By Adrian Tonon, Jabari Jefferson and Andre Reed
Photo Lil Monsterr
As we navigated and pivoted through the COVID-19 pandemic most stages and the gig economy have continued to suffer tremendously since March 2020. Meet four industry leaders who are championing to save and sustain our music venues, and gig economy.
Shahida Mausi / The Aretha Amphitheater / National Independent Venue Association (NIVA)
It’s no big secret that surviving and thriving in the music industry can be very competitive. I personally understand the journey of a starving musician to a full time creative, so it’s been my goal to make sure other artists have access and resources to help them connect and progress in this industry. One of the things you need to navigate through this economy as an artist or creator, is a product. This product takes multiple stages and it’s difficult to do that all yourself. I’ve had the great opportunity to be in contact daily with a collective of individuals whose businesses are great at producing products and as they are completed the real grind comes for artists. There’s always something going on in Michigan: places to perform at and chances to connect with Fellow creatives, Future fans, and Financial investors.
Those are 3 F’s we raise awareness about to nudge artists and musicians in the right direction. The main problem I learned from conversations with artists is that they don’t know about the festivals, mixers, and events that are important for them to attend in order to deliver and promote their product. Instead, they spend most of their time trying to build a social media following or streams on platforms. With times changing drastically and most of our venues being closed, we put a huge spotlight on Detroit and it’s Creative Culture which is like no other. We raise the awareness around the world, that Detroit is still a hub of quality, professional and talented groups and individuals. This is an initiative that is currently in production and already gaining momentum. An initiative to take what and who we have, film it, and make it an international business card. At this current time concerts, performances and meetings are all virtual. We have literally seen our entertainment industry completely evolve in months. This project will highlight, show off and expose Detroit’s creative history as well as the present. The perfect way to show that our creatives don’t have to relocate just to become successful.
Karen Addison / Griot Music Lounge
We are focusing on social media presence right now to engage with our audience, while simultaneously maintaining contact with our clients and making plans for the 2021 rollout. The amount of attention that we are paying in preparation of a new venue experience has evolved immensely, relative to COVID-19. Facing those still lingering concerns and ensuring the safety of our audience.
Our core values that align with equity and opportunity are Responsibility, Service and Support. Responsibility is understanding your duty to reach back into your community and give back from your place of privilege and/or strength. Service and Support go hand in hand, working as the physical act of responsibility. When we do become cognizant enough to gain that understanding, we must actively do so through whatever channels are at our disposal, exercised through both service and support.
It’s about being an active presence in your community and maintaining reach during such unprecedented times. While our business is currently closed to the public, that reach can show up in different ways for other businesses. We need to support those who support us, even in the times they cannot.
As the CEO of a company, my core values require me, and any CEO who cares, to provide opportunities by supporting One Fair Wage, training internships and jobs for returning citizens. We must do this not just with our words but with the actions of raising tip workers’ wages at least to minimum wage plus tips, providing paid internships and creating opportunities for returning citizens to join in work that improves our community.
In this digital environment, we truly have the opportunity to be citizens of the world. Covid-19 has required each of us to find new ways to live our lives. One new way I have found has brought me to connect with people I never or barely knew, people with whom I have much in common. Pre-Covid, we were all so busy in our silos. Once we were all shut down and shut in, we connected digitally with others facing similar challenges. For many of us, two great alliances arose. The first is the Black Promoters Collective. The second is the National Independent Venues Association, which has resulted in the Michigan Independent Venues and Promoters Association. All three of these organizations were born during the pandemic. Each will make the industry in which I work a better place. Working with each has allowed me to cast down by bucket and prepare to bloom anew.
Booster Mostyn / DETROI’T / Artist, Curator
Although opportunities present themselves all the time, I believe it is still the artists’ job to come bearing “gifts”. These gifts are essentially what makes the artist valuable. Here are three values I always apply so that I remain valuable and acquire opportunities. The first is innovation. It’s always important for artists to be innovative because trends, music and the industry itself is always moving and always changing. We have to make sure we keep up, and produce products that are always able to keep up with the standards of the rest of the industry. The second is agility. This is the ability that allows an artist or creator to always be able to be flexible and versatile. That way when the questions are asked as far as what you can do, you can give a yes as much as possible. A lot of times I have clients that have ideas for songs that only exist in their imagination, and no they are not always in the same genre. Agility allows me to take the idea they’ve given me, and be able to put my touch to it and make it marketable. The last value, but certainly not least, is persistence. Persistence is also known as “The Push”. The push that never takes a no, never gives up, and always finds a way. Let’s be honest, the music industry before and during the pandemic has been a competitive, fast moving machine where there are many opportunities, creators, and often many no’s. With persistence, I’ve always managed to push past the no’s and experience great moments of opportunity.
I believe businesses can better connect with the community by utilizing resources at their fingertips. Social media and media platforms have almost made it impossible not to be reached. There are communities and groups on facebook that have hundreds of people connecting every day and exposing their business to other business owners and consumers. This convenience allows the artists and businesses to be easily accessible. With messages, notifications and event invitations, this is the peak of a time where artists are able to directly communicate with their community and fans. On a bigger scale, all eyes are on social media outlets and streaming services like Youtube and Netflix, so connecting means pushing out content for everybody to see, follow and support. Your own community can easily be your starting fanbase which makes It very important to always, in some form, give the people a way to get back to you. Whether it’s a social media tag, or even a branded logo. Being personable and recognizable will always make it easier to connect.
Cornelius Harris / Underground Resistance / Detroit Berlin Connection (DBC)
Sustainability isn’t built by hype, but consistency. In these times, consistency is difficult to maintain. To that end, we’ve supported the efforts of venues in their shift towards outdoor and limited space events. There are others that have food as an element of their business and have shifted to carry out meals as a way to stay in the public eye during this time. We’ve also been supportive of gig workers, DJs, producers, and others, who have taken this time to concentrate on new productions and online performances, while acknowledging that this will not be sufficient for immediate losses of income. DBC has maintained communications with numerous venues and artists, and while we may not be able to change the financial aspects of what they’re dealing with, often being able to vent to others who understand the challenges as much as we do, can help. During and post COVID-19 we will continue to advocate for 24 hour activity that can also serve as an economic stimulus for communities across Detroit.
The relationship between musical artists and creative business people in Detroit and our counterparts is the foundation of the Detroit Berlin Connection, but it is also a relationship that is built on equity and opportunity. For the past several years we’ve brought Berlin creatives to Detroit and this year was to mark our first time sending a Detroit artist to Berlin. COVID-19 has caused this to be postponed, but through our exchanges and sharing of resources, we aim to continue to build opportunities by giving a platform to Detroit creatives to have their work be experienced by an international audience.
It’s a matter of constant reassessing given the shifting circumstances. Flexibility and creativity are key. Businesses, be they creative or corporate understand that while they have adjustments to make, so do their customers. The streaming of DJ sets was an attempt to bridge that gap and provide fans and customers with an in-home semblance of a live performance. But now, understanding how people experience these things at home has opened doors to new forms of expression. But that constant attention to the end users, the listeners, is now more important than ever.
Ten years ago making it in music in Detroit was moving to Los Angeles. Currently we have the opportunity to retain and attract artists who can sustainably work, live and play in the City of Detroit. Join us for the sixth series to hear from four leaders who are intentionally developing home-grown artists and a music economy workforce.