Rock Solid: Cleveland’s music community builds economic sustainability in NEO
Representations of musicians’ ascent to fame on national television and in mainstream cinema are full of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll but rarely do they ever examine the resources it takes to make it onto the Billboard Top 100 or the impact artists have made on their local communities. These details are left up to the imagination while fans are instead treated to the drama behind the music; a glorified and often selfish portrayal of the members’ personal lives proliferated in “Rock Docs” on VH-1.
As consumers of fanfare, we are far removed from issues such as economic viability for those trying to create and sell original music as their main source of income. The Rock Solid Fellowship, a partnership between non-profit Cleveland Rocks and Cuyahoga Community College’s Recording Arts and Technology program, aims to broaden how we measure the impact of musicians on our city’s economy and what the community can do to elevate their artists.
“We want musicians to know there are resources within our geographical neighborhood,” explains David Kennedy, head of the R.A.T. program and one of the mentors available to students who have elected to work on the Rock Solid Fellowship as an independent study course.
Once a week, a group of industry professionals and students in the R.A.T. program meet encircling a conference table with members of four local bands selected to participate in the first incarnation of Rock Solid. Tucked away inside the Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts on the Metropolitan campus of Tri-C, the meetings play out like a hybrid between P. Diddy’s “Making the Band” and a college course focused on arts management and brand marketing.
Artists collaborating with Rock Solid range from a hip-hop electronic outfit, to Americana inspired singer-songwriters, to a full on indie rock band. Marcus Allen Ward (Freeze-Tag), Maura Rogers & The Bellows, Joseph Allen Beltram and Filmstrip were all chosen to participate in Rock Solid based on artist submissions and proximity to Waterloo Road in November of 2014.
Each group is at a different stage in their career. Some are relatively new to their current line-up or have decided to go solo after playing in different projects. On the other side of the spectrum, Filmstrip has been touring extensively to support their newest album Moments of Matter, released by Exit Stencil late last year. However, a recent line-up change to the band has added it’s own challenges, emphasizing that no matter how successful the public’s perception of your band is there are sometimes adjustments to be made.
Cindy Barber, co-owner of The Beachland Ballroom, presented the idea for the program to the board of Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present, Future (of which she is a member) to receive funding from a community-based grant provided by Northeast Shores Development Corporation. The CDC hopes that by choosing bands that have a direct connection to the Waterloo neighborhood, their impact on the overall economic wellbeing of the area will be easier to measure in a clearly outlined environment. This is how Shawn Mishak, a member of Cleveland Rocks as well a former member of the Beachland’s marketing team, got involved.
“I feel Cindy and I have always shared passion for community and preservation of Cleveland in general,” says Mishak. “We both see a need to rethink what we are doing wrong in Cleveland, which I view as a city that has so much musical talent but limited resources for the musicians to meet their career goals while being able to maintain Cleveland as a viable place to stay and continue to blossom as artists.”
In addition to having professionals like Kennedy, Barber, and Mishak on their team, participants have a wide network of promoters, press, photographers, videographers, and students that they can call upon to help them strengthen their portfolios during the following months. “It takes a village to raise a child,” Mishak jokes off-handedly, but seeing many familiar faces from the Cleveland music community gathered at their weekly discussion, it couldn’t be more true.
Tri-C’s R.A.T. studios offer a treasure trove of resources: audio recording for every genre out there, mixing and mastering suites, professional video equipment, and theater space to film live performances. “I would like to have at least one music video created for each band to use for shows or tours to share with potential audiences,” Mishak, a filmmaker himself offers.
The Rock Solid Fellowship uses their resources to find solutions for problems that artists have encountered thus far in their careers: lack of money, resources, representation, or fan base. They target short-term goals that have the potential to lead to a long term ‘”system for success”. The bands are focusing on rebuilding or establishing websites, creating press packages, and much more. While this type of advice normally costs artists a hefty fee from publicity or management companies, it is something that the fellowship is taking pride in doing for free.
Hopefully with newly realized networking possibilities and access to small businesses residing in the immediate Cleveland/Akron area, the musicians that were once struggling to pay their bills by way of art can put the money that they’ve earned from newly opened doors back into their local economy. Northeast Ohio is filled with start-ups catering to those in the entertainment industry, but without the musicians to employ them these LLCs will see themselves floundering without funding. It makes sense for not only our burgeoning arts sector, but also our economy to invest in music.
Rock Solid is sponsoring “Long Way to the Top”, an independent documentary by Rob Montague of Late Morning Films at the Cleveland International Film Festival. The Monday night screening at 9:45 pm will be the documentary’s world premiere. A special screening will take place the following evening, Tuesday March 24 at 6:00 pm, with an after party featuring Maura Rogers & The Bellows and Filmstrip at 7:30 pm. Montague, who grew up in Cleveland, seems to have a vested interest in the local music scene as he interviews several local artists for the feature (including Nick Riley of Filmstrip).
“Long Way to the Top” reiterates the bigger picture for many musicians trying to earn a living doing what they love in their hometown. The philosophy behind the Rock Solid Fellowship is that it’s not all about the fame: it’s about the people you meet, those that lift you up and that you learn from, while getting there.