The Cadential Section of Forte Music’s Story, And The Bigger Picture…

I’ve been spending the morning notifying students that a transition is on the horizon. Forte Music Studios is closing August 3rd. I’ve had both emails and phone calls about this news over the weekend. So here’s an observation I made to someone in my inner circle this weekend during a phone call. I felt it was worth repeating here.

Just like it took media attention earlier this month to get folks to “pay attention” to the cat hoarder situation, and finally get them help…if you pay attention, the music scene in FXBG has been taking hits and is continuing to. I’m going to say it before it takes the media (hopefully but doubtful) noticing.

The recession killed venues. Anyone (local to me) remember the Otter House/Loft? I had a call from a peer who plays in an internationally known band one point in the last few years, asking if there was a local venue that would consider hosting his band in my town. The Otter House/Loft would have been the only venue up to the task at the time. It’s gone. I told that person he was better off hunting in DC for a venue for his band.

A well-known local summer camp was shut down for the first time this summer. A summer camp that hosts local and international students. Sign-up was staggeringly sluggish.

I noticed that a band I opened for recently changed their tour routing. Their first show here; 30 to 50 people attended. Second show here; maybe 40 attended. Third show here; maybe 15 to 20 attended. They dropped FXBG and put RVA on the tour route. Maybe it’s a coincidence. Maybe I’m inferring something I should not. But I am inferring, that’s because it’s not the first time I’ve seen that happen. I’ve seen it happen with much bigger names who now drive right past our exit on I-95 in favor of doing an event in RVA or DC.

Speaking of that, I shut down the Virginia Bass Forum…an event at Forte that hosted MANY world-famous musicians…because this same pattern happened to me. One artist had 35 people for their first show. Attendance halved for their second show. They never requested to come back again. Some people tried a third time, and when attendance fell on their third show, they stopped asking to book in. They began booking in DC. Understandably.

The thing is, I didn’t lose out. I still see these artists at NAMM shows. We talk on social media. I still get to learn from them. But it’s the local bass students and bass players who lost out because they aren’t exposed to players with that level of talent anymore. So I’ve been in talks for over a year to try to restart the Forum. But not FXBG. In Richmond. I can’t be pulling in famous musicians from all over the country and have like…2 or 6 people show up for their clinic. Yes, that happened a few times. Which hurts when I’m signing the check for the artist’s guarantee.

During the recession, many of the working musicians around me (including myself) started booking out of town; largely in RVA and DC. I started booking all over the area AND the damn country. Some musicians moved away; New Mexico, San Diego, Austin, Richmond, and other cities where the prospects were better. A select few made that move at the advice of various musicians who taught for the Virginia Bass Forum. I know that tidbit because I was ALSO privately given that advice.

That being said, I still can’t figure out how it is I can play a charity event in the midwest, where I get paid and MAKE money. I can’t even do that in my own town, ffs. There are some places that know it’s the right thing to do apparently. And I’m grateful for that.

On a related note, I recently got a concerning email about someone trying to run an event here in the ‘Burg, but one of the organizers did not want to pay the PRO (the performing rights organization) fees to make it legal. It was a non-profit organization. Which, let’s face it, already gets plenty of stuff for free or cheap. They wanted to skimp on paying a PRO fee that was less than $200 that would cover multiple events. The artist bringing the PA system pulled out of the event.

This seems to typify the attitude; we’ll only do the right thing if everyone else is, or until we have to. (In other words, ASCAP or BMI makes another round of busts in our area, which is reported in the local papers and makes the PROs out to be the villains. Meanwhile, the venue owners never did the right thing in the first place. Oh yeah…that whole doing the right thing bit.) I get the fee is high for a restaurant. But in the case of this non-profit, it’s very affordable. There’s literally NO excuse.

Forte Music is closing its doors after years of struggle because the last few incidents pushed the balancing act over the edge. But if you think Forte is the only store/music school struggling, it’s not. It is a canary in the coal mine. And not the first good thing to have died in the mines in the service of others. If you want a diverse local cultural scene, then support your local music scene. Or simply put, you won’t have one. Musicians, bands, and artists are small businesses. Your local music scene is driven by a web of small businesses and people with a vision of how they think they can make the culture in a region better. Many have tried. Many have burned out giving their all to communities who don’t get that the arts needs active sponsors, supporters, and attendees in order to keep going. If you want a diverse scene, you have to support it.

I’ve been gigging for a month straight now, posting my gig schedules…all over DC and FXBG…and not one student or parent showed (other than the folks involved with the gig itself). Seventeen shows total since the start of May. (That being said, I also know some of you guys were out supporting my peers at their shows…thanks for that.) Every time I stepped onstage my boss…whoever they were…was paying the bill. This is a fact that I am grateful for. That being said, I don’t think very many of these outings broke even for my employers. And I know two of these events were stated as losses for the individual or the organizations involved. The gigs ranged from blues-rock to music theater in a variety of venues. So don’t blame the genre. Attendance is the key.

I get that playing music can be an activity to some, versus a lifestyle (as in my case). But if you want a music scene in your town to even be involved with on some level, you have to support it. If you want your kids to have a good relationship with music, if you want them to practice without a fight, you have to show them music is a priority in your household. That means being a part of your local scene. That means attending events. That means supporting the small businesses that specialize in creative experiences versus physical products. That means having concerts in your home – even if it is just your own family music student(s) performing their lesson material once a week after dinner for the entire family. Rituals like that establish music as a priority in your household. I tell my students, if you want a good relationship with your friends, your pets, then you have to spend time and energy with them. Music is the same situation.

Thanks for making it to the end of this post. I know some folks are active and take their kids to concerts. I got a great video from a friend who took his kid to a concert last night; his kid was onstage and was singing with the artist during the show last night. I know some people who are already proactive supporters of our local scene. But I feel like the message needed a timely signal boost this morning, especially with the awareness of dots that need to be connected. And either way, this is just IMHO after all. Some folks may disagree.

I’m leaving you with a video playlist of Virginia Bass Forum events and some videos from Rock For Strings. The Forum started at William Mason’s Fine Instrument Repair, as you will see (again, much gratitude for that), and as events expanded we were at several different venues depending upon need (the event with Joe Satriani/Steve Vai bassist Stuart Hamm was held at Fredericksburg Academy for example). But home was, for the most part, at Forte Music Studios. For both the Virginia Bass Forum and the Rock For Strings group.

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