Contributor Matt Drenik shares his experience navigating the fascinating, sometimes dark, and seemingly endless morass that is the Craigslist musicians section.
A buddy of mine from Austin used to brag about the girls he’d met on Craigslist, how easy it was, how dates were more like sympathetic gestures from one broken soul to the next, always remembering that they’d found each other through a computer screen.
“You know, they’re freaks,” he’d say. “You can say whatever you want and not feel like a jerk. It’s great!”
Fair enough. And granted this was before the whole online app world of Tinder or Grinder, which makes his stories even more fascinating to me.
My wife and I constantly joke about how we’ve missed that whole thing.
“Yeah, we’re old.” She says, sipping on a glass of cheap wine from Trader Joe’s, waiting for Togetherness to start.
But tucked away from the sex and trade and massive amount of material bartering, Craigslist has this special little section under the “community” headline called “musicians” where even I sometimes find myself looking. I firmly believe that everyone should check it out at least once in their lifetime, if only to see what lurks in the underbelly of a music scene, or lack thereof. And yes maybe, just maybe, you might get lucky, too- in a way.
A few years ago I moved to Portland knowing only a handful of people, and of those five, four were on tour and one was my girlfriend. After a few months of tinkering in the basement, I quickly realized that I was a pretty lousy solo artist, mainly because I enjoy the social aspect of being in a band. I like to talk. So I did what any lonely heart would do; I went out and got drunk. And during those binge nights I’d hail my allegiance to the scene, the real social network, asking people to play. Anyone. But as any musician who’s lived here knows, Portland can be a tough nut to crack. At first glance everyone seemed skeptical.
“How old are you?” someone asked.
“Thirrry.” I said, “thirrry one.”
“I don’t play guitar. I just skate, dude.”
“Am I the only one on this island?” I asked.
He walked away.
Nights turned into more nights and still I was coming up empty. If anything, I was finding a slew of new drinking buddies, but I couldn’t seem to get them on the horn during the day. I needed a quick fix.
Now before I go any further, let me warn you that this can be a slippery slope and has the potential to become an all-out disaster if taken too seriously. But hell, I was itching for a band and what did I have to lose? By the time I clicked the first post titled “drummer”, I was already thinking back to my buddy and all the freaks he’d told me about. But nonetheless, I pursued and sure enough, they came. These are just a few of the real responses:
“I’ve been playing for forty years and ready to rock. I’m the baddest. I can make you forget why you’re in a band because I can melt your face off. With rock. I’m the man.”
“A+++ attitude. Pro Gear. No drugs. Ever. I can’t do drugs. I can’t do anything like it. Seriously! So if you’re not an A+++ with pro attitude and chops, then I’d rather not go any further. It’s just too much and with everything that’s happened, I’d rather not. I’m pro. I hope you understand. Best of luck!
“I’ve got over 20+ years experience, but not in bands, so I can’t send you anything, unless you want a selfie. But believe me, I’m a horrible photographer and an even worse model.”
“I’m probably better than you being that you’re from Texas and all but you know, seriously, how could you have lived there?”
Yeah, those responses generally creeped me out, not to mention the other ten that I left out of this story, mainly because I have enough sense to censor myself at opportune times. Also, who wants to sit in a van and eat soggy tacos (or should I say, the 4th meal) at 3am on tour with someone that uses the word “pro” that much?
Nevertheless, I kept going. The void was big. It was scary. It was black and endless. But I kept scrolling, knowing that there had to be someone else like me out there in the dark. I told myself that maybe I’d find some kid that just moved here, broke and bored, friendless, that just wanted to rip a few chords and listen to Uriah Heap. And after a few days, they actually started appearing, one by one, though none too keen on Uriah Heap. To my surprise, a few months later, I had this weird group of strangers, trapped in a tiny rehearsal room, becoming a band.
I’m going to sidestep here for a moment to take a stab at theorizing why some musicians look down on Craigslist. First, in general I think we secretly love when things turn out badly, especially with things that we don’t really have a personal connection to. Anonymous posters are easy to poke fun at, and it’s a better story if the ride ends up in the ditch. And second, I think using Craiglist to form a band is seen, fairly or not, as a cop out. It’s the social networking way of avoiding what most musicians did for a long time; start an organic band, a scene. You think Dez Cadena joined Black Flag from responding to an ad? You think Joe Strummer woulda been caught dead lurking the late night ads to meet someone that could sing “I’m All Lost in the Supermarket?”
With that in mind, earlier this year I found myself drummer-less, again, and falling into a deep depression because of it.
“Just ask around,” my wife said.
“The scene!” I thought yet again.
The first friend of a friend couldn’t tour. Second friend of a friend didn’t learn the songs, then wanted to try out again, then decided he didn’t want to tour. And the third got into some driving trouble and couldn’t tour. My world was crumbling. I was about to cancel everything, pack it up, watch Cheers reruns, and call it a day. My scene was turning into a joke.
Then my wife offered up a simple solution.
“Just put an ad up,” she said.
I went to rehearsal.
“Craigslist?” My bass player added, “Don’t do it.”
But I did and sure enough, a week later we were auditioning a handful of drummers, and the not long after that I had my very own warped version of Keith Moon.
“I’m in,” he said as he threw his kit across the room.
The tour was back on. My band would live to see another day.
“Man, I was just messing around and decided to look,” the new drummer said to me later at a bar. “I really had no idea I’d find something I actually liked. Come on, it’s Craigslist.”
And even later that night I got a text from the new guy. “You wanna go out to a barn and kick the **** out of each other then go write a new record?” he wrote. This guy was a keeper.
Still beaming from my Craigslist experience, I wrote my buddy in Austin the next day. I was curious to know if he was still trolling the ads.
“Nah, I stopped,” he said.
Some weird Burger King parking lot incident ruined the dream. Apparently it had something to do with an older woman, a car, and her boyfriend hiding behind a dumpster, watching from where the shadows met the streetlights. That was the moment that he figured maybe it was time to stop.
“What about you?” he asked.
Matt Drenik is a musician, part-time writer, lives in Portland, plays in Battleme, and enjoys getting lost in the desert with his wife and dog. Email Matt at mattvondrenik[at]gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @MDrenik.