How to Break into Your Local DIY Scene

Tips on entering the tight-knit do-it-yourself music culture


Foolish Johns. Photo by Erica Otero.

So you saw some Instagram story of kids running a circle pit in someone’s backyard, and you want a piece of the action. Or you know of local record labels that get their artists from the DIY scene like Burger Records, and you want to get it straight from the source.

The DIY scene is amazing and multifaceted; it ranges from bands to artists to photographers. If you’re lucky, your local DIY scene can be a source of like-minded creatives from your community. It also spans genres, ranging from hardcore to rap to punk to folk punk. Tapping into this rich network of creative individuals can help expand your horizons and push your boundaries.

1. Ask A Punk

Although the days of someone standing on a street corner passing out flyers and demo tapes might be over, unofficial street teams stay true. Asking your local punk is the quickest and most efficient way to dip your toes into the scene without doing much of a deep dive. Plus, it provides an opportunity to go to a show with a new friend!

The only difficulty is nailing down what exactly your local punk looks like, as the genre, look and lifestyle have grown to encompass DIY, alt, folk and beyond. Some signifying marks are faded screen-printed t-shirts, cuffed Dickies and beanies or enamel pins referencing some niche podcast.

2. Look for Flyers (URL & IRL)

Keep an eye out at your local coffee, comic or record shop. Some good ones that come to mind are Back to the Grind Coffeehouse in downtown Riverside, who host their own open mics and are a hotspot during the Riverside Art Walk, A Shop Called Quest in Claremont and Zoinks Records in downtown Pomona. Chances are they have a community bulletin board, and there will be flyers promoting various shows going on in the area. These will tend to be for more festivals or venue-based events. If you’re interested in backyard shows in particular, you’ll need to get your internet sleuth hat and read on.

3. Follow Your Local Bands, Artists and Organizers

A good backyard show is nothing without the efforts of the community. Up-and-coming local artists like Beverly Salas will often lend their talents designing the flyer for a backyard show. By following them, you not only support a local artist but you are often the first to see the new design. Organizers like Moonlight Renaissance are also a great source for information. And of course, the bands you find like Hexed, Ariel View and Foolish Johns will keep you posted on future events.

4. Check Out Community Events

Hitting up your local artwalk or zinefest is a sure way to meet the people who know about the next backyard show—often they’re the ones hosting! Any community driven-event that focuses on highlighting the talents of creative individuals draws DIY kids like flies to honey. Talk to vendors, deejays and of course bands themselves at these events to get a golden ticket into the scene.

5. Start a Band

You learn the most by doing, right? Scrounge up a couple hundred dollars to buy your own instruments, ask a really cool friend to borrow theirs, rent it from a music store—whatever the case, just get your greasy little paws on an instrument and start wailing. Many notable bands who have come up through the scene, like the Coathangers, start off with little or no prior musical knowledge. You don’t have to be able to read music to learn three chords, keep tempo on the bass or hammer out a beat on the drums. The best way to get into the DIY scene is to be at the heart of it all, in the band itself.

6. Throw a Show

The whole “start a band” idea too much to handle? Relax, there’s another way you can be in the thick of it all—throw your own damn show! If you’ve been doing your homework, you’ve seen flyers advertising “Mari’s Birthday Bash” or something along the lines. It doesn’t have to be a birthday party, but it certainly makes for a memorable one.

If you have your own place or really cool parents, go through the proper channels to clear a few hours of high decibel content—which is really just telling your neighbors that you’re having a party and to please refrain from calling the cops. Bands are itching for venues to play, and you have the option of getting a cut of the entrance fee profits. Make your house rules clear and reach an agreed-upon understanding with the bands before the party starts.

7. Support Your Local Scene

The DIY scene would be nothing without the support of the community. Be it through your patronage, contribution or even your own art, the scene is only as strong as the people who believe in it. The more you contribute, the more you get out of the experience. Involvement in community-based activities enriches your life and helps you build a network of creatives who could become future clients, collaborators or friends. Commission your local artist, buy your local band’s latest album, make a zine, start a band—just get out there, and do that shit yourself.