Cleveland’s long-standing reputation as the Rock n’ Roll Capital of the World is just that: long-standing.
Despite our city’s rich history of artists breaking into the rock music mainstream, that success has rarely trickled down to our own local music scene. Local artists that did make it big—the Dead Boys, the Pretenders, Marc Cohn, Kid Cudi—have all done so by going somewhere else.
Jeanette Sangston, Teddy Eisenberg, and Chayla Hope have formed Sixth City Sounds, an organization working to establish an actual music business in Cleveland. They sat down with PressureLife to talk about how they hope to shape the future of the Cleveland music scene.
Jeanette Sangston: Music is a business. At Sixth City Sounds, we want the city to recognize music as an industry, something that can benefit the city financially and culturally.
Teddy Eisenberg: Music is economic development. It’s the attraction and the retention of talent. It adds to the life blood of the city. Is this a place a musician would want to relocate to? That’s how you get local business on board, by not seeing it just as some transient thing that we just do and enjoy, but something that has physical, economic impact.
Chayla Hope: We’re meeting with the city soon to open discussions.
JS: Our vision is to get the local government and business community to support the music industry. Right now we’re the unofficial music commission.
TE: The reason why Nashville is where it is on the musical map, their music commission was established in the ‘70s, so they’ve had forty years of a government entity pushing the same ideas we’re trying to push.
JS: Texas has a similar setup. Austin, Texas is not a music city by accident. That was a well thought-out plan.
TE: Yeah, it very rarely just happens. And we’re sick of the ‘Cleveland Rocks’ thing. It’s so rooted in that era, it doesn’t allow us to advance past it.
CH: We are so loaded in talent. It’s boggled my mind for the longest time: you have musicians who are good enough to go further, but they have nobody to help them, they have no resources—well, now they do—no way to get anywhere.
TE: The local music industry has not evolved along with the national music industry. Radio stations are no longer the way to break bands.
JS: Now it’s all about touring. You’re not going to make money selling music. It’s all merch. Nobody pays for music anymore.
TE: Over 50% of the revenue music artists make now comes from touring. You can’t fill your gas tank on free exposure.
CH: Unfortunately, in Cleveland, we’ve had some events recently where musicians have not been paid for their work. That also devalues what we do.
JS: If you’re not into the local music scene, you think local music is a joke. Most people are into whatever is playing on the radio, they have no idea what’s out there. Many musicians do better outside of Cleveland than they do locally. They have bigger followings in Pittsburgh because they don’t have the “local” label attached to them.
TE: The supply is clearly there. On 50 out of 52 weekends a year, you can go out and see three different great shows, wildly diverse music.
CH: Yeah, we’ve done it.
TE: Cleveland’s been known for years now as a major food destination. Why not a meal coupled with a show?
JS: Something as simple as changes to show start times can make a difference. You have people who are into music, but they have jobs, get married, have kids, move out to the suburbs, and they don’t want to go out to a show that doesn’t even start til 8 or 9 at night when they have to get up early for work the next day. We need to get better at creating the experience for people. Get with the times.
Columbus recently created a music commission. The owner of Donato’s Pizza is from Columbus and is a musician, he supports live music. He has small stage areas built into several of his pizza shops. He pays the musicians, they sell merch for free, he doesn’t take a percentage. They promote each other on social media. He even has a 25% off pizza card for musicians. That’s the kind of cooperation we need out of our business community. We need somebody to step up to the plate that’s going to support music in a real, tangible way, that will use their leverage, visibility, and resources to support the local scene.
TE: That’s part of the cooperation we’re trying to build at Sixth City Sounds between artists, businesses, and government to make Cleveland a music city. Fans, too. We have a list of things you can do as a music fan to advocate for the local scene. Purchasing tickets in advance, that helps the venue gauge interest. Actually go to shows and once you’re there, engage, don’t just check your email the whole time. Follow and like bands on social media—there are record labels that won’t take you seriously unless you have a video with 100,000 views on it—they want to know you’re already out there. Pass out flyers, work their merch table, invite your friends to shows. It’s that kind of stuff that makes for a more supportive fan culture.
JS: Every couple months we host what we call mixing sessions. They’re short educational panel discussion and the rest is all networking time. They’re free, open to anybody, different location every time, different speakers, and we encourage anybody from any genre to come out. I’d like to see some sort of round table where every music genre can bring one or two people as representatives of that scene so we can all come up with ways to work for each other.
TE: Every genre is building their own infrastructure and they don’t need to.
JS: There are many figures in Cleveland’s history that elevated this city from our past, but it’s time for this generation to pick up the torch.
For more details on SIxth City Sounds, how you can help our local music scene, and upcoming events for musicians and industry professionals, visit sixthcitysounds.org.