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New Study Recommends Path For Pittsburgh's Music Scene

Renee Rosensteel
A band performs at WYEP's 2018 Summer Music Festival.

There’s a new plan to improve Pittsburgh’s music scene.

The Pittsburgh Music Ecosystem Study was released Thursday. The 86-page report, 10 months in the making, suggests that Pittsburgh’s scene needs more leadership, career development for musicians, regulatory changes and more.

The study was written by Don Pitts, an Austin, Texas-based consultant with Sound Music Cities, and created by a partnership between WYEP, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and the City of Pittsburgh. Research included individual meetings with members of the local music scene, focus groups, and an online survey that drew some 1,800 participants, from musicians and composers to concert promoters and event producers.

“The Pittsburgh Music Ecosystem Study provides tremendous opportunities for Pittsburgh’s music community and for our entire region,” said Mayor Bill Peduto in a statement. “It is a blueprint for building the kind of thriving music scene that can enliven the texture of neighborhoods, attract visitors, workforce talent and business investment, and build our reputation as a creative, energetic community.”

The study indicated that while Pittsburgh has a lively music scene, it suffers from “an overall picture of economic struggle and frustration,” with most musicians working in music only part-time, and many other industry professionals poorly paid. The study also notes that the vast majority of music-scene folks are completely uninvolved in networking with people in government or business – in other words, “isolated,” as Allison Harnden, the city’s manager of night-time economy noted.

“There’s this great opportunity to connect them and for them to grow their ability to make more money at music,” said Harnden.

Among the recommendations are the creation of bootcamps or workshops for music industry workers “to develop skills in areas such as public-policy making, community development, cross-sector collaborations, systems change, [and] nonprofit administration” so they can better advocate for the community. Also recommended: the creation of a “music industry change initiative” to connect the music community to government, private funders and the business sector.

The study also suggests improving musicians’ music-business skills by linking them to existing educational programs or creating new ones.

Some of the most specific suggestions were regulatory, and would require action by city officials, even changes to the law.

These include waiving the amusement tax for live-music venues under 350 in capacity. Several other regulatory proposals involve the noise associated with live music: centralizing sound complaints in the city’s 311 system, for instance, and working to develop neighborhood-specific sound ordinances.

Harnden said city officials have already been discussing such steps but have been waiting for the Music Ecosystem Study to come out.

The report also recommends various strategies for developing the industry as a whole (like “creation and maintenance of a central directory of service providers) and audience development (“including launching a Love Pittsburgh Music Month [and] developing a master gig calendar”).

The study process was not without controversy. Some critics, including those at a town-hall meeting in February, voiced concern that outsiders were trying to impose a vision on the grassroots scene here.

But the final study emphasized that it is meant as a starting point for musicians and music businesses.

“For the members of Pittsburgh’s music community, knowing they are part of an interconnected system can be powerful,” said Pitts, the study's author, in a statement. “There is opportunity in working together, and with other community leaders. Pittsburgh’s music ecosystem faces complex issues, but solid progress can be made over time, especially if music people are allowed to lead and given the additional skills they need to lead effectively.”

WYEP is the sister station of 90.5 WESA.