It has been obvious to anyone who takes a moment to look that funding the Memphis Music Commission has been a waste of money for some time.
The biggest problem with the commission is that it treats other Memphis music organizations like competition and duplicates their efforts in an attempt to appear relevant. The best example is the fact that they think they need to provide local musicians with performance opportunities. There are plenty of clubs, house shows, and organizations, such as Rocket Science Audio, Goner Records, Ardent Studios, Memphis Rap, and Ditty TV that are better equipped to accomplish that mission and have a greater reach.
The commission's amateurish performance videos have a very low number of views on YouTube, which are tangible, measurable stats for what these programs are contributing to Memphis music. They have no platform, fans, or following. Who do they think they are helping?
To put it into perspective, my former organization, LiveFromMemphis.com, has been dormant for three years. In our time, we filmed and recorded thousands of Memphis music performances. The content we created is still generating views on our YouTube channel. Around 1.4 million views and counting. If Live From Memphis had been granted $250,000 a year (the Music Commission's annual budget from the city), we could have more than quadrupled our output, as well as our reach. Can you imagine what would happen if MemphisRap.com, Goner Records, or RocketScienceAudio.com were similarly funded?
Then there was the not-for-profit Memphis Music Foundation, which, over four or five years, provided many of the same services as the Music Commission while blowing through somewhere around $4 million of private funds. Can anyone tell us what those funds did for the local music industry?
As for Councilman Jim Strickland's proposal to fund Memphis Music Town, how will they be different? While I agree with Strickland that the Memphis Music Commission, in its current state of over-paid staff and lack of any measurable accountability, should not continue to receive funding, I fail to see how simply shifting tax dollars to a not-for-profit organization solves the problem. One glimpse at the Memphis Music Town web presence tells me that it's a bureaucratic bad idea.
Why continue to provide educational resources to musicians when there's no infrastructure for success? What's the point of equipping musicians with industry knowledge when very few opportunities to put that knowledge to use exist? Without a focus on developing local industry, we are simply better preparing our musicians for when they eventually leave town in search of opportunity.
Memphis musicians don't need another resource center that teaches them how to manage a MySpace account or to sign them up for antiquated organizations such as NARAS. Memphis certainly does not need to turn over its only source of music funds to an organization serving only one genre of music.
Memphis musicians need innovation. They need a way to be seen and heard beyond local showcases at the Hard Rock Cafe. They need an army of online content creators with as many avenues to get their music out to the world as possible. There are shows going on in all parts of the city. Go film them. Go record them. Help them get their stuff on the internet, where fans discover music today.
Don't give millions of dollars to one organization. Instead, fund smaller, grassroots content creators, because you never know when one of those may blow up into something bigger. Maybe if Darius Benson (a 20-something content creator and the cover story subject of the Flyer's May 7th issue) had received local funding or had an infrastructure to help move his career forward, he'd be staying in Memphis instead of heading to Los Angeles in search of greener pastures.
Fans don't get behind an educational institution. They get behind artists, their favorite bloggers, records labels, studios, and TV/web shows. It takes a lot less capital to fund these kinds of style-curators and content producers and raises the community as a whole.
Please don't throw money away on old industry or a not-for-profit educational model. Fund excellence, fund risk takers, fund innovators. The Music Commission, Music Foundation, Memphis Music Town or whatever they may call themselves in the future, are the old guard from a dying industry model. Getting rid of them is a no-brainer. Fold Memphis music and film into business and economic development and quit treating music like a charity case.
Instead, invest in its development by putting money in the hands of artists, content developers, and the infrastructure that directly supports them.