How LA Musicians Are Taking Back Their Power With DIY Concerts

Lately, some local shows have become about community connection in backyards, while other artist-run events are generating real revenue

It’s a warm Thursday evening in Silver Lake, and a backyard is comfortably packed with about 100 people enjoying free, catered Mexican food while beer, wine and other boozy beverages overflow from a giant cooler. But this is no house party.

This mix of young professionals, musicians, and other creatives are socializing while waiting for the main attraction: A curated lineup of singer-songwriters,who are about to make some jaws drop for the next two hours.

Silverlake Jams is one among many artist-run concert series that have been springing up in different pockets of the city’s increasingly vibrant music scene, which is embracing a DIY spirit like never before.

“It’s like everyone understands what’s important and borrows from each other. But it’s in a beautiful way where it’s not competitive,” says the event’s co-founder Ellen McNeill, who is pulling double duty as an organizer and performer. 

Ellen McNeill performing at Silverlake Jams. Photo courtesy of Joseph DeRose.

L.A.-based musicians used to be at the mercy of venues and promoters for performance opportunities. Now, that’s quickly changing as more artists embrace a do-it-yourself model to produce, curate, and host their own live music experiences after the pandemic shut down live music and crippled the community and the livelihood of many. 

Independent, artist-run shows like Flight of Voices, Saturdays at Seven, Bring Back the Music, Acoustic Sessions, Echo Park Sessions, Oasis House Show and Coconut Spaceship can be caught regularly. Some of these attract an audience of upwards of 100 attendees while others are more intimate, with a few dozen in the audience. But they’re all satellites in an increasingly popular orbit around the usual L.A. music scene.

“I think there’s an earnestness with people that are at house shows,” singer-songwriter Jessica Vines tells LAMag at Silverlake Jams. “They’re not going for anything outside of seeking out music and being a part of the community in a way that I think is different from venues.”

Actor Lance Jeffries nods along in agreement with Vines.

“Everybody’s coming here for the same goal. I want to meet people, I want to build a community, and then also, we get to listen to some beautiful music,” he says.

Jeffries also appreciates how this environment makes him feel more comfortable approaching artists after they play, compared to the experience one has at a typical venue, where he says the performers “seem so far away.”

An attentive audience enjoying Tonina at Silverlake Jams. Photo credit: Joseph DeRose

McNeill, who moved from Boston to L.A. at the height of the pandemic, started Silverlake Jams in her backyard in the fall of 2021. She wanted to make friends and create a performance space to showcase her own artistry, as well. Every show has been attracting more people, and she imagines building toward a “legit, professionally produced event,” with a look and feel “like you’re walking into your old friend’s kickback.”

It’s this in-demand vibe that Sofar Sounds had already been introducing to cities around the world before the pandemic. The global company started in founder Rafe Offer’s London flat in 2009 and now partners with business owners and individuals in 325 cities to create intimate listening experiences through secret lineups and locations.

It’s a great gig for independent artists because they’re guaranteed at least $100 to play a 25-minute set in front of an attentive audience, without the stress of playing the role of the promoter—a title that has been steadily losing relevance in the local music scene.

“Promoters weren’t promoting. They were just putting his bill together and seeing it more as a business,” says Coconut Spaceship founder Jeanna Fournier, who also fronts indie psychedelic rock band Little Galaxies in addition to operating a boutique label, management, and event company. 

Fournier and her partner, Aimie Lovett Sommer, have been producing indie mini-festival experiences at Oracle Tavern in DTLA since the city reopened in 2021, with an emphasis on inclusivity, especially for female artists. Their events, they said, have generated $30,000 in revenue for the local economy—including for artists, vendors, venues, and charity.

“With people not buying music anymore, I saw that there is a lot of money in live entertainment,” she explains. “So I was thinking, if we can put on a show—doesn’t matter if they’re huge artists—that can generate income for the musicians.”

Attendees hanging out at Coconut Spaceship’s indie mini-fest Touch Down last February at Oracle Tavern in DTLA

Singer-songwriter Sophie Ilys has been generating income for other artists in the Flight of Voices collective since 2014 when she took a meeting in a tiny Beverly Hills salt room and envisioned it as a performance space.

“I could only fit 10 people, but for me, that felt more inspiring and exciting than the idea of filling the House of Blues,” she told LAMag. 

“At the time, no one was doing it,” she says of DIY shows in L.A. a decade ago. “I felt like a crazy person.”

But the existing model to be seen and heard in the L.A. music scene wasn’t sustainable for Illys, who had moved to the city after making a healthy living for years in Mexico as a resort performer. She was used to getting paid to play her originals for venues with a built-in audience; in L.A., she found herself hustling to sell friends tickets to watch her perform in venues with poor sound quality and little-to-no profit margin.

“It was so not inspiring,” Ilys says. 

Flight of Voices at Malibu Wines. Photo courtesy of Mikel Darling and Flight of Voices.

Now she works with over 60 artists, including multiple Grammy winners, to produce concert experiences in unexpected places, like in vineyards and on hotel rooftops. For the more adventurous ticket buyers, venues have included a lake in Joshua Tree National Park and a peak in Topanga Canyon. 

“I think it’s really important to have regular spaces that people can gather in and share music. And for me as an artist, I wanted to create more of an experience, and something that felt good to me,” Ilys adds.

It’s clear that this model feels good to many musicians and audiences, too. Just how bright this artist-friendly movement may burn remains to be seen. But these events are making L.A.’s music scene hotter than it’s been in decades.

Flight of Voices takes over legendary recording space The Village Studios. Photo credit: Mikel Darling

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