Just as there are thousands of musicians in Memphis, there are dozens of for- and nonprofit organizations to add structure to the local music community. Of course, most players know of the Music Commission and the Blues Foundation, as well as the local chapter of NARAS (the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences).
The Memphis Acoustical Music Association (MAMA) has promoted concerts by such local luminaries as Jim Dickinson and Sid Selvidge, country great Jessie Winchester, and British folkie Les Barker. There's also the Bluegrass Acoustic Music Association (BAMA), the Memphis Area Bluegrass Association (MABA), and a handful of other organizations around town.
Sharing its acronym with the latter, the Memphis Area Band Association formed in early 2003 as a networking tool for local hard-rock bands such as Dis-Missle, Sammy's Good Eye, and Mrs. Fletcher.
"I do all the nuts-and-bolts behind-the-scenes stuff," explains founding member Jeff Lehman. "I make sure people are in the database, work with our Web site to make sure it's updated, and assist with production at Memphis Area Band Association events."
Lehman's interest in the local hard-rock scene is twofold: He's a bass player himself (although he admits he hasn't played in a band in years), and, for the last five years, he's worked with Tommy Austein (another founding member of MABA) at Dingo Entertainment, putting together DingoFest and Battle of the Bands events.
"Certain clubs and producers around town were telling us one thing but giving us the runaround," Lehman says. "So we decided to start something that would take care of the bands." After kicking around the idea for MABA, the Web site was launched, and by spring, charter bands such as Love and War, Slamhound, Crippled Nation, Torque, Too Tall Jones, and Hard Drive were committed to the cause.
For $15 a year per band member, groups receive a monthly newsletter, a comprehensive listing of local resources (such as venues, Web designers, photographers, and sound engineers), a listing on the MABA Web site, and free entry to local shows at the New Daisy and Old Daisy Theatres, both run by MABA member Mike Glenn.
"Our goals this year are to just establish the organization and provide some hard results with things like our Producers' Showcase and the MABA Pavilion on Beale Street during Memphis in May," Lehman says, adding, "Our monthly workshops provide a resource that local bands can rely on."
"A lot of people go into the music biz with the wrong idea and really hurt themselves," Lehman continues. "We're trying to help them put together a good promotions network and build their fan bases, while learning about publicity and the more businesslike aspects of being in a band."
Recent workshops included a song structure and arrangement course presented by Ross Rice, Jason Latshaw, and Elliott Ives, along with a presentation from the Performers' Recording Co-op and Rock-It Science Preproduction Services.
"We've been trying to build on local music history," Lehman says. "We want to communicate to these bands how Memphis produced good music in the past and how we're still doing it today."
Another focus? "Getting national attention for the local hard-rock scene. These groups haven't been organized enough to get anyone's attention," Lehman says, noting that MABA's presence will hopefully make a difference. It's entirely possible. The organization is already booking a stage at the Memphis Jam concert series on Mud Island this summer, and the most recent MABA Producers' Showcase brought in talent scouts from around the country to check out local bands.
"When a producer looks to Memphis to see what's out here, they'll come to us to see what we've got," Lehman says. "I kept tabs with Tommy [Austein] all evening at our last showcase, and at least four bands caught some serious attention."
Lehman stresses how important it is for local bands to support each other. "Any time we have a MABA show, card-carrying members get in for free," he says. "We want to end all the infighting between local bands, [to] bring up the level of camaraderie and eliminate the competitiveness."
"We've had a lot of support from bands who are very enthused about MABA," Lehman notes. "A lot of this depends on the support of local musicians, but as long as we continue to grow we can do more events." There are, he adds, already 160 MABA members.
"Of course, there are some naysayers," Lehman says. "But I want to stress that we're not strong-arming anybody into this organization. We're not a union. We're here to help when we can, but we don't want to stand in the way of anyone either."
His final words of advice to local bands, whether or not they're members of MABA? "Book responsibly. Don't play too many shows. You'll be more marketable if you just play once a month, rather than book shows all over town." Club owners and fans are sure to appreciate that one.
Go to MidSouthBands.com to find out more information about the Memphis Area Bands Association.