I am writing to call your attention to a very sad situation in our community that affects a sizable segment of our population whom are grossly ignored and disrespected.  Many of them work two jobs – one during the day to pay the bills and one at night or on weekends, which is their true passion in life.  Those brave souls who devote their full time to their art often suffer greatly as a result – lacking health care, proper nutrition and live meagerly or in poverty.  Those who have chosen this route and have not taken on the second “conventional” job are very often viewed as “slackers” and treated as social outcasts.  Too often they are asked to work without getting paid to get exposure/promote their art.  Would you go to work for several hours without getting paid?  I highly doubt that and in most cases it is illegal to be asked to do so.  Yet when asked to participate in charitable events they are often first in line to offer their services.  After the attack on the World Trade Center disaster they banded together in cities all over the world including our own and raised millions of dollars to help the victims families – many of them barely able to afford to survive themselves.  When the world is hurting their art provides comfort and solace.  In the Sixties their art changed the world, as we know it.  Though a vital part of everyday life this art form is often taken for granted, yet a world without it would be devoid of one of it’s greatest treasures.
    In case you haven’t guessed yet, I am speaking about the musicians in our community.  In a city that is world renown for the Eastman School of music and is more than worthy of the praise, those who do not fall into the genre of classical music are very often not considered to be serious musicians and worthy of our respect and attention.  Government funding and grants are unheard of for these people.  I am extremely saddened every time I hear a musician say “I can’t take it anymore! I have to leave this town because there is no music scene here and nobody cares about what I do!” Except for a few rare cases (kudos to the few radio stations, club owners, music critics and promoters that support local original music), most of these musicians are virtually unknown except for their fans.  If they do manage to play some high profile shows people are shocked to find out that they are from Rochester.  They should not have to move to NY, LA, Nashville or Seattle as we have as much, if not more talent right here at home.  Labels, managers, producers etc should be flocking to our city to check these people out and setting up branches of their companies here.  Local government is quick to promote and spend money on the physical structures, building around the lakes, parks, rivers, downtown etc (not that those areas don’t deserve attention) but if everyone moves away what do those things matter?  The greatest natural resource Rochester has, are the talented people of all walks of life who struggle to live and work here.  We should be doing whatever we can to keep them here and get new people from all over the country to want to live here as well.
    Over the past few years I have been involved with some incredible musicians known as the Gregory Paul Group and as a result I have had the pleasure to meet many other musicians, club owners, promoters and music critics.  The following is a list of ideas/proposals/goals that have arisen out of my brainstorming with all of them on how to build a thriving music community here in Rochester NY:

Support and promote the art of music and the musicians who create it providing a creative environment where
musicians can live and work, making a decent living from their art regardless of genre.  Strive to make Rochester a city where musicians are recognized for the valuable contribution they make to the community’s life, vitality and growth.  

Airplay – We do not need to hear the same three songs played in heavy rotation on our local commercial radio stations twenty-four hours a day!!! With a few exceptions (kudos to: WCMF 96.5 FM for Homegrown hosted by  Unkle Roger – Mondays 12:00 – 1:00 AM - although you need a much better time slot, Brother Wease and his Morning Show – weekday mornings from 6:00 - 11:00 AM - and the new WBER 90.5 FM Local Music Show – Sundays 9:00 – 11:00 PM - hosted by Shana) airplay for local artists is non-existent unless you get airplay on college radio, which gets high praise for being the champions of Indie music in this area. We need to start giving local artists airplay on ALL radio stations throughout the whole day not only at some extremely late time slot when only a very small part of the population is even awake. It is time for all radio stations to help out the community that they are a part of. If local artists got the same amount of airplay as national acts it would be a win-win situation for all involved. Festivals, clubs and other musical events in the area would be much better attended creating additional revenue for the bands and the venues that hire them since their music would now be familiar to the community. The complaint has always been that people want to hear what they are familiar with – they want to see “cover bands” because that is the music they hear on the radio.  Also I must add that we have some of the best cover/tribute bands here in Rochester as well.  Remember though that every cover tune that is played by a musician was once an original song that someone took a chance on and started to give it radio exposure.  The commercial radio stations would also benefit because they would increase their listening audience, which is defecting in large numbers to Indie, college and Internet radio or not listening to radio at all.  Advertising dollars, which is their main source of revenue would also increase as venues that hire these bands would be more profitable spending more money in advertising on their stations and in the papers as well.  Many businesses support the other arts in this community as they should, and I am sure they would be willing to help and show their support if it was done in the proper way (example – this hour of local music brought to you by the XKBW company).  Establish a liaison position at each radio station that works with the musicians or their agents to get proper bios, demos etc to submit for airplay consideration. Use existing cable access stations to create local music video programs – our own Rochester version of MTV/VH1.

Work to develop new and/or expand musical resources and venues throughout our city, including our residential neighborhoods. Create a series of cross cultural music events at local clubs (possibly named -“City of Rochester Music Showcase Series”) that would feature artists performing several different types of music at each event, showcasing the diverse talent we have and promoting unification of the music community. Encourage citizens to actively support and participate in musical activities in a way that encourages more interactions and builds and strengthens our community.

Concerts and Festivals – be more open to having local artists that play ORIGINAL music at city/county-funded events and open for national acts that come through Rochester. Create a series of festivals or weekly concerts featuring local music of all genres and bring music events and arts in general to ALL areas of the city not just certain sectors.  Establish a “Floating Festival Tent” using different parks throughout Monroe County and vacant areas throughout the city for new musical events.

Work with the tourism board to bring major record industry recognition to our city – create city or corporate sponsored free artist showcases for record labels and other music related businesses to come and see the talent we have (Convention Center as a possible site) on a regular basis. This will eventually bring new business and citizens to the area.

Form musician, government and business partnerships to create community spirit, pride and growth opportunities, while utilizing our resources, musical heritage and current assets as an economic development tool. Encouraging musicians and our musical institutions to work together in the development, promotion and enhancement of our city’s musical resources as unique assets that will contribute to our city’s “sense of place”, establishing our community as the musical center for our region and eventually the country as a whole. Support and promote musical events, activities and institutions in a way that establishes our city as a “world class” musical center.

        In closing I ask you to support your local musicians – they are your mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, friends and neighbors.  Our cultural future depends on it. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have been told that I am fighting a losing battle by trying to change hundreds of years of narrow mindedness in this community.  Change will never happen if someone doesn’t stand up for what they believe in.  With a blood clot in my brain and several autoimmune disorders for which there are no cures (after effects of major brain surgery), every day of my life is spent fighting a losing battle.  Building a healthy, well-respected music community in Rochester is one battle I will fight till my death trying to win!

Written by LJ Fullerton
To Contact LJ Fullerton
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The Rochester Music Coalition
The Arts & Cultural Council of Greater Rochester