Rust Belt Rock: Local Music Industry Vets Weigh in on the State of the Cleveland Music Scene

Things look pretty promising around the local music scene if you ask local club owners and promoters. (Of course they'd say that given their interests, but it's true, trust us!) Here's what they had to say when we quizzed them on favorite acts, shows, promising artists and how the hell they ended up in the biz.

Cindy Barber - Beachland Ballroom and Tavern/ Cleveland Rocks Past Present and Future

How did you start in the business and why?

I was part of the music business scene in the '70s working at local branches of record labels MCA, WEA, ABC, which was a substantial network that included salesmen, promotion reps for each label, order fillers etc. Those warehouses and the extended record stores they served employed a huge number of musicians and music lovers in the region. As a young girl, it was a great job with lots of perks, promo copies of new releases and prime concert tickets.

How has the music scene in Cleveland changed over those years?

Local music was part of almost everyone's life back then with dances and shows, singles being cut in local studios, radio and promoters helping to hook bands with national labels. [Plain Dealer writer] Jane Scott was writing about every sneeze. Now that is sort of coming back, there are more quality studios helping record local artists and there is starting to be a network of businesses growing up to support those efforts.

What are your two most memorable local shows?

Well that's a tough one... For Beachland shows, it has to be the time the Black Keys sold out our ballroom on New Year's Eve in 2003 with This Moment in Black History opening. More recently, the tavern show that was just pure energy was the 2011 All Dinosaurs soldout CD release show with Hot Cha Cha; our ceiling was beat up and the entire stage was encircled when All Dinos ripped through their set.

What are some of the challenges involved in promoting local music in Cleveland?

Finding an audience. It's been hard to be an original band and build a following here. People who are in the scene support each other, but we need more music lovers in general to just come out and explore. I do think though that Clevelanders are getting better at coming out for local-only shows. Just like we are starting to support local retail and local food, local music is getting more and more support. Even publications like Scene and the PD are giving more space to local music stories.

What are two local success stories in any part of the business?

Gotta Groove vinyl pressing plant has become our not so secret weapon! Vince Slusarz's vision launched in mid-2009 and is now running three shifts, pressing vinyl for big name artists but also helping local bands with a crowd-funding platform to raise money for their projects. And giving multiple musicians a living wage running the machines! There are so many band success stories, but I admire what Mr. Gnome has been able to do and remain in Cleveland. They have a 30-plus date tour booked from the end of  October through mid-December when they end up in our ballroom at the Beachland where hundreds of Clevelanders will welcome this husband and wife team of Nicole Barille and Sam Meister home.

What is missing from the local music scene?

An infrastructure to help talented bands cover the business part of music. We need a publishing house, booking agency, entertainment lawyers that don't charge an arm and a leg, record labels with investment capital. I am trying to explore and identify this deficit through the nonprofit Cleveland Rocks Past Present and Future and am currently looking for funding to help launch an incubator program.

The most exciting local act right now is...?

Hands down Wesley Bright and the Hi-Lites! They are just a rapidly moving explosion and Beachland partner Mark Leddy is trying to help them navigate as they all hang on to their day jobs. Others I'm watching and encouraging are Modern Electric who seems poised to take the next step and follow in the footsteps of The Lighthouse and the Whaler, Mr. Gnome and Cloud Nothings, to do more national touring. They have determination, organization and a tight stage show. I'm really liking the new Filmstrip record. Leah Lou and the Two Left Shoes is ready to take off. And Herzog is a songwriting force. And Bim Thomas' punked out project Obnox is getting lots of attention right now.

What local act had the most potential but never made it or died off?

Have to say the Generators. This band had it all: songs, a huge loyal audience, local radio support, affiliation with nationally released film Light of Day. Management issues and band differences doomed them.

Advice you'd give someone trying to make it?

Put all the pieces in place. Great songs and singing then need a confident stage show, grassroots marketing savvy and, above all, support. Someone has to do the business part, but just like life you also need someone who believes in you.

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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