Like entrepreneurial start-ups and small businesses, Memphis musicians are a vital part of the city's brand. In an environment steeped in a successful past, how are local groups supporting these creatives in building a future for Memphis music?
Memphis is a city renowned across the world for its rich music history. Every year tourists flock to the Bluff City to explore the past and pay homage to music legends at sites like Graceland
in Whitehaven, Sun Studio
near the Medical District and Stax Museum of American Soul Music
in the Soulsville area of South Memphis.
Although the impact of historic Memphis music on multiple genres of music and popular culture lives on, some people, organizations and businesses are not content with resting on the laurels of the past. A handful of dedicated supporters are working to foster the local talent of today, to ensure that Memphis music has a future, rather than just a legacy.
Founded by famed songwriter and producer David Porter, The Consortium Memphis Music Town
is a local nonprofit dedicated to developing a viable music industry in Memphis. They absorbed the similarly focused Memphis Music Foundation earlier this year.
The nonprofit delivers on its mission through structured learning and mentorship, connecting young, emerging musicians to experienced and successful veterans of the industry. Through shared knowledge, techniques and insight, the next generation of musicians are gaining real-world experience.
Songwriters, producers and recording artists are invited to apply for the six-week program by submitting their works through the Consortium website
A home for musicians
Another new addition to the Memphis music industry is the Memphis Slim House Collaboratory
(a combination of "collaborative" and "laboratory").
Located on College Street near Stax, the house is a slick redo of the one-time home of Blues musician Memphis Slim. It is centered in the same neighborhood that once birthed many Memphis music greats.
Musicians practice in the Memphis Slim House Collaboratory space
The home's manager, Memphis music industry veteran Isaac Daniel, has been working to dispel the idea that Memphians now have to move away from the city to make it big in music. "I feel like it can happen here, and this place helps facilitate that," Daniel says.
The effort to figure out what works for the community has been collaborative as well. The University of Memphis, Visible Music College
and Stax have played a role in designing the space and its programming.
Daniel emphasized that the Collaboratory was not intended to replace or compete with music industry businesses already existing in the city: "We've set up here to help the music scene, not to take away from anyone. This is not a recording studio."
Instead, Daniel says that artists pay a yearly fee to sign up for access to the facility and can learn to use its equipment to create demos and do preproduction work, before heading to a place like to Ardent Studios to finalize their product. Artists can use the facility for things such as rehearsal space or release parties.
The Collaboratory also hosts workshops to educate artists on licensing, publishing, engineering and production, and works to builds bridges between artists with monthly "jam sessions."
Building a business
Instead of educating local music artists, Blue TOM Records
aids the local music industry by educating University of Memphis music business and recording technology students. In existence since 2005, and now under the guidance and supervision of visiting instructor Ben Yonas, the label includes an in-house studio and trained engineers.
Students pick local artists to sign to the label and record, produce and promote their albums as a part of a record company class. They then host the band's album release parties.
Student participants at a Blue TOM Records show at Newbies
In November, Blue TOM Records held the inaugural "This is Memphis" music festival at the New Daisy Theatre. Put together by students, volunteers and sponsors such as Brister Street Productions, the festival included student and local acts. Folk, R&B, pop, bluegrass and hip-hop genres were represented at the event, and ticket sale proceeds went back to the included artists.
"Since we're in Memphis and trying to get the music scene to come back to life, we thought 'This is Memphis' was a perfect name for it," says Alyssa Meier, senior music business major and President of Blue TOM Records. "We have Memphis barbecue, all sorts of Memphis musicians of different genres, Memphis sponsors--Jerry Lee Lewis is one of our sponsors."
Meier talked about the importance of supporting the local music industry infrastructure.
"We're from Memphis," Meier says. "Everybody you really talk to says you need to move to Nashville to get into the industry, which I as a student and most of the students here don't believe. We believe Memphis, the music industry, is at a point where it can be thriving. We really want to support that and make sure it's growing so that someday people are like, 'You need to move to Memphis to get involved in the industry.' Memphis has such a great history of music, and unfortunately it's not as alive as it used to be."
A venue for talent
With a record label and a physical record store located in Cooper-Young, Goner Records
has been part of the Memphis music scene for over 20 years.
"We love turning people on to new music," says Goner Records owner Zac Ives. "We also stock tons of Memphis music; we buy or consign directly from as many local artists and labels as we can. We like being the place to go to pick up something new from the band you saw the night before."
The Goner Records label includes artists from both Memphis and elsewhere, but the label is noted for putting great Memphis acts--like Ex-Cult, Nots, Harlan T. Bobo, Limes, Jack Oblivian and Jay Reatard--out to an international audience.
Every September Goner Records hosts Gonerfest, where the label brings in bands from all over the world to play with local bands.
Memphis band Nots performs at Gonerfest 11
"The [Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau] has been a long-term supporter of our festival and seems to recognize that the focus on Memphis music can't only be historical and that we need to recognize and respect what we have in the present," Ives says.
Goner also occasionally books shows at venues like the Hi-Tone, Buccaneer Lounge and Murphy's.
Memphis contains several small and mid-sized venues that book local artists. Many are bars and restaurants, but one notable venue is a home in the South Main Arts District on G.E. Patterson.
The Warehouse Memphis, home of Kris Kourdouvelis and Sharon Gray, is not actually for rent to the general public. Instead, the couple decides what functions they are interested in hosting in the large former warehouse.
Because Kourdouvelis was interested in live music, he created a large entertainment area in the converted home, with a full stage and professional sound and light system. After they met and began throwing parties for their guests, Kourdouvelis and Gray began to host events to promote local musicians and organizations.
The two provide space for area musicians to practice and have hosted album release parties and charity shows.
Kourdouvelis also owns the former Motion Picture Laboratories Building, which he has dubbed the 777 Building. At that location, he has rented space to individuals in the music and film industry, including musician Scott Bomar.
"[Sharon] was just as much into music as I was, and that's what inspired us to be a part of the music community; neither one of us plays and neither one of us could sing, and so we wanted to be involved," Kourdouvelis said.