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“Without Showing an Appreciation for What We Have, We May Lose it.”

September 17, 2015

RyanSchwabe2015City Councilman David Oh held hearings on the state of the music scene in the city and JUMP publisher George Miller was among those asked to testify. 

Among the others who spoke passionately about the scene and what we need to maintain this high-level of energy were artist Bria Marie, producer Carvin Haggins, Milkboy The Studio co-owner Tommy Joyner, producer Ryan Schwabe (pictured above) from Drexel and Rare MP3s, Brian McTear from Weathervane Music and Miner Street Recordings and Mark Schulz from the local chapter of The Recording Academy.

Everyone had wonderful things to say and very interesting suggestions. Not sure what happens next with this – if anything at all – but here is what our publisher presented.

My name is George Miller. I am an associate professor of journalism at Temple University, where I am also the assistant chair of the department. On the side, I publish an independent music magazine called JUMP.

JUMP is a magazine that covers all genres and aspects of music in the city of Philadelphia, including music and education and music and politics. What makes us different from most regional magazines is that we specifically only cover people, places, events and ideas that are rooted within city limits.

There is a purpose for this. We are a mission driven project. We exist not to say, “Listen to this new album,” or, “Check out this new venue.” We exist solely to shine a spotlight on the amazing wealth of talent that exists here in the city.

We do that because, historically, many talented people have used Philadelphia as a stepping stone or launching pad. They reach a certain level of success while here and then they go to New York or LA or London.

With the way the music industry is these days, you can create amazing music from anywhere and be based almost anywhere. We believe that talent should reside here.

We are at a special moment in the city’s music history. There is something magical happening in the city in regards to the music here. The scene is blowing up on many levels – local artists are touring nationally and internationally more than ever; more venues exist than ever before; major artists continue to come here to record and employ our talent as set musicians; and so many talented, creative people are moving here.

There are numerous communities of musicians in the city, thanks to things like the Drexel University Music Industry Program, promoters like R5 Productions and Veteran Freshman, studios like Milkboy and Miner Street, and the venue Johnny Brenda’s, which is like the clubhouse for musicians of all sorts.

The Lawsuits

I don’t remember there being this level of energy in the music scene during my 22 years of living and working as a journalist here (or during the previous 22 years of living just outside the city, in the suburbs).

Think about how we arrived at this point. I think it stems to the early 1990s and the creation of the Avenue of the Arts. That brought people to the city, as did the First Fridays in Old City that began to be popular around that same time. These movements used the arts as a catalyst for revitalization. More artists arrived and more people flocked to see those artists.

The artists and creative types were eventually displaced, moving to Northern Liberties and then Fishtown and now East Kensington and South Philadelphia.

That is the nature of a city – constant evolution.

But stop for a moment and think about what’s happening in Philadelphia now.

We are no longer the Workshop of the World. We no longer employ thousands upon thousands of people in factories. Frankly, we don’t create much here anymore.

But what we have become is a hotbed for creative types. The city is a wonderful place for musicians to base themselves, to find like-minded folks to create and experiment with and to develop their own brands and identities.

Those creative people, especially the musicians, are among the amenities that draw people to live here or to spend money here. These talented people are needed to ensure that the city continues to maintain this idea of vibrancy.

Do not take the artists for granted. Without them, people would not come here. That’s not an exaggeration.

You could argue that there is a vibrant food scene – and even a beer scene – that draws crowds. That’s true. But music is connected to everything. So many bars and restaurants also do shows now. So many of our musicians staff those bars and restaurants. So many bars and restaurants serve as first stops before going to shows.

Music is an integral part of this city’s life. We need to ensure that the artists can continue to reside here.

For the magazine, I have interviewed numerous council members, Mayor Nutter, former Governor Rendell and many other elected officials who serve our city. I have come up with a few ideas that I think could help sustain this magical creative period:

  1. Create more arts corridors, the way that the Avenue of the Arts was established. Make Frankford Avenue in Fishtown/East Kensington an arts corridor, with special taxation for arts organizations and money spent for signage, events and promotion. Same with East Passyunk and other burgeoning arts areas.
  2. The city and state give tax breaks to major corporations that bring jobs to or keep jobs in the city. We should have tax breaks – or establish a different tax bracket – for those who identify as artists and create here. We should recognize that their existence here has a domino effect, albeit less obviously than a major corporation. Recognizing the importance of artists by giving them even a modicum of a break would speak volumes to other artists and they would flock here.
  3. The city needs to harness this energy and promote the hell out of it. Music is a very personal thing – we all have different tastes. But showing off the huge diversity of talent and sounds that we have would attract people to visit and eventually move here. Start by promoting regionally in order to change the conversation about the city (from violent and corrupt to creative and lively). Then invite the world to come and listen to our musicians.

The rest of the world is already starting to take notice. Numerous publications have written about our wealth of talent. Our bands and artists are staples at music festivals around the world. Local artists now tour with some of the industry’s biggest stars.

If we make a concerted effort, we could establish a longstanding reputation like Nashville or Los Angeles.

If we do not make a concerted effort, the scene will continue to evolve and we may be only a short-term movement, like Minneapolis in the 80s or Seattle in the early 90s. Or like Philadelphia in the 70s.

MooshTwist04smallWhen we started JUMP in 2011, I used to tell people that my goal was to make our talented musicians as popular in Philadelphia as our athletes. The Orchestra’s concertmaster, David Kim, is a superstar and should be appreciated as such. Frances Quinlan from the band Hop Along has the most amazing voice in music today. She should be mobbed by adoring fans as she walks the streets of Fishtown. When Twist Feighan from OCD: Moosh and Twist walks through Center City, I want to see fans asking for autographs the way they would if they saw Sam Bradford out and about.

Every day, it seems, I hear from another Philadelphia artist who is considering a move to California, New York or somewhere else they might find inspiration and appreciation. That breaks my heart.

Without showing an appreciation for what we have, we may lose it.

  1. gwmjr17 permalink
    September 17, 2015 7:19 pm

    Great job George. Very proud of who you are!


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