Listen Local First Q&A with Christopher Naoum
Christopher Naoum is the co-founder of Listen Local First, an organization that aims to create stronger connections between local businesses, local venues, and local musicians. Please check out Listen Local First and see why it is so important to DC’s vibrant, diverse music scene.
Q: How do you think the listen local first movement has impacted DC? Not only the musicians but the fans as well?
A: I think the whole premise of what we’ve been doing is taking the talented local artists that want to make a living in DC, and letting people in DC know that they are performing here and what local venues/businesses they should be connecting with. There are lots of people interested in music that does not have the time to go out and discover new music. What we have done is create a platform where we put local artists in local bars, galleries, and restaurants. Every month we expose these artists through our monthly music event, and provide information about each of the featured artists through our website, blog, posters and postcards. We are trying to host more showcases and create further exposure for artists by connecting the local musician through the listening community by leveraging the power of local businesses I am hoping that it will catch on along with the Eat Local Buy Local buzz that has recently developed. I believe that the next step is listen local.
Q: In what way has the DC pop up environment inspired or helped you? What have you learned, if anything, from it?
A: The pop up craze has been happening for a couple years now, and has become more important to the community as DC grows. We have worked to host our showcases at Popup spaces in the past (#DCResidence @DCWEEK) and have a number of plans to work with pop ups in the future. Our Mobile Music Venue that we are bringing down to Austin is based on the Pop Up Model. We live in a location where there are different opportunities that people don’t know about, and there are so many people that don’t know about or haven’t heard these talented local bands. I hope that Listen Local First will catch on and become a great platform for all the talented musicians living in DC.
Q: In terms of the music scene here in DC, what do you think DC has to offer that other places don’t?
A: I think, for one, the scene here is incredibly diverse. DC is a melting pot of genres. People don’t realize the amount of different kinds of music that exist here. For example, the blues scene goes back many, many years here. People like Jimmy Deane had a show on local radio here in DC. After World War 2, the Blue Grass scene was huge here in DC. All of the different types of people that have moved here and lived here create such a diverse scene. There are such unique people with different tastes from all over the world that want to listen to different music here. Secondly, what’s unique to DC is that the musicians here are so willing to cooperate and work together. In other cities, each community does their own thing, and some bands don’t even like each other. But in DC, everyone is very willing to collaborate across genres, old and new, and work together and support each other.
Q: How do you think DC’s music scene has progressed into what it is today? And what impact will Listen Local First have on its progression?
A: Gold Leaf Studios encouraged Indie bands to play by providing a cheap outlet where they could perform and record their music and even live. Some bands that played there in 2000’s included US Royalty, Ra Ra Rasputin the Dance Party and more. Now that Gold Leaf is gone, no one is sure who will be the next incubator for that indie scene. If you go back even further, people talk about the post punk movement. It seems like we have been in a post punk hangover, as that was the hay day for music in DC. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t that music was a product of those times. Now we have new times and a new era that is settling upon this city. People in DC are buying houses and getting a more permanent hold in the city, which has been really important to building up a local music scene. People who are here for the long run want to support local music and their local community. If people living in DC support each other and support the local musicians, this will build up the local culture and community. We want to create that exposure for musicians and be a tool for people who are living here by creating opportunities for them to listen and support these local bands. With all this said, we really do need to find more outlets for musicians to practice, to share ideas foster a creative environment for recording and producing new works. There is a lot of commercial space out there that is not being used and can be temporarily transformed into practice space. We commend the work on Dangerously Delicious Pies and the opening of their new practice space for DC artists.
Q: You mentioned that Listen Local First just started last summer. What aspects have been beneficial or key to Listen Local First’s progression since then?
A: I had been working for a company called The Future of Music Coalition where they do research, advocacy and education for independent musicians on a national level. After working with them, I was interested in creating and helping artists who want to pursue a career from their art here in DC. I was sitting down in a coffee shop with Rene Moffatt, a local songwriter, and we were wondering, “Why is this local coffee shop not playing the music of local musicians?” We began working together to get the artists involved and created a monthly event to get their albums streamed in local businesses. So we partnered with Think Local First DC, a non-profit, working with independent businesses, consumers and policymakers to grow a sustainable, local economy in DC. Artist’ support is key. The attitude and excitement of artists and their willingness to help each other out is key. Everyone actively wanting to promote each other has been fundamental to our success. Another key to our success are talented local art supporters such as Philippa, the City Paper, and the Washington Post, as well as the people who cover the arts in the city that draw attention to what we are doing. Businesses that really want to connect with our community that are a part of the Buy Local Eat Local movement are really excited to help the local artists within the community. Right now we have 30 participating businesses, and we are hoping to get to 100 by August. These have been the most helpful aspects to getting Listen Local First off the ground. Without these people and businesses, we would not be anywhere. We also hope to help our exposure and cause by traveling down to South by Southwest (SXSW). There are all of these local bands that are going to be down in Austin Texas for South by Southwest, so I wondered how we could get involved with that. So I thought to myself, “Why not document their performances and make a web series?” I thought that we could go mobile, and have a mobile venue painted by DC artist where DC bands can perform in front of while down in Austin. We could have our logo out there, and provide information about all of our featured artists. So we will be doing pop up shows on the streets of Austin, interviewing musicians in the bands and doing shows with the bands.
Q: In what way does your monthly music day facilitate the collaboration between local DC artists and businesses? What significance does the collaboration and involvement of the people of DC play in the success of this project?
A: It’s important that the businesses are interested in supporting the artists. We make a big effort to expose the artists as much as possible through Twitter, Facebook, etc., and tell our featured artists to do the same for the businesses that are supporting them. What makes all of this work is the mutual support between the musicians and businesses—we support these businesses just as much as the businesses support our musicians. We make sure that people know what’s going on by giving out flyers and posters, and using Twitter and Facebook. It is always nice when staff members of places like Tryst come to us and tell us about a table that asked about a streaming artist during our DC Local Music Day events. It is encouraging to hear the interest of listeners, and know that we are exposing DC’s most talented artists by facilitating businesses to work together.
Q: How can music benefit the local economy? And what role does exposure play in this?
A:We are actually beginning to collect data for a study that we can hopefully later publish. We are in the very beginning phases of creating a study where we are investigating how DC music and music related industries and organizations directly benefit the greater DC community. For example, people that go out to see live music normally spend money on drinks and food as well as transportation that generates revenues not just for the local music venues, but also for the local business district. We believe that businesses with live music can drive additional revenue that then goes back to the city in terms of tax dollars. The biggest issue right now is the discrepancy between the amount of music/ art generated tax revenue the city brings in and the amount of money they give back in terms of grants and other support to help further grow the arts.
Q:Can you explain the mobile music venue a little more?
A:I was headed down to South by Southwest and wanted to figure out how to get Listen Local First more involved and do something for the DC musicians that are going to be performing down there. Talented musicians that we have worked with are going to be performing down there, and I wanted to document and record and put that into a web series. I wanted to show people in DC that there are talented artists in this town that are serious about making a living from their art. I thought it would be ideal to get a van, get a sound guy and video crew, and take it all down to South by Southwest. Hopefully we can help create a little buzz down there, meet some musicians from other towns, develop some relationships, have our artist open for them when they come through town, and have them open for the DC guys in their own towns
Q: Why did you choose the mobile van and web series as a mode of exposure specifically?
A: There are two sides to this. We are going to do a web series and travel with a van painted by the local artists of DC. People are going to be interested in what Listen Local First is, and we are going to be tweeting and having performances that people can follow. This will create a buzz about these musicians. Some artists only get to have one showcase, but by participating in the mobile venue, they can have four or five showcases and get to play in different locations in Austin. As for the web series as these bands grow a fan base through a group of fans in a location they didn’t even know about. If word gets out about a video series, the amount of listeners grows, allowing local bands to find other fan bases and possibly book a gig in other places to spread their music. Growing the fan base in DC however is the most important part. Our goal with this is to take that core support within the city and expand it into larger national support. Everyone here comes from somewhere else. While they are all connected here, their web of connections spreads other places. We are trying to build a central network for the music here, and allow this network to grow in a much more natural way, which will create more exposure for these artists.
Q: What effect do you want the mobile music venue/web series to have on music fans? How do you think it will influence or motivate musicians in dc?
A: We are just one very small organization doing this. It is nice to know that there are people that will get the word out there. We want to do whatever we can to pair up with pop ups creating different showcases and create more avenues of exposure. We choose our musicians based on information that we hear from other people, word of mouth, and writing about these musicians. Then we reach out to them in order to try and create a buzz, not just in the Indie rock scene, but also a wide range including jazz, hip-hop, and blue grass. Thereby, we cover every genre being made in the city, and becoming an outlet for everyone. We are focused on exposing musicians for all ages, all nationalities, and all tastes.
Q: What is your selection process like for the bands you choose to be a part of Listen Local First? What types of bands do you want to be involved?
A: We want to promote everyone, and feature everyone that is making music, whether that is blues, world music, or DJs. They are all making music here, and we want to let people know about the diverse talented musicians that live here. We want to try and promote all of the different genres.
Q: How can fans get involved or help?
A: Following us on Facebook, Twitter, and visiting our blog that we just launched are some of the best ways that fans can get involved. The blog is not for album or show reviews, instead, we aim to post interesting stories and history pieces, which take a closer look at the artists. Fans can also come by our showcases that we have at least once a month to showcase and promote the shows. We are also developing a calendar that fans can follow, which will describe where each of the artists are playing for that month. And really what fans can do to help out is to go out there and buy an album, which supports the artists directly. Most we have to raise up 5000 dollars by March 5th in order to even get down to Austin. We need fans to go to the Kickstarter site to donate to make our Mobile Music Venue happen. There are gifts associated with each pledge level. Also if you are a local business and want to have your business name painted on the van click one of the last two pledge levels and donate away.
To find out more information or if you want to get involved and make a donation click here
To visit the Listen Local First blog click here
Short URL: http://bit.ly/ytm3Ud