Memphis runs deep in my blood. The city gave me a life, a career, a passionate resolve, and a school-of-hard-knocks education in music and business. I learned what it means to hustle. And I learned quickly that those with no hustle are destined to fail — talent, contacts, and pedigree be damned. In the long run, it's the strength of your hustle that separates the meek from the mighty!
I've been thinking a lot about Memphis music recently and trying to figure out the best way to share my unique insight and address the issues and opportunities surrounding the Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission (MSCMC). This not a personal attack on the staff, board, or leadership of the commission. It is an educated opinion from someone who is passionately committed to seeing Memphis succeed.
In 2003, I was recruited to run business development and community relations for the MSCMC.
It was my great honor and privilege to get asked to work on behalf of and advocate for the creative community. I was tasked with developing educational initiatives and cross-platform marketing programs to empower the community with a hands-on ethic for the business of music and to shine a light so the world could know about the second coming of Memphis music.
I don't remember when I met Christopher Reyes, but I do recall thinking how lucky I was to have someone with that kind of award-winning creative chops, digital savvy, and passion to tell the story of Memphis' local music scene. I recognized the artist in him early on and knew that harnessing that creative energy would take some time and finesse, but it was so worth it! In my estimation, there was not then, nor is there now, another creative force in Memphis like Reyes and the team at Live From Memphis (LFM). Their commitment to Memphis music should be seen as a model for entrepreneurial, creative, and civic engagement. Allowing LFM to shut its doors was Memphis' biggest industry loss since Stax shut down. (Bold statement, I know.) But, tell me, who is telling — and selling — Memphis' musical story now? Not the MSCMC, that's for sure.
Have you seen the MSCMC website? Sweet placement on the MySpace link! You either still believe that's relevant, or you haven't updated your site since 2006. Not having some sort of relevant online presence in 2015 represents a huge failure by the MSCMC. Without a vibrant website, how effective can their programs be in creating awareness or revenue for local artists and music entrepreneurs? It's going to take more than local showcases to move the needle.
I believe the commission should be an organization that: 1) works to provide meaningful and actionable insight and best practices for the business of music; 2) is a global advocate for Memphis' creative community and music entrepreneurs; 3) is a strategic leader and business-development champion for Memphis' creative community.
Memphis doesn't need the commission to fix the local scene. Local musicians and music businesspeople are scrappy enough to figure things out on their own. If the commission would allocate resources to projects and initiatives that give local artists, entrepreneurs, and everyone else the opportunity to work smarter in their business and reap the benefits of a world-class marketing campaign, what a testament to the creative power of investing in a creative community that would be!
The commission needs to understand its effectiveness comes from empowering the community around them. Respect their hustle, and they will love you; disrespect it, and you no longer deserve to represent them.
If the choice were mine to make, I would remove ineffective programs like Memphis Music Monday, First Fridays Rock, Memphis Music Revealed TV, and Generation Next and reallocate those budgets (and additional operating capital) toward programs such as a music business educational initiative (monthly or quarterly); a Marketing Memphis Music campaign (a social and event-focused campaign to help support a "Memphis as a musical mecca" message); a "Gig Swap" initiative with sister music cities such as Austin, New Orleans, Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis, Oxford, and others.
I believe these simple changes could make a difference in the lives of this music community. I hope the MSCMC recognizes and embraces the hustle that's right under their noses.
Wayne Leeloy is a former Memphian now living in Nashville. He is head of Brand Partnerships & Digital Strategy for G7 Entertainment Marketing.