Songwriting Scene: Los Angeles (Q&A with Christopher Dallman)

I first saw/heard Christopher Dallman perform way back in 2003 in NYC — and I was blown away by his passionate, heartfelt lyrics and detailed guitar-playing in songs such as “Motel Room” and “This is Calm.”

Nearly a decade later, I reached out to Chris in his now seven-years-long home of Los Angeles. I’m heading out to La-la-land in October to visit a friend in Venice Beach,  and I wanted to hear more about the songwriting “scene” out there. I’ve heard various things over the years, but all of it has sounded intimidating, including pay-to-play situations, hoardes of singer-songwriters battling it out for attention, and the like.

Chris is hardly a newbie hitting the scene, but I definitely thought he’d have some insight! Here’s what he had to say about the songwriting scene in L.A.:

Q:  How long have you lived in L.A.? What brought you there?

A: I have lived in LA for 7 years.  I came here from NYC with my partner to take care of his mother, who was sick at the time.

Q: How would you describe the “vibe” of the scene for songwriters in Los Angeles? Friendly? Snooty?

A: The vibe of the songwriter scene here depends on the genre, I suppose.  I’ve met some really friendly singer-songwriters and some really snooty ones.  Because so much of the music machine is based in Hollywood, you can find a really wild and eclectic range of people.

Q: Is the “scene” big? small? growing? shrinking? thriving?

A: The scene in LA is big and it seems to be getting bigger.  I feel like 5 or 6 years ago, I had a sense of the community, but now there are so many people I haven’t heard of.  A lot of venues are doing these terrible 20-30 minute sets to squeeze more acts onto a bill.

Q: What styles of music are most popular among songwriters in the area?

A: It’s really eclectic.  You can walk into Hotel Cafe and hear your standard folky singer/songwriter fare or you can hear bluegrass, rockabilly.  The sky is the limit it LA.

Q:  Do you know of any great open mics that folks could try if they are in L.A.?

A: I don’t know too many open mics these days.  There is a really great one at Kulak’s Woodshed in the valley.  It’s a really wild, tiny little room and you can get a dvd of your open mic set recorded with a 3 camera setup.  I THINK there is one at El Cid on Monday nights, but I haven’t been in years.  I haven’t been big on open mics over the years because I find that I don’t really get warmed up until my 2nd or 3rd song and by then my time is up.  I’m more of a full-set singer.

Q: What are some great songwriter-friendly venues in the L.A. area that you’ve played at or have heard are good? What is your favorite place to play?

A: Genghis Cohen is a great place to start.  It’s a really friendly, listener-oriented venue.  The seating is like Church pews.  My favorite places to play are Hotel Cafe and Room 5 Lounge.

Q:  What’s most challenging about being a singer-songwriter in L.A./Biggest downsides?

A: Being so close to the heart of the beast of the music business can take it’s toll on the ego.  There are soooo many people here trying to forge the same paths that it can feel challenging to stand out.  The biggest mistake is to let that move your focus from your songs.  My greatest success comes from focusing on the songs themselves.  If I worry about the other stuff, my head goes to all the wrong places.

Q: Who are some of your favorite LA-area songwriters?

A: George Stanford, Brian Wright, Lissie.