Living in Sacramento and making a living in the music industry are often seen as mutually exclusive. Musicians, music fans, venue operators, promoters and others who work in the industry in Sacramento tend to have varied thoughts on the state of the scene, but the question remains: Is music a viable business in the capital city?
For Terra Lopez and Dani Fernandez of electronic soul duo Sister Crayon, the answer is complicated.
While many artists choose to leave Sacramento to build careers elsewhere, Lopez, a Sacramento native, and Fernandez, originally from Antioch, stuck around after starting their band in 2009. “Instead of going away immediately, which is what a lot of bands do, we decided to stay and really cultivate a fanbase and a solid following,” Lopez says. “It also allowed us to focus on our craft and actually hone in on what we wanted to do.”
In May, Sister Crayon announced a record deal with Warner Bros. Records, and the duo credit years of hard work in Sacramento, a four-year stint in Oakland to work on a record, touring as much as possible and Lopez’s move to Los Angeles last fall for the milestone. Currently, the two split their time between Sacramento and Los Angeles and a recently announced tour with the Deftones and YelaWolf will take them away from both cities. Lopez’s decision to live part time in Los Angeles had little to do with music: Her partner was attending UCLA. Fernandez, meanwhile, moved back to Sacramento.
Turns out, Lopez’s journey south was advantageous. Sister Crayon’s manager, Shawn Carrano, also relocated to LA around the same time and happened to move next door to Samantha Maloney, Warner Bros. Records vice president of A&R, who is responsible for scouting new talent. “She asked him to bring her any unsigned artists he knew and he gave her our album,” Lopez says, acknowledging that their record deal may not have happened if the band wasn’t physically in Los Angeles.
That is where the tale of two cities truly begins. Sister Crayon wanted to reach a larger audience and the opportunities to do that in Sacramento had become limited. Lopez describes having a positive experience in Oakland, but that she always knew LA was in the cards for her music career. “LA is a place where you can play three or four times a month — you could even play twice a week — and not over saturate the market with your music,” she says.
In Sacramento, the story is very different. Venues, particularly all-ages venues that bring in more attentive crowds full of potential new fans, are few and far between. Performing regularly here requires more strategy due to limited options and lower turnout rates on weekday evenings. “We’ve probably played every Sacramento venue at some point,” Lopez says with a laugh. “We played in Sacramento for probably four years before we ever did a large tour. It’s important for artists, in general, to do the work and build a foundation. But as with any city, you want to branch out and hit a national, and hopefully international, platform.”
The question then shifts to how Sacramento as a city fits into the livelihoods of musicians. If bands like Sister Crayon want to reach a larger audience and leaving town is the best way to accomplish that goal, where does that leave Sacramento?
Sacramento may not be a place where ambitious musicians stay forever, however, that doesn’t preclude the city from playing a role in the music industry as a whole. “The talent has always been here, but being able to put yourself out there and play? That’s an issue,” Lopez says, noting that the local focus seems to revolve around restaurants and bars rather than venues that support the arts. “I don’t know how it will be resolved, but I do know that when we first started making music there were venues on every street. That’s not to say that there aren’t incredible things happening here, because there are true champions for that. The focus on the arts in general, however, has shifted.”
For now, Sister Crayon is content shuttling back and forth between two cities, and Lopez is quick to note that Sacramento’s slower pace and lack of distractions are benefits to the band’s creative process. She also adds that the band’s local fanbase is a huge reason the band will always call this city home. “Any success that we see as Sister Crayon, we want to share with those who’ve supported us in Sacramento,” she says. “This city has been so incredible to us. It’s unreal. The energy and love are unmatched.”