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Setting the stage

Sweetwood invites rising talent to Masquerade

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The Masquerade, a cavernous warehouse, is the largest music venue in Atlanta that caters to unsigned talent. It's split into three rooms: Hell fits in 500 and Purgatory packs in 200, while the biggest room, Heaven, has a 1,000-person capacity. It attracts artists whose sounds range from hard rock, metal and Goth to ska, punk and hardcore to pop, rock and Old Wave. For fledgling Atlanta acts, it's an opportunity to play the same house where stars such as Mastodon, Slayer and Gym Class Heroes roam.

Tim Sweetwood, who has booked bands there since 2004, explains how local bands can make it to the Masquerade's stage.

Every band doesn't have to sound like the next Rolling Stones or anything like that. But they have to have their music a little bit together, and definitely have music that's presentable to me online, in a press kit or in a demo so I know they can get up on stage and play a halfway decent set.

On any given day, [the amount of CDs I get] ranges from 20 to 100, and that would include local acts as well as out-of-town acts that are unsigned and don't have an agent. But as far as a local band – and that means Atlanta – their chances are pretty good if they've played a small venue in town. It's a hard venue for a band that's just trying to break in, so I encourage bands to go to some of the smaller venues first, i.e. the 10 High, and anything from a Swayze's to a Smith's Olde Bar. If a band has played those types of clubs, then their chances are really good. I really don't discriminate against any bands getting in [the Masquerade] at least once.

[We book so many local bands] because it allows for no gaps in our business. That way, even though we're a national venue, we always have a musical act in there from Tuesday through Saturday. And it's another chance for us as a venue to bring in new and upcoming talent from out of town, but give them local support [that can draw an audience] so it's financially feasible.

What are the biggest two examples in the last couple of years? One would be Cartel, a pop-rock act that's all over the place and doing a lot of MTV. They started out just like any other local band, selling tickets and hustling people into their shows. They fall into that pop-rock-punk category. The other one would be Norma Jean, and Norma Jean did pretty much the same thing, and now they're always coming back to the venue, playing bigger shows. There are a lot of local acts that have done well and now draw a lot of folks, but those are two examples that have gone from being completely local to being a signed national act.


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