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Industry Leaders Want To Know How Pittsburgh’s Music Scene Needs To Change

Allegra Battle
90.5 WESA
Panel members at the Pittsburgh Music Ecosystem Project forum at the Kelly Strayhorn Theatre.

How does Pittsburgh’s music scene need to change? That’s one critical question a new project involving local organizations aims to understand and address.

The project, called the Pittsburgh Music Ecosystem Project, was launched in October and is made up of 91.3 WYEP, the City of Pittsburgh Office of Nighttime Economy and Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Leaders from these organizations will look at the regulatory environment, ways to build more opportunities and other aspects of Pittsburgh’s music scene.

And these groups hope to get community input. A forum was held Tuesday night to gather feedback.

Listen to the forum here. 

The Pittsburgh Music Ecosystem Project has hired outside consultant agency Sound Music Cities LLC (SMC), to make the assessment and issue a report in June.

“Pittsburgh has all the ingredients of a great music city: great musicians and venues. I’m excited about Pittsburgh. What I see is a tremendous amount of opportunity and it’s not going to take a lot of resources to get there,” said Don Pitts, SMC President. 

Pitts’ Austin, Texas-based agency promotes industry growth in cities. Some attendees of the forum voiced skepticism over bringing in an outsider to address a local issue, but Pitts says his goal is to reflect what the community wants.

“We are not coming into Pittsburgh, saying you don’t know what you’re doing - we’re saying, hey here’s all this raw talent and opportunity right in front of you, and because you are here you don’t really see it," Pitts said. "We’re just holding a mirror up and reflecting what we’re learning from all the interviews and focus groups that we’re having.” 

Tuesday night's forum took place at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty and included a panel of local music professionals discussing the city’s current music climate. The audience represented a range of the industry from local musicians, to concert promoters, and DJs. 

When moderator Abby Goldstein, general manger of 91.3 WYEP, asked what could be done to change the local music climate and was challenged with the suggestion of playing more diverse music, including hip-hop on her station. 

The panel included Thomas Agnew, Co-Founder of BOOM Concepts, Liz Berlin, Co-Owner of Mr. Smalls Theatre, singer-songwriter Dave Wheeler, jazz musician Charles “Poogie” Bell, and Emily Plazek, CEO of MIC: Music Industry Connected. 

At one point in the evening, the audience began to shout, “Let’s hear from the guy from Austin,” referring to Pitts. Many echoed their concerns about Pitts’ involvement. 

“You are not going to come into my house and change my drapes,” said Pittsburgh area DJ Jeff Cobbs, also known as DJ Chevy.

The Music Ecosystem Project has created a “Pittsburgh Music and Nightlife Industry Audit,” an online survey where residents could weigh in on the city's music scene.

91.3 WYEP and 90.5 WESA are both owned by the Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corporation.

WESA will be surveying Pennsylvania candidates for federal and state office for the 2022 general election — tell us which issues are most important to you.