What is the state of local entertainment going into 2016? For those of you that may not know Tony Marinacci of Total Entertainment & Entertainment passed away on September 2, 2015. He was an important figure in the history of the Pennsylvania Rock Show. Tony was instrumental in teaching me how to run a sound board on his own for the live performances that took place in the early years of the show. Tony made suggestions on things such as what bands to play, what equipment to buy, & so much more. But more, much more than that, Tony was Bill’s friend. One of the very last thing’s that Tony asked me to do was to keep his website online for a few years after he passed away. I agreed without hesitation.
Now, I bet you’re wondering what this preface has to do with this post. Every year Tony would release a post on the news section of his website about the State of Local Entertainment. I want to pick of the reigns and continue it for him; however, I don’t feel that I am qualified to do it on my own. So I came up with a plan. I have asked a few people the same questions about the local scene. This article will allow you to read their thoughts. I have asked Brian Drusky (Drusky Entertainment), Chip DiMonick (Chip DiMonick Band, Londona, & Helping Hands Rock Reviews), John Klazon (Western Pennsylvania Local Music Scene), and Vinni Belfiore (Musicans Hotsheet), Michael Stover (MTS Management Group), and Doug Carnahan (After the Fall) to help me tackle this in this article. You can also listen to John Lane’s (the Hellfire Club) answers to the questions in this month’s the Pennsylvania Rock Show.
If you had to grade the local music scene in South Western PA throughout 2015 what grade would it receive and why?
Brian Drusky: I would give it a B Minus…. We have some great bands around here who are very original and entertaining. The problem I see with the scene is that a lot of bands don’t support each other. If they play on bills together a lot will leave before the other bands play. and a lot of bands do not understand it is the music business. They do not understand that they need to be able to promote themselves and make sure they get people out to see them. Most think it is some one else’s job to do that and they are just to play music, that is true when you get to that point where you are a nationally touring successful band, but until that point, you got to keep hitting it on all cylinders promotionally.
John Klazon: I have to give it a solid B+. There is always room for improvement. But I must say local music here gets better and better with each passing year.
Vinni Belfiore: That’s kind of a loaded question in that there are so many factors at play to consider. Nightlife, the impact of DUI laws on live music, and in all candor, the provincial thinking of many local bands. So if I’m grading with the thought that there is improvement needed on all fronts– not just bands– I’d have to give it a C+. The plus is a recognition of the talent we do have in Pittsburgh.
Chip DiMonick: I’d give it a solid B. We have had some great festivals spotlighting local music: Strip District Music Fest, R.A.N.T., Deutschtown, the Rock For Life Series, etc. These have been well-attended and really have given a sense of legitimacy to local music. We don’t have the music industry infrastructure here like cities that I’d grade with an A, such as Nashville, LA, New York City, and even Austin. The industry opportunities in those cities attract the best of the best to move there and set the standards high for what it takes to be a good performer. South Western PA isn’t there yet, but we’re definitely a lot closer than we were just a few years ago.
Michael Stover: I’d give the local music scene in SW PA a C+. That is grade isn’t reflective of the amount of talent or quality of musicians here, in the area. They get an A. Some of the things that I hear and see that make me give the scene a lower grade, is the lack of support of original music, from the audience to the club owners, to the promoters, to the bands themselves, etc. That, along with some of the jealousy and petty antics between local bands and lack of professionalism leads me to grade at a C+. I always believe in the strength in numbers mentality. I think that’s why Seattle became so huge in the 90s, and San Francisco in the 60s, or NYC during the punk movement, was because the bands joined together and promoted the “scene.” It wasn’t about us v. them. It was all for one and one for all. That’s something that I do see from time to time in SWPA, which gives me great hope. But, there is still a lot of the hating going on, that really doesn’t do anyone any good, and drags down the whole scene. There is also a lot of old school mentality that I’ve seen, about the way the music biz runs, as a whole. I think that acts should educate themselves on the current industry, and realize that the biz is a lot more than making good music. That’s a good start, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg, really.
Doug Carnahan: I would give it an A-. I would’ve given it an A, or even an A+, but I think that we, as a musical community, still have a way to go as far as getting our pieces in order and really blowing our local scene here into a national one. I do, however, think that we put on a lot of good shows this year, there were a lot of great songs and albums created and released this year by local acts, and as is every year, we still made constant strides towards building the scene further and showing what we, as a city, are capable of!
What businesses in SWPA that deal with local music do you believe are succeeding with helping to build the scene and why?
Brian Drusky: I think all the promotion companies and clubs are helping the build the scene, anyone who gives local music an outlet to play is indeed helping the scene
This is a topic I’ve touched on many times. A rising tide raises all ships. I think there are some people and organizations here that are doing some pretty cool stuff. For Those About to Rock academy is one example. They were the first ‘rock school’ in the area. I think it’s important to get kids involved in music. Too many kids got distracted by crap like ‘Guitar Hero’. The Music Smiles program is really cool. They bring local musicians to perform at area hospitals. Then there’s internet groups like Western Pennsylvania Local Music Scene that do a good job of helping musicians to network. Musicians Hotsheet is kind of a stepping stone between the world of media and local grass roots efforts. We intentionally set a standard that challenges bands to work harder. All these and more raise the level of participation.
Chip DiMonick: I think that all of the promoters that put on the local music festivals are owed the biggest thanks. For years, the bands here have had to build their buzz themselves. It’s great to see promoters putting their own money and efforts behind making these festivals big and buzzworthy. They recruit sponsors, which is a talent in itself. And those sponsors deserve recognition for supporting local music.
Michael Stover: The Loudini Rock and Roll Circus podcast and the PA Rock Show podcast are two off the top of my head. The Granati Brothers have always done a lot to give back to the local scene with their efforts. I think any business that opens their doors for open mic nights help out. Of course, local musicians unions and songwriting groups all help, too. The Rock For Life people are amazing in all their events they do, bringing local acts together for charity.
Doug Carnahan: There are quite a few out there that are really trying to help our local scene grow, but I’ll keep my answer to just a few. First off, I think that Pianos n Stuff (‘N Stuff Music) in Blawnox is helping out the local scene in a big way. They are there to help with questions musicians might face, have rental equipment for bands and artists who want to put on a show, but don’t have the budget, and the employees are all musicians themselves, so they know the struggle firsthand. Another one I would cite is the Leechburg Moose. Those guys down there took a place that normally wouldn’t be associated with music, and have been putting on solid shows for years now, which helps the local scene by getting local music into the ears of people who normally might not hear it otherwise. That’s a giant help to our scene too! I would go as far as to say that any place here in western PA that either has live bands, offers to sell local bands merchandise, or even will let bands hang flyers in their establishment, is helping the local scene!
What venues do you feel best supported local music in 2015?
John Klazon: Where do I begin? Moondogs, Altar Bar, Jergels, Smiling Moose and so many more. The smaller venues hosting the hardcore metal shows and the punk shows go under the radar but are so vital for the local music scene.
Vinni Belfiore: Although there aren’t as many as any of us would like, there are some great local music venues out there. Hambones, Thunderbird Cafe, Excuses and Brillobox come to mind in the city. In the ‘Burbs you have clubs like the Mousetrap, Moondogs, Jergels and a lot of other local joints that have bands. So live music is out there if you want to look for it.
Chip DiMonick: I tend to have a special place in my heart for the venues that don’t charge the bands an arm and a leg for the soundman. As an artist, it sucks worrying if you’ll be able to cover the soundman for the night. And it sucks when a band hustles to draw 45 people but only makes $5 per member because the soundman always gets paid first. Unfortunately, with the 31st Street Pub and the Deadhorse Cantina closing recently, there are fewer venues who treat bands fairly in this regard. Howlers comes to mind.
Michael Stover: That’s a tough one. I would probably have to say Altar Bar and Drusky. Just because he gives locals the chance to open for national acts. Granted, some people don’t like the whole ticket selling thing, but let’s face it, if you can’t sell tickets to your show, whether it’s opening for someone else or not, you probably shouldn’t be on the stage. The question becomes…why can’t you sell the tickets? So, I applaud Drusky for giving local bands a shot to get in front of national acts. Opportunities are few and far between, and bands need to make the most of those opportunities.
Doug Carnahan: This is a hard one to answer, as there are MANY local venues that have, and will continue, to help support the local scene. As I mentioned in the last answer, the Leechburg Moose is one that comes to mind, simply because your local Moose lodge isn’t the first venue you might think of when you’re thinking of going out to see a live, local band. In fact, the majority of my answer here could be summarized as any establishment that might not be your “typical” venue, be it a bookstore, coffee shop, small bar, etc, and that hosts local music shows, WITHOUT looking to turn a major profit off of the bands, has been integral in helping our scene in 2015. Many local venues are in it stricly for the profit, and that’s fine, that’s what businesses are all about anyways, but when the profit becomes your PRIMARY reason for hosting these shows, you’re no longer in it for the scene, you’re in it for yourself. The same goes for bands and acts as well, if they’re creating music with the plans of being a billionaire, they should probably find a new career. Yes, we all want to monetize our musicality for the sake of being able to earn a living, but as a wise man once said, “Those who do something that they love for a job will never work a day in their life”, the same goes for bands, venues, promoters, etc. Money is a necessary evil in this world, but if you want your business to be known for “helping” the local scene, you must first be known for caring for the music first, and profits second. Without venues, there wouldn’t be shows, but without musicians and bands, who also probably aren’t making millions, there wouldn’t only be any shows, there wouldn’t be any MUSIC, period!
How do you think the local radio stations did with supporting local music in 2015 and are there any specifics that you’d like to mention?
Brian Drusky: WDVE and WXDX do what they can to promote the local music scene and always have. a lot of bands do not realize that radio stations are a commercial business entity, they are going to play on their station what people want to hear. what’s popular, etc… and they are given strict guidelines from Corporate headquarters what they can and cannot do to stray away from playing popular nationally successful bands, but like I said, WDVE and WXDX have local music program nights and even sometimes put into rotation local artists. I know WDVE played Paul Luc in rotation this year. WYEP being a non commercial, non profit radio station has a lot more lee way to play local artists and they do indeed do that when they can. I am not sure that the local bands understand that because that station isn’t as large and as appealing as the large commercial stations BUT WYEP’s listeners are devout music listeners, they like what music.
John Klazon: Hands down 97.7 in Butler is the biggest supporter of local music. 105.9 The X also comes to mind. I welcome Randy Baumann’s efforts and he is a big supporter, but his employer WDVE can and should do better.
Vinni Belfiore: I’ve been hard on our local radio stations, particularly WDVE, but it hasn’t been about local music. I bitch about hearing “Jesus Just Left Chicago” for the millionth time, but honestly, WDVE and WXDX have been incredibly supportive of local music. I’ve always respected them for that, even when being critical. But hey, radio is a big business, and someone like Abby at the X can’t always do what THEY want to do. They have their marching orders.
Chip DiMonick: The radio stations have been amazing! To be an artist and get radio play on three FM stations in your home market is incredible. I hope no one takes this for granted. WDVE, The X, and 97.7 The Rock Station are all very generous with the amount of local music they play.
Michael Stover: As a whole, I think local radio does very little to support their artists. There are a few exceptions, Froggy for one, who give local country acts airplay on a regular basis. Y108 does a little, but not nearly as much. DVE and the X have done a little, but I think they should really step up and help grow the local scene. Sponsored radio events would do wonders, I believe.
Doug Carnahan: I feel that we are truly blessed when it comes to western PA’s local scene and the radio stations around here that support the scene and it’s members. The first one I would name, hands down, would be 97.7 The Rock out of Butler. They have a show that airs twice a week, called the Grass Roots show, which focuses on nothing but local music, and is hosted by two great gentlemen, Bob Cupp and Utah Burgess, both who are wonderful supporters of the local scene. They also will play local artists mixed into their regular rotation, so it wouldn’t be a big deal to hear Bon Jovi on a Tues afternoon, followed by a local band. The Grass Roots show also interviews local artists about their upcoming projects, their thoughts on the local scene, etc. I would also have to say that 105.9 The X in Pittsburgh has gotten a lot better over the years at supporting our local scene here. They are a corporate owned entity, and although their primary focus is on mainstream rock, they do have segments specifically for local artists, and have also gotten better at playing local bands and their music throughout the day, instead of just relegating the local stuff to anything after 2 AM, as most stations used to, and some still do. Another one would be 99.1 Rocky 99 out of Indiana, PA. All of these stations are really working towards building our scene here, and I’m also only mentioning terrestrial stations here, I haven’t even gotten into internet radio, of which I know there are quite a few that broadcast here out of Pittsburgh and it’s surrounding areas.
What bands that you’ve dealt with do you think epitomized the local scene in 2015?
Brian Drusky: Bands like Chip Dimonoick is a great example of what you can try to do to keep your band as a business and are constantly out there promoting, they are the first one that comes to mind.
John Klazon: After The Fall and Chip DiMonick come to mind first. The work ethic here in Western PA local music is phenomenal. Lovebettie, NeverWake, you can name anyone and always forget someone that should be mentioned. The tone of the work ethic is set by such acts as the Dave Iglar Band, Totally 80’s and many more performing 2 shows a weekend most times almost every weekend. The music is a reflection of that hard work ethic.
Vinni Belfiore: There have been some seriously good releases from local bands in 2015. Venus In Furs, Jim Donovan and the Sun King Warriors, After the Fall. LoveBettie has been getting national attention. I’ve seen some young people too– Jess Bitsura. Keep an eye on her. Sun Hound just released a great CD. I love Chip DiMonick. He had a solid release this year. I definitely see some good things happening.
Chip DiMonick: I think Highway 4 are great. They are the total package – they sound great and they can write great songs. I think they’ve raised the bar and hopefully others will step up their game as a result. Neverwake are so impressive. Pittsburgh music has historically felt a little behind national music. Neverwake is right on the leading edge.
Michael Stover: Some of the best local acts, who seem to be doing things the right way, are Chip Dimonick, of course, Xander Demos, ATF, The Granati Bros, who are more established “royalty” in this town, and a couple of country acts, Sydney Hutchko, The Stickers, who are really starting to break out, and Michael Christopher. Everyone should pay attention to what they are all doing, and how they can emulate some of their business sense.
Doug Carnahan: This is another question that is sort of hard to pin down to just one, or even ten, bands. Our local scene here is very rich in talent, and we have quite a diverse scene here when it comes to different genres of music. When you think of Seattle, for instance, you think grunge. The same goes for LA in the 1980’s and the hair metal. Here in Pittsburgh in 2015, it’s nothing to walk down a city block and see a rock band playing at a venue, and two doors down, they have a blues night. I play in a rock band, and have a solo acoustic act, so that’s my main area of expertise when it comes to bands that we’ve (I’ve) worked with. To mention the bands by name, I could fill up this entire page with names of bands that have epitomized the local scene, so I’ll define it like this: The bands that epitomized the local scene in 2015 were any bands that were out there playing gigs as many weekends as they could, that took their show to as many different states as possible, and who were constantly pushing themselves to grow and evolve. I’m sure that there are bands right here in Pittsburgh, bands that are outside of our local rock circle, maybe a blues band or a country band even, that I’m unaware of, but that still made generous contributions to our local scene in 2015, and have also helped to bolster the hype that is constantly building around the local scene here in Pittsburgh, and for me to not mention them here simply because I might not have heard of them wouldn’t be fair, so I summarized my answer to include any band, of any genre, that was out there grinding it out with the rest of us!
How important do you think pressed cds are in 2015? Are digital downloads more valid in this day and age?
Brian Drusky: It is a catch 22, everyone likes downloads, but if you are trying to get people to listen to things, handing them a cd is still the best bet in my humble opinion. It is so much easier to get them to potentially play it. It is very easy to skip over an e-mail with an Mp3 in it considering that people get so many emails this day. Digital downloads are still very important though, you need to have your music on that digital platform to get them to people as well.
John Klazon: Valid? Perhaps. I still buy CD’s from the bands. Royalties in the digital download age are appallingly low. Besides, to buy one I generally go to their show and meet them so it’s a win all around.
Vinni Belfiore: If you’re talking about trends, it seems as if vinyl is the way to go! LOL. Who would have guessed that? But yeah, I think bands need to take a larger view of what their actual ‘product’ is. Most have not done that.
Chip DiMonick: CD’s are vitally important when performing live! Despite the fact that digital downloads and streaming are the predominant ways that people acquire their music today, it is not easy to get people to get your music in cyberspace after they see your show. By selling CD’s at shows, artists can “close the deal” and monetize their music right there, right then. They don’t have to hope that attendees will remember to search up their music online the next day, which they often won’t. CD’s are seen as somewhat of a souvenir, so bands can capitalize on that. And pro tip: every member of the band should be at the merch booth together after a performance. People want their CD’s signed. It’s that souvenir factor.
Michael Stover: Nobody is buying downloaded music. Unless you are a major label artist, and they aren’t hardly selling either. That’s why the RIAA just changed their standards for gold and platinum status, to include streams. So, while downloads are an important tool for marketing, the pressed CD is even more so, in my opinion. What the CD becomes is not about the music so much, as it is about selling a piece of merchandise at your show. It’s a memory. That’s what the shows are all about. Making memories for your audience. So, what better memento to sell, than something that has your music on it, that you can sign for them at a show. Talk about a memory! So, don’t overlook the importance of the CD. It’s tangible. It’s a physical memento of that awesome memory you just gave your audience.
Doug Carnahan: I think that CDs still hold relevance in the here and now, but I think that the future of music is in the digital download arena. As it stands, the current business model for streaming sites are HORRIBLY slanted towards the owners of those sites, not at all towards the artists and bands. Let’s take streaming for example, a practice that is widely accepted and is often people’s preferred method of consuming music. These sites such as Spotify, Rhapsody, etc pay artists $.004 per stream!! Think about that for a minute, let it sink in. $.004 per stream! That’s not even enough to buy a ’79 Yugo, yet alone a new Cadillac Escalade! That’s the main problem with the current streaming business model, is that the artists are being wildly exploited, and it also devalues the music. In a day and age when you can go to sites like YouTube, Spotify, and many others, and just stream a song, as opposed to shelling out $10 for a band’s full length record, most people see this as a no-brainer and will flock to the streaming sites, despite the fact that the artists’ whose music they’re streaming are getting shafted on the deal. There still are folks out there who want to support musicians by buying their physical CDs, and there are folks who still prefer CDs to digital, but CD’s days are numbered, as much as I hate to say that, and the digital realm is here to stay. What needs to happen is someone out there needs to find a way to tip the scales a little bit more towards the artists when it comes to streaming, and provide the artists who are actually getting plays with some form of monetary compensation, instead of being greedy. The system itself isn’t a bad one, in fact, it’s enabled people across the planet to access music that they might not have otherwise even heard of, which is HUGE for the bands and musicians, but only in the sense of exposure. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills, and until it does, bands and artists need to have some sort of compensation for the time and effort that they sink into their craft. Recording, buying instruments, maintaining instruments, touring, etc. these all cost money, and if you’re going to stream our entire album every day, and/or just pirate it illegally, people will find that quality musicains won’t be continuing on for very long, because they want FAIRLY compensated for their art, which is a reasonable request to me. If this doesn’t happen soon, and there are presently groups of musicians who are fighting for these very rights in Congress might I add, you’re going to see a ton of more “average” bands cropping up across the country and less and less of the “superstars” of the past. If Elvis or Michael Jackson were to break in this day and age, they wouldn’t be able to accumulate a fraction of the wealth or power that they did in their day, because it was the records that they sold that helped them to attain that level of wealth. Us local musicians aren’t looking to buy a mansion, a Bentley, or anything else too excessive. We just want to be able to feed our families doing what we love!
How would you grade the major local music scene in our area for 2015 (signed/formerly signed bands that come through here on tour) and why?
Brian Drusky: I’d give it a B, we get a ton of great nationally signed bands through this area at the plenty of venues that book the acts, but stuill we have bands that skip the market or have never played here. For some reason, Pittsburgh isn’t an A market, and is considered a B market for bands in the country.
John Klazon: Give that also a solid B/B+. It’s nice to see the music scene here is getting the attention it deserves. 2016 should see more local bands sign. However, I’ll reserve predisction for now.
Vinni Belfiore: Pittsburgh has always been a secondary tour market. We’re off the beaten path in terms of interstate access. We get the standard summer tours, and some of the bigger tours will hit the stadium. Winter becomes a different story. Club-wise, I think guys like Brian Drusky do a pretty good job of bringing acts to Pittsburgh, despite the limitations of venues and demographics. I’d give it a B+.
Chip DiMonick: You still hear of bands that “skip Pittsburgh” on their tours, but it isn’t like it was a few years ago when you’d always hear of people driving to Cleveland to see shows. Between Drusky, Opus One, PromoWest, and Live Nation, I think that they capture the lion’s share of good touring acts.
Michael Stover: This goes back to the comments on Drusky and Altar Bar. I think they do a fine job bringing in medium level acts that give the locals a chance to open the show. For this reason, I would give the scene an A. Pittsburgh gets a ton of shows coming through. It might not be on the first leg, but ultimately, we seem to be on the list.
Doug Carnahan: This is one area that I would also say is vastly improving as the years go on here in Pittsburgh. When I was growing up, there were always big acts coming through Pittsburgh. They would come to Starlake, the Civic Arena, and other big places like that, and you could buy your tickets and go see them. The problem was that there weren’t many local bands involved in these sorts of shows. Sure, you might have a local band with some connections that could pull their weight and get on a show or two like that, every now and then, but it wasn’t like it is today. My band, After the Fall, has opened for quite a few major touring acts in the past few years, and not at any arena or major venue. We opened for these bands at smaller clubs, such as Altar Bar, and we weren’t the only local opener either! Not every band can fill an arena these days, but they still know that touring is important, so they will often go for these smaller clubs that can still hold a fair amount of people, but that aren’t the size of an arena. Altar Bar is constantly having national bands through there, with local openers, and most of these shows are well attended! These sorts of shows, and the bands that don’t mind having local openers on their shows, are only helping to improve the scene in this city by exposing the national band’s audience to similar local bands who they might not have heard of otherwise, which is helping the local bands out in a major way! So, if I had to grade this part of our scene for 2015, I would give it an A.
What non-music related entertainment companies/businesses would you suggest a visitor to SWPA should visit?
Brian Drusky: I am not sure what to answer on this question…you should check out the Andy Warhol museum if you aren’t from the area.
Vinni Belfiore: LOL… I might be too old to honestly answer this one. I’d recommend talking to some young people.
Chip DiMonick: Just Ducky Tours is fun for residents and visitors alike! I always have fun going to comedy shows at the Improv, too. And, of course, sports is the bread and butter of this town, so a Steelers, Penguins, or Pirates game can be a good time.
Doug Carnahan: I’m not quite sure what you mean here by “non-music related entertainment companies”. EVERYBODY should visit a Primanti Bros once in their life! Lol! The Carnegie Museum is one I would add, and I can’t believe no one said Kennywood.