside of our local transit stop on Monday evenings in the summer, and we're also friends with members of Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band, who also regularly play at Somerville HONK!.

I think the thing that's worth keeping in mind is that these bands are bands first and they happen to be involved in community events. So, all of the recruitment and retention tactics that apply to getting a band together apply to activist bands as well (flyers at local coffeeshops and live music clubs, Craigslist, word of mouth, having regular rehearsals, etc.) With that said, given that these bands are musical volunteers, you should expect that retention is always going to be a challenge and you will benefit from having a deep roster of potential bandmates. Always be recruiting. A street band can be sixteen people or it can be six. Everyone's schedule is going to be challenging, you'll want to flexibly adapt to the number of bandmates you'll have on hand, and you should have arrangements that can scale to your numbers.

Assuming that the bandmates you have now have proven to be reliable, you may want to just assume that's the band you'll have for your first gig and plan accordingly. Put your focus into ensuring the group you have now play well and are having fun, and then add people on to that core as recruits present themselves. You still have to play your first gig!

After that, if you can regularly play in a well trafficked public part of your neighborhood, then that's going to be helpful for visibility and recruitment. Get involved in your community. Our honk bands aren't just for protests and marches. They play at the openings for affordable housing buildings, charity events, street markets and local block parties. JP HONK! was a regular band at the local Halloween parade for years before tackling more events. Play out, build an audience, have a community, then recruit from that audience. It's going to a gradual and continuous process, and you're just getting started.
posted by bl1nk at 6:28 AM on January 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Love this! I just learned about HONK from some Somerville folks and was super envious. A few questions to maybe help clarify some strategies/directions for this.

1. - Are you interested in people who want to learn instruments/learn how to read music or are you recruiting people who already own and know how to play instruments?

I've been haunting Goodwill's online auction site and see TONS of used instruments, including percussion (glockenspiel! melodica! harmonica! drums! trumpets!) If you have an instrument library and some people willing and able to teach the basics, that could be a huge draw. Actually, I would be stoked as a lapsed piano player and drummer to join a group where I could teach others the basics of music (where do you guys meet?? hopefully on the east side....) If you are up for incorporating skill sharing, this would need to be a weekly (or biweekly) meet-up in my view, to be able to build community. Are you interested in "all ages," aka there could be a kids section? It could be a draw for people who want to be able to participate together as a family? This could also be a way to offer a service to community groups who aren't currently organizing public events that would need a band to perform.

2. Are you amenable to playing in smaller configurations while you gear up and make a name for the group?

Even a three-piece band (as long as there is at least one drum and one brass player) can make an exciting racket at a protest? As a sporadic activist event organizer, I would be STOKED to be able to invite a three-piece band to a protest. LA Tenants Union have been doing lots of public events of late, have you had any luck reaching out to them? Hit me up on memail if you want, I'm involved with a group that often partners with them.
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:40 AM on January 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

Can you put a link in your MeFi profile? I can't find anything on a quick google, so maybe some of us can help spread the word socially on top of bigger campaigns to get the word out.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:23 AM on January 2, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far. I added links to my profile. We don't use HONK much in our messaging because it seems to be largely unknown here, but good grief, what a bummer about that meme.

spamandkimchi, I will follow up! We are rehearsing at Expo Park on Sunday afternoons -- once a month for now, but you're the second person to suggest more frequent meetups. I think an instrument library and skill-sharing approach in the School of HONK model would be fantastic, especially since we're starting from scratch without an established corps of activist street bands from which to draw, unlike BABAM which drew from School of HONK, JP HONK, the Leftist Marching Band, Second Line, etc.

*waves to bl1nk* I used to play with JP HONK from time to time =)
posted by guzzalina at 9:27 AM on January 2, 2020

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