On October 20th, the Portland Music Foundation brought some hard working Maine bands to New York for a CMJ showcase at Sullivan Hall.
I had the chance to speak with the foundation’s co-founder Sam Pfeifle, and trustee Bryan Bruchman, about the foundation, how they chose the bands that played the showcase, their local music scene, and Portland, Maine’s connection to Brooklyn.
Could you tell me a little about the Portland Music Foundation?
Pfeifle: Sure. The Portland Music Foundation was founded in 2007 by a group of people who are in the music industry; recording engineers, music writers… I’m a music writer, people who work in studios, people who book bands, managers, musicians… and the idea was just to provide professional development skills, make sure that fewer people in the music scene were making the same mistakes over and over again, so… helping them understand how to book better shows, how to write better press releases, how to get out-of-town gigs, how to work on their web presence… and then we also have a mission to broadcast the strength of the Portland music scene to the rest of the country and the rest of the world, and, obviously that’s what we are trying to do here.
Where did the idea for PMF come from?
Pfeifle: there’s kind of a group of us growing up. The Austin Music Foundation was kind of first. We brought in the executive director from the Austin Music Foundation to help us get started. Since we started, there’s also now the Memphis Music Foundation. For instance, the Seattle Mayor’s office has an office of music and film…so there’s a sort of growing trend of non-profit organizations being formed to help foster the music industry. These are the sorts of non-profits that tend to be formed around the visual arts or theatre or some of the more traditional arts, and we want to help bring the music scene together in a similar fashion, really advocate for it to get funding and grants and, you know… especially as the music industry has gone more cutthroat and more competitive, the internet… we found that there’s are a lot more bands, but they aren’t necessarily fostered in the way they used to be, so we wanted to provide some of that foundation that maybe they used to get from labels or from agents, managers. Now bands sort of have to do a lot more themselves, you know, they have to book their own shows, do their own publicity, so where do they get those skills, how do you go to school for that? We do a lot of educational seminars and we have a series of webinars that we’re going to launch in 2012. Just trying to help them with those sort of skills that there’s really no other way for them to get.
How did you choose the bands for the showcase?
Pfeifle: we held… I don’t really want to call it a competition, but more of an open call…
Bruchman: …submissions amongst local musicians who submit to participate in the showcase, and then we had a panel that went through all the applications and used a very complex system to determine who would play. That was a very fair system.
Pfeifle: It was a little ridiculous in its fairness, but, basically what we wanted to bring bands who we have evaluated their songwriting and their performance, but also, sort of, their ability to take advantage of this opportunity, so their web presence, and their bios, and their photographs and, just sort of, you know, the gigs that they had booked, and… we want this to serve as a platform for them to further their careers, not necessarily, like, winning the lottery.
…and really, we’re excited with the bands that we have. You know, more than 30 bands applied and… what was great is, even using the sort of metric that we used to evaluate them, we still wound up with this great variety of bands that really shows off our music scene very well. You know, we’ve got roots and bluegrass acts, we’ve got pop acts, we’ve got hip hop, we’ve got relatively hard rock… so, you know, it’s a really good mix and it shows that, you know, we’re not just one sort of style of music that’s grown up, but we have a nice, sort of, broad range of talent in Portland. We’re a small, little city, so, you know, we want to show that we can bring a lot of interesting stuff to the table and we hope that people consider us a music destination, you know, a great place to see live music.
Are all the bands from Portland itself rather than its surroundings?
Bruchman: The Toughcats really aren’t from Portland, but they’re all bands that are very active in the Portland Music scene, even if they don’t necessarily live in Portland. But, for the most part, most of them do…
Pfeifle: The thing is we don’t have a lot of cities in Maine, so, even if you’re not from Portland, that’s where you’re going to end up playing.
Yeah, The Toughcats are actually from North Haven Island, which you have to take a boat to. They do the majority of their playing in Portland… and Spose is from Wells, he’s very proud of being from Wells.
I mean, I really don’t know that much about the music scene in the North…
Bruchman: That’s why we’re here… to tell people about it.
Pfeifle: So, one of the things we come across is when people think of Maine, they think of moose and lobsters and lighthouses. We want people to realize is… we want people to realize that [Portland] is a very cosmopolitan city… you know, we have a great art museum, we’ve got great theater, we’ve got great visual art, we’ve got great live music. It’s a place where a lot of people come to from other big cities because our quality of life is so great. So, our talent is kind of way beyond what it should be for a city that size.
Some of our big successes from Maine… some people may have heard of Ray LaMontagne, he’s from Maine, got his start in Portland, which is great… Lady Lamb the Bee Keeper is doing some really cool stuff around the country; people are starting to notice her… Spose, he’ll be playing tonight, he’s on Universal Republic Records and he had a song called “I’m Awesome” that was very popular. So, we’ve got a good story to tell right now. We want to keep the ball rolling really.
Why bring this showcase to New York?
Pfeifle: sure. Well, unfortunately, it’s hard to bring people to Portland, Maine, so you need to go where people are. We are, you know… we think CMJ is a great festival for discovering new music, and we want to show that we’re part of the larger music industry. You know, we want to be where the people are.
And also, a lot of Portland musicians have been moving to New York and are starting to develop a reputation in New York as a great music scene. So, like, Billy Libby, who will be playing tonight, actually has moved to New York recently. People like Steve Mahaan is down here now, and… who else has moved down here recently?
Bruchman: Well, like, Elijah Ocean and…
Pfeifle: Elijah Ocean is a great example… he moved out here… his band is Loverless… there’s some others.
Bruchman: There’s been a building, like a strengthening between Portland and Brooklyn, specifically… a lot of people moving back and forth, so… you know, the bands kind of travelling back and forth to play shows has furthered that a little bit.
Pfeifle: We did a showcase last year, a CMJ showcase. It was kind of a smaller thing, but still, it was a showcase and I also put together a day party, so all together we had ten bands from Maine that came out last year and were involved in CMJ. So, this is kind of like continuing from where that started. A little more organized and official and all that stuff, so…
hopefully it’s a trend that continues and grows…
It sounds like a good thing for anyone, anybody that wants to succeed in the music business…
Pfeifle: absolutely, we hope so. You know, we’d really love it if… you know, we’d like to share our experiences with any other scene that wants to start up something similar. You know, we went and spoke at South By Southwest last year and talked about how you do foster a community that embraces its local music and we love to help out.