Scene SC: Being Cool is the Hard Part

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    An Extra Chill Original: Scene SC: Being Cool is the Hard Part
    Published: October 10, 2023

    Jon Warf of ET Anderson & more (left) with Scene SC’s David Stringer.

    David Stringer started the Columbia-based music blog Scene SC way back in 2008, during the golden era of blogging. The first Scene SC sampler, a curated mixtape featuring South Carolina artists, was released in 2009. Last month, Volume 12 of the Scene SC sampler was released for 2023.

    When I first started Extra Chill, Scene SC had already been going strong for several years, and it was a huge inspiration for what this blog originally was. I’m not the only South Carolina music head that holds Scene SC near and dear.

    Ask anyone who has been around long enough to remember the first SUSTO album (or even Sequoyah Prep School), and they’ll tell you the same thing: Scene SC is vital to the South Carolina music community.

    David and I have had a number of discussions over the years, being two website owners operating within the same digital sphere. We don’t cross paths in person often, but when we do we always share updates and ideas. The two blogs have always had a sort of digital brotherhood.

    This is the first time we’ve made it official. David and I had a forty-five minute phone call last week, and I’m putting pen to paper to cover the history of Scene SC, burning out on old school blogging, the rise of AI tools, and the future of the brand. Plus, a healthy amount of South Carolina music scene insight and commentary.

    Pour yourself a glass of something Extra Chill, because this article covers a lot of ground.

    Founding Scene SC: The Golden Age of Blogging

    When David started Scene SC, he didn’t have a future plan laid out at all. He knew he wanted to cover the South Carolina music scene, but at the time there wasn’t really a blueprint for how that would look on the internet.

    “It was always just a figure it out as you go kind of thing,” David explains. “It had to be that way because it was before Facebook. It was before Instagram. It was just pre how everything is now.”

    He continues, pointing out how today’s digital landscape features multi-faceted brands with several social media accounts, YouTube pages, Spotify accounts, you name it.

    “Scene SC built itself in front of everybody, because in my mind it was really this digital zine idea. I guess what would have been a zine in 1995, in 2008 was a blog.”

    Bringing the SC Music Scene Online

    Aside from the major outlets, a small blog in Greenville, and one SC music forum, the internet was fairly empty in terms of South Carolina music content in 2008.

    “I created the blog to be a supplement to that,” David says, “because there can always be more voices when it comes to covering the arts.”

    David’s blog quickly became a valuable platform for local artists. It began to blossom, and ran like this for nearly a decade, producing an entire archive of SC music content to prove it.

    Burnout and Pandemic Reflection

    By 2018, Scene SC had become a South Carolina institution. But David was feeling the effects of ten years worth of covering a small local music scene in a city with an oddball market. He was burnt out on writing, and he had shifted his focus to video content. Even that was taking its toll.

    “Having done it for ten years and burning out on it, and feeling like I was just spinning my wheels doing the same thing over and over again, I really got some perspective after the pandemic, on what Scene SC had become,” David explains. “Which was this archive capsule of the music scene for a long time. Whether that be the videos, the photos, the reviews. Everything in our existence was about capturing the times.”

    Archiving Posters and Music Scene Memories

    David still has a lot more archival work to do.

    “I have terabytes of posters and stuff, and I realized that I might be the only one that has these. I was just saving everything for years,” he says. “Now I have this huge archive of posters I got to get out there somehow. I got to figure out how to organize them and just have them out so graphic designers can see them. So other bands can see them. So people can remember shows, and really keep that history present.”

    From the outside, it sounds easy. From the inside, it’s a lot of work, and requires a lot of resources. Uploading that much data to the internet is not cheap, even in today’s era of cloud storage.

    Still, David is committed to the project, believing in the value of documenting the history of the music scene. He also looks forward and has plans to keep things fresh and current.

    “My wife started working in the library not too long ago, and I use our library as a resource for my day job at Cola Today,” David continues. “I think the amount of time I spend on newspapers, looking at old articles through and I really want to focus on that. Obviously I’m still looking forward, I still want it to be current, but I also want to embrace the past just as much.”

    AI Tools and Superhuman Bloggers

    The online world today is much more advanced than it was in 2008. Not only do we have social media platforms, now we have AI tools like Chat GPT, Midjourney, and more that give bloggers who are willing to use the technology a significant advantage in the digital space.

    “That’s something I think about all the time,” David says. “How much easier things are now to do with Scene SC versus how laborious it was in 2016 to do something. I can just use AI tools now to… I mean it just makes everything so much easier, I feel like a superhuman blogger.”

    David and I both agreed on the value of AI for a blogger. Just this week I have personally used Chat GPT to write and edit articles, Midjourney to generate images, Topaz Gigapixel to upscale old, small images, and Whisper to transcribe this interview. It has absolutely changed the game for Extra Chill, and many others.

    “When people talk about AI, I’m like, it’s my best friend.” David says. “It relieves some of my anxieties about all the work.”

    The Future of Scene SC

    “I’m seeing this sampler as a relaunch of the brand in a lot of ways,” David continues. “I’ve been working on the website, and the back end of it, on and off for a year or two because it was so busted up from a long time of wear and tear and not being taken care of the right way.”

    David mentions how he let things pile up, treating Scene SC like an old rusty work truck that sits in your driveway, and needs a mountain of repairs. He kept pouring oil and gas into the engine, slapping duct tape on it, just to keep it plowing down the road.

    He tells of his technical troubles, losing the entire archive at one point, removing bad code from a decade-old hack, and more. Looking at the homepage, though, Scene SC has come a long way, and the design is much more in line with modern expectations.

    “I just had to be like, let’s just get this thing running and go on again and we’ll get that stuff fixed at some point,” he says.

    Dreams of Becoming a Nonprofit

    The rusty old truck is back on the road, with some new wheels and a fresh coat of paint, and David is ready to let some people ride in the back.

    “I’m pushing it to be more of a collaborative effort where I give people, like photographers and artists, the chance to like have a platform,” David explains. “It really is a hard line with it being commercial and non-commercial, but I want to pay photographers. I want to pay writers. But this is all funded out of my pocket. It’s the worst business model ever.”

    For funding, rather than an ad-funded model like Extra Chill, David is leaning towards becoming a nonprofit. He hopes to set up a foundation and apply for (and receive) grants from the South Carolina Arts Commission to do more archival work.

    As a whole, David and I agreed that the key to getting people to read a blog consistently is to be cool, and be free.

    “Being cool is the hard part,” he says.

    The Challenges of Columbia, SC

    David explains part of his challenge stems from the small, inconsistent market of Columbia, SC.

    “Columbia’s a quirky market,” he explains. “You know only 2500 or 30,00 people live in downtown Columbia? Everybody lives around Columbia. Nobody lives in Columbia. It’s like a ghost town in the summer. That has a lot to do with the music scene here too, just the constant change over. It’s hard to get people to shows when not a lot of people actually live here. Then there’s 40,000 students here, and then they’re not here.”

    This brings to mind what Mike Gentry is doing in Rock Hill with Concerts at the Courtroom and Don’t Sweat It, Inc. His business is a nonprofit and receives grants from the Arts Council of York County to continue operating and growing the community.

    “I’m on the Jam Room music festival board, it’s a free annual music festival in downtown,” David continues. “I’m learning the ropes on how to get government money and grants to do all this.”

    Becoming a nonprofit would open a lot of doors for Scene SC, and in turn the South Carolina music scene as a whole. David says he has dreams of creating a full South Carolina music documentary, and more.

    “I have a lot of big dreams, I just gotta figure out how to do them,” he says. “Lately in Columbia there’s been a lot more support.”

    New Brookland Tavern: A Lens Into the Columbia, SC Music Scene

    Speaking of music scene institutions, especially ones that Scene SC has been close with, in the news lately has been the iconic West Columbia, SC venue New Brookland Tavern. They’ve been in business since 1999 and since then have seen the downfall of several other West Columbia venues.

    Their lease at 122 State Street ends on December 31st, and they have recently announced their decision to re-open in a new location in Five Points.

    “I read an article from the 90s about a similar venue in Columbia going through the same stuff. It’s like the same story over again.”

    David explains that while he isn’t personally excited about hanging out in Five Points, it offers value for the music scene due to its proximity to the University of South Carolina campus.

    “I don’t want to go to Five Points either,” he says. “It’s not ideal for me as an almost 40 year old guy. but at the same time I want what’s best for the music scene. I’d rather have it where 40,000 18 to 22 year olds can walk to it, you know?”

    The DIY Scene

    Always relevant in music, and even moreso in today’s world of bedroom artists and easy access to at-home recording, is the DIY music scene. David and I spent some time discussing the value of the DIY scene, especially when it comes to getting the youth to be active in the community.

    “I’m trying to figure out how to get more involved in that,” he says. “It’s a huge goal of Scene SC, and you, to find these artists when they’re at that house show level and packing the fuck out. That magical era right there.”

    For those reading who are in that magical era now, savor it while it lasts, because the DIY space is a fleeting phenomenon, often disappearing just as fast as they pop up. The memories last forever, but they rarely return. The passing years have a special effect on all of us.

    “People don’t realize when they’re in that scene, it’s like a blip,” David says.

    Here, he again emphasizes the value of archival work. Creating permanent memories of those magical blips in the history of the music scene.

    Scene SC Sampler

    Art by Jack Thornbury @wild_thornbury_art

    The Scene SC sampler itself offers a piece of South Carolina music scene history. Looking back through the past samplers, we see lots of names that are still active today.

    Perhaps most notable is Brave Baby, who submitted a track to the first sampler as Wylie and almost got cut.

    “I almost cut the Wylie song which was pre-Brave Baby,” David recalls. “I was like they need to keep working on their sound. And then I ended up putting it on and you know, I’m glad I did.”

    As you know, Brave Baby went on to become one of the biggest names in South Carolina music.

    “I’m already planning the next one,” David says. “I want it to be more exclusive like some of the older ones were. Maybe a little bit more curated, but I truly love how this one turned out.”

    The 2023 sampler contains 30 tracks from artists who submitted to be featured. It features a wide variety of genres and levels of artist recognition, making it a solid slice of everything the scene has to offer.

    Stream it below, and check out the archive of past samplers on Scene SC’s Bandcamp.

    2023 SceneSC Sampler by Scene SC

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