Entrepreneurs highlight opportunity and pitfalls of the Memphis music industry

The Entrepreneurs in the City series of discussions hosted by High Ground News with the EPIcenter aims to engage the community with local entrepreneurs in a variety of arenas. Last week, the third event in the series, Music in the City, was held at Cowork Memphis

Moderated by Leslie Smith, President of the EPIcenter, Music and the City gathered local music figures Elizabeth Cawein of Signal Flow PR, Zac Ives of Goner Records, George Monger of The Consoritium MMT, and musician Grace Askew to discuss Memphis music and the ins and outs of music entrepreneurship. 
As a sixth generation Memphian and a full-time musician who writes, performs, records, and tours, Grace Askew admits that there is a struggle for those looking to make it in the music business in Memphis. "We are hungry. We have to work for it more. Nothing is handed to us here and in that sense we have to be more creative." 

Ives has observed the same need to innovate and push for business. "Going out and trying to do things yourself I've always found is the best way to do things in Memphis," he said. 

The conversations focused on what makes the Memphis music distinct, and how those working in the business can leverage those authentic qualities. Cawein, who offers publicity and marketing for musicians through her firm, said this means we can't try to model ourselves after other markets. "We need to get it out of our minds that we're trying to be Nashville or any other industry town. Memphis has unique assets including a unique studio scene as well as vinyl production that we need to market," she said.

Ives' Goner Records produces vinyl records and sees that industry as one of the city's successes. "Even just in the last year we've been able to set up production here that we'd been unable to do previously. We've moved all of our record pressing from three plants across the U.S. to one spot in Bartlett, which is a giant foot up for us next to our peers. There are things that are happening here that are positive and really helpful for us."  
All the panelists agreed that a major shortcoming of the Memphis music scene is a lack of venues, which presents a business opportunity in itself. Late showtimes, smokey bars, and a lack of enthusiasm were all cited as reasons for a current low turn out for live Memphis music. 

"One of the challenges for Memphis music is that people don't come out for shows. We have to remember we have an almost 30 percent poverty rate. When we have a transit system that doesn't work along with socioeconomic problems, we won't attract large local crowds to see music. We're a city with big dreams of a music industry, but no real plans to fund it," Monger added. 

Ives says more than half the audience at their annual Goner Fest music is from out of town, so the festival is attracting music lovers and their dollars to Memphis. "Everybody loves to come to Memphis," Ives said. "Goner Fest is an opportunity to showcase Memphis the city as well as artists, but it's also an opportunity for Memphians to see artists from all over the world."  
As for local resources for music entrepreneurs, Cawein cites the assistance Eric Mathews of Start Co gave her when she was starting out. "The people that we have in this city who are dialed into the entrepreneurial endeavors in one way or another who are going to have your back and help you. I think that is our most valuable resource."
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Read more articles by Amy Hoyt.

Amy Hoyt is High Ground News' Community Engagement Specialist, which suits her love of Memphis and its inhabitants. 

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