Making A Scene

Gennifer Harding-Gosnell

‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’

This age-old philosophical question describes the hole Cleveland’s local music scene has found itself fallen into in time and time again throughout our history since rock n’ roll was born here in the 1950s. In the ‘70s we found we could break acts from everywhere else in the world but for our own. Since, artists like Machine Gun Kelly and Nine Inch Nails pop up occasionally and the movement to put locals on the musical map is re-charged but doesn’t seem to gain enough momentum to push us anywhere near being the next trending music scene.  

Cleveland’s come-up as a tourist destination is giving music industry professionals all over the city revived energy to connect local musicians to fans and national recognition. But it’s still a work in progress. PressureLife spoke exclusively with some of Cleveland’s longest-running and most-talented music industry experts to get their thoughts: Does Cleveland ‘make a sound’?  

Jeanette Sangston, Director, Sofar Sounds Cleveland, and Co-Founder, Sixth City Sounds.

“Cleveland music deserves so much more attention than what it gets. Not just outside our region, but locally as well. In some ways we take them for granted, and in many cases are just unaware of what’s out there. I’ve spoken with many musicians that say they can get a better crowd when they play out of town shows. That needs to change. We can do better. We do face some challenges, however. The challenge, as always, is getting more people to shows, more people buying merch, more people supporting a vibrant music scene and recognizing the value of music in Cleveland as both a part of our culture and as an economic contributor. Imagine if we could harness the same collective energy as we have with our winning sports teams and focus that toward our music scene – how much we, as a city, could uplift our hardworking musicians and music industry. There is not going to be just one quick fix. The challenges are varied and will take the entire community being on the same page at the same time with the same vision and mission; that mission being to uplift every success higher. When one succeeds, the whole city succeeds. I see a music and creative hub here in Cleveland. I see a developed shoreline with live music being an integral part of the vibe and culture. I see a Cleveland where musicians flock to because we have solid PR and publishers here; a Cleveland that boasts labels and industry influencers. Because let’s face it, you want to play where you’re going to be seen by people that can be changemakers in your career.”

Wallace Settles, Talent Buyer at The Grog Shop.

“Cleveland’s music venues are doing great bringing in national acts right now. The unity in the rock and indie music is great, hence the progress those scenes are making here in Cleveland. But it’s difficult here. When it comes to hip-hop, artists can be difficult to work with. They have a sense of entitlement that’s out of control, they don’t want to work for success. Also, Cleveland’s a smaller city and events sometimes conflict with one another, too.”

John Latimer, President, Undercurrents Inc.

“The live music scene in Northeast Ohio has undergone some major changes over the past few decades. With the Internet, music fans now have more options of discovering new music, however, that does not always turn into ticket sales. The barrier walls of yore are gone but there is so much music online that it’s difficult for many artists to get any traction. One reason is that the album is just about dead. Singles rule. Fans don’t necessarily bond to artists and therefore don’t feel the desire to attend the live performance – unfortunate but true. In the Cleveland market, it appears fans have gravitated tribute bands and there are more cover bands than ever. There is a lot of great talent in Northeast Ohio, but many of the potential music fans don’t know it yet. It’s my opinion that if people don’t see live music before the age of 25, they will not be interested when they are older. Speaking of older, I have noticed many empty-nesters resurfacing in the club scene reliving their youth. This resurgence has actually helped the original music scene.”

James Carol, Cleveland Music City

“It’s a 50/50 job, where you can never predict the outcome. Especially in Cleveland, which can surprise you every year. I was always fascinated with Cleveland’s music history, from the birth of rock n’ roll to the rise of Belkin and the fall of local radio. It’s trippy to think how much history has been written into this town. Take what you think of New York and target that at us. To say this job has many sleepless nights is an understatement. But none of this would be possible, without being driven, as Cleveland has a friendly face, but it also has a very cold shoulder. This is not a jab at the people, as the people are what make me love this job. The jab is, thinking this is easy, thinking this is something that prints money, or can easily be copied.”

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