Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Music industry unites to help Portland artists

Published in the Portland Phoenix

If Austin, Texas, is any indicator, in five years’ time, Portland’s music scene may be even more vibrant than it is today. The Portland Music Foundation (PMF) is taking shape, based on a community non-profit in Austin that has helped boost that city’s bands and musicians into the national spotlight.

Founded in 2002, the Austin Music Foundation (AMF) currently has two full-time employees and one part-timer, plus a vast array of volunteers from throughout the music industry. The organization hosts classes, discussion forums, and small-group seminars about the music biz. AMF’s goal, in the words of executive director Suzanne Quinn, is to help musicians “become entrepreneurs” working to “create sustainable businesses and quit those other three jobs”

The PMF will be the beneficiary of a “Speakeasy” night of hoity-toity drinks and food hosted by booze maker Diageo on Wednesday, September 26, at 58 Fore Street in Portland.

The local group is led by Adam Ayan, a Grammy-winning recording engineer whose involvement with the foundation was inspired, in part, by his mentor at Gateway Mastering, Bob Ludwig. Ludwig lives in Portland, but makes annual trips to Austin’s SXSW music festival, where he works with up-and-coming Austin musicians.

Ayan, who holds the Sinatra-like title of “chairman of the board,” says the PMF will use the money from the Speakeasy event to support its first set of programs, which will teach musicians how to interact with the press, recording professionals, and club booking agents.

“These are three topics that local musicians would benefit from learning more about,” says Ayan, who adds that future forums will address topics suggested by local musicians, who can join the group for $20 for a calendar year. Membership benefits will include discounts at local businesses, and free admission to PMF events and workshops.

At the Speakeasy and at the PMF’s official “launch party,” slated for October 18 from 6 to 9 pm at One City Center, Ayan and the others on the group’s board (who include local radio personality Mark Curdo, music-booker-about-town Lauren Wayne, and Portland Phoenix music writer Sam Pfeifle) plan to do a lot of networking. “We’re hoping that we can just hang out and talk to a lot of people,” he says.

Down the road he sees involvement with area schools’ music programs, scholarships for musicians to help develop their skills, and perhaps even a library of local music (see “Let’s Make History,” by Sam Pfeifle, January 6, 2006).

Austin’s example says that a lot is possible. According to Quinn, the AMF’s most recent gathering drew 330 people to learn about licensing and publishing their music. Twice a month, music-industry types gather at an “Austin Music Mixer” to get to know each other, generating collaborations, ideas, and new business for members. The AMF has received grants from the city of Austin and from the Texas state government (in addition to corporate and private donors), and is applying for money from the National Endowment for the Arts.

AMF co-founder Nikki Rowling has visited Portland to meet with Ayan and others, and says the Maine group is “really quite self-sufficient and doing fantastically well.” She has given information on starting music foundations to people from more than 100 cities, but “the Portland Music Foundation is the first one to really materialize.”

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