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Philly’s music scene: How far it’s come and where it needs to go

Bruce Warren likes to say he’s experienced four decades of Philadelphia music, from acts like the soul group the O’Jays in his youth to current hip-hop favorite Chill Moody and everything else in between. He knows Philadelphia music. And as Philadelphia experiences growth as a city, he sees parallels in music.

“I think the last 10 to 15 years Philadelphia has gone through a creative resurgence in the music scene,” said Warren, program director at WXPN.

He cited an increase in clubs, local artists and coverage from the media.  Warren was the moderator at State of Young Philly’s “Philly’s Remastered Sound: A Music Economy Flourishing.” He was joined by Chill Moody; Chris Ward, talent buyer/promotions manager at Johnny Brenda’s; John Vettese, editor of the local music website The Key; and Katonah Rafter, VP of marketing for the Philly-based digital marketing company for entertainers the Fame House.

Here are three of the most important trends and issues for you to know about Philly’s current music scene.

1. If it’s so much better now, what was it like 10 to 15 years ago? 

Imagine if the only places to perform were Khyber Pass and North Star Bar. That’s what John Vettese remembers. He was probably exaggerating slightly, but he said the amount of music venues in this town has gone from very few to more than a dozen. Ditto with music coverage. Whereas the City Paper and Philadelphia Weekly used to be the lone places to read up on music, websites like The Key, The Swollen Fox and others are now covering the scene.

In addition to there being more venues, Chris Ward said club promoters are more likely to select local artists to perform. He said that wasn’t the case when he got started in the business several years ago.

“There were promoters in Philly who didn’t give a shit about local bands,” he said. …”When you treat a local band the same as a national band, you create respect.”

2. What are some pros and cons about being a young music artist based in Philadelphia?

The pros of being a musician in Philly are similar to those for everyone else who live here: It’s an affordable city. An artist who is just starting out can actually live here without the financial pinch he or she would feel in most other big cities.

“You don’t have to reach, like all my friends in Greenpoint, Brooklyn,” Ward said.

The close proximity to other major markets like Washington D.C., New York City, Baltimore and Boston is another positive for local artists.

The negatives? As much as the Philadelphia music scene has grown, it’s still not as developed as a bigger city like New York’s. Chill Moody said artists who perform too often in Philadelphia risk oversaturation. He said artists should get out of Philly and play in New York or elsewhere if they can rather than continuously play in Philadelphia where they would risk having smaller crowds after too many performances here.

“The challenge is just trying to find ways to remain fresh,” Moody said.

3. How can fans of music best support local Philly artists and help the scene grow?

Ward: “Buy the merchandise at shows.” He said the dollars generated from album and t-shirt sales at shows generally go straight to the artists.

Katonah Coster: “Tell everyone you know.” She said personal recommendations and word of mouth are more important than any financial windfall for young artists.

Moody: “Encourage people to go to venues with you.” Like Coster, he said getting people to listen to music and spread the word is the best thing possible.

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