The Power and the Mystery of Nostalgia

We all have those songs that make our spine tingle every time they come on. The moment they attached themselves to us like a parasite in our brains comes flooding back to us with the same effervescence as ever. Whether it is good or bad feelings it brings, the song is no longer just a song written by a band, it is a song written into your life. It is a trigger to inspire reflection and will forever hold this power over you.

Technically nostalgia is defined as, “A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations” OR “the evocation of these feelings or tendencies.”

But that definition doesn’t mention magic. My definition would. My definition of musical nostalgia would mention some outer-body stuff. That inexplicable moment where everything else halts and fuzzy feelings collide with a strong melody, a good friends smile, and boom — something is burned inside you forever. But there’s a reason they don’t let me define things.

The most impressive thing about a nostalgic song is not only the visions it can bring back to you – but you can remember smells, touch and even sometimes what you were wearing acutely well. They say everyone can have a photographic memory if they train themselves to. I believe that to be true because of musical nostalgia. It’s funny how we have a hard time remembering small details each day or even important dates without iCal – yet we can remember the tiniest of details from these magical moments.

In this blog I wanted to review the power of nostalgia, how it happens, and how this knowledge might help artists/promoters/festival create these magical moments for their fans/attendees. I am by no means well researched in any science and there are probably many much wiser than me who can break this down more logically, BUT I am an incredibly intense music fan driven by my nostalgia each day and still very much in love with it all.

When it Happens 

Nostalgia is often associated with your youth. How come everything just seemed more magical back then? Maybe because there were lots of firsts. Your first punk rock concert, your first mix tape, your first vinyl purchase at the local record shop, your first outdoor festival, your first artist-signed-Converse-All-Stars, your first mosh pit, your first make-out session in the alley way beside the venue… it’s all so overwhelming when you first start experiencing the rebellious world of live music. It feels like you’re on top of the world and untouchable. You’re young enough to feel the magic at every turn but old enough to not have to be babysat. It’s a truly special time for your nostalgia collecting purposes.

Pop culture helps to set the stage for these moments. They teach you what is allowed, what rebellion looks like, and the thrill of breaking the rules. But there’s more. When your parents were angry about you going to a party did they tell you the dude trying to sell you drugs actually visits his grandma every day and plays in an emo band that sings about heart break? Did they tell you the scary motorcycle dude with long hair and tattoos has pictures of kittens on his phone and will lend you his favourite vinyl if you promise to listen to it and read the lyrics at the same time? No one set the stage for this kind of depth before and for a youngster your heart can’t help but flutter. What’s better than nostalgia? The moment where it was actually birthed of course.

Does this mean it’s harder to create new moments of nostalgia when you’re older because you’ve seen a lot of the same shit already? I would argue yes. But it’s not impossible. Amazing moments stick-poke their head out of the most unlikely corners.

Key Ingredients 

What are some of the common threads of these great nostalgic moments – mine often have these 4 key ingredients:

#1 – Rebellion

If you’re not breaking at least one rule you are probably doing it wrong. Even if it’s doing something that is out of character for you, crossing that line sets the stage for something special.

#2 – Amazing Songs

Lyrics that lend themselves to the very moment, melodies that make your heart sing, guitars that explode… You know the ones.

#3 – Picturesque

Something happens where you can see yourself, outside of your body, and you take a picture with your brain cam. So the scene has to be pretty epic, the setting elusive. Maybe it was a setting sun, old car, rooftop, etc. etc.

#4 – Good People

Usually these moments are not made when you’re alone,  though they very well can be. Most often though, you are with people you love and are sharing this moment. They get it, you get it…we all get it!

I know it’s not this black and white but just roll with me on this one.

EEP’s 

As an artist, promoter or festival director you are an experience producer whether you notice or not. For the rest of this blog you will now be referred to as “EEPs” – Executive Experience Producers – cause everything just sounds better with the word ‘executive’ in front of it. And this is a very serious job! Even publicists, managers, and anyone who has contact with music fans directly or indirectly – you too are EEP’s in certain situations.

Everyone wants a story to believe in, something bigger than themselves. As an artist you hold the keys to a world your fans don’t. Shrouded in mystery, the smelly and stingy back stage or decrepit tour van can become anything their imagination allows it to be. Your shitty show in Barrie on a Sunday night with 17 people in front of the stage could be the life changing moment one of the 17 people burns in their memory and always associates your band with. It could be a moment of inspiration for them to pick up a guitar or write a song! OR it could be the night the sound was so shitty, they left early to stay up late watching Mad Men and never remember the name of your band again…

As an artist do you have power over that moment at all? Probably not entirely. Sometimes it’s a mood and you can’t force this level of connection. BUT can you influence them and help to urge it in the right direction? I would say hell yes! As an industry insider you have the same ability to help influence these moments. As an EEP it is your duty to help make magic happen.

EEP’s Ability to Influence

Looking at the key ingredients I outlined above, what aspects as an EEP can you help to influence?

#1 – Rebellion

Well this is subjective for how each person was raised but maybe there is a small rule you can set up for your fans/attendees to break. Something that gives them a chance to feel bold. A prime example is Sneaky Dee’s (a great venue and restaurant in Toronto). At Dee’s you are allowed to graffiti, carve, spray paint, and etch ANYTHING you want on their tables, walls, ceilings, mirrors, and more. It has become part of their brand. Even though it’s permitted within the Dee’s walls, it’s not anywhere else so it fuels that rebellious excitement everyone has inside of them.

#2 – Great Songs

Well it goes without saying that AMAZING songs and an unstoppable live show are key to the experience. If you’re not there yet- stop reading and go back to the jam space!

#3 – Picturesque

What will small stage props, room decor, etc. lend to a magical experience? Going to the same bar every other night for local music fans becomes dull. Finding alternative spaces to present your music creatively in can change everything. Create an environment that urges people to want to take photos. A great example of this is the Arts & Crafts 10 Year Anniversary festival in Toronto this summer. The site was beautiful.

#4 – Good People

Why not encourage best buds, couples, families to come to the show/event together? Maybe a 2-for-1 ticket deal? And it goes without saying all your staff, the band themselves, and anyone interacting with fans should be awesome and engaging.

Deal Breakers 

Here’s a quick list of flat out deal breakers I’ve compiled that will almost always get in the way of having/creating magical moments. It’s truly hard to fight these all off at one time, so you can see why many nights go on as normal evenings out and miss the magic mark.

– Long bathroom lines (“Did I pay for this ticket to look at the hallway all night?”)

– Long bar lines (“Instead of getting buzzed I just bitched all night…”)

– Rude customer service (“Can you believe that guy?”)

– Rude security (No one wants to deal with a power trip on a night out with buds)

– Your name missing from the guest list (It happens to all of us but never feels nice)

– Poor access to food (“Let’s leave before the last song before 7/11 runs out of taquitos bro!”)

– Bad sound (how can the music move you if you can’t hear the intricacies!?)

– Rude band members in your favourite band (“Why’d he have to be such a dick?”)

Don’t ever underestimate the power a shitty bartender or security guard has to ruin your moment to shine and in the process rob you of any chance of creating a magical memory for your fans. There’s no magic in being treated shitty, no matter how small of a deal it might have been.

Long Term Effects 

Seriously devoted fans. Do I need to elaborate? You all know who you are and which of those bands are on your could-never-do-anything-wrong-list for life. You want these people on your side. They are huge partners in your career.

Warm Fuzzy Wuzzys

But strip away the commercial benefits of nostalgia for a second and let’s just take a moment to appreciate how lucky we are to work in an industry that has the ability to touch people’s lives for years to come. Every interview we get to set up and show we get to put on, we should aim to affect people on this level. I’ll never forget the amazing promoters, publicists, and artists behind my magical moments in my youth and I thank them endlessly for being there in that very moment.

What do you think? Share some of your moments and why you think they remain lodged in your brain? Tweet me @SARIDELMAR.

Thank you SO much for reading.

– XO Sari

*Previously posted in November 2013 on MusicThinkTank
*Photo above: Every Time I Die at Riot Fest in Toronto 2013 by Geoff Stairs

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