5 Ideas to Make Memphis… Better: Number 4

Ultimate Family Reunion at Levitt Shell

Ultimate Family Reunion at Levitt Shell

Check Out Idea Number 1

Check Out Idea Number 2

Check Out Idea Number 3

Idea Number 4

The Philly Sound, The Motown Sound, The Memphis Sound… these are phrases that are consistent with music. Memphis has a history that is so compelling a recent documentary Take Me To The River attempted to reconnect Memphis to its heritage which is no longer as prevalent as it was in the 60s and 70s when Booker T and MGs played Green Onions, Al Green sang about Love & Happiness and Isaac Hayes was scoring Shaft. I mean when you consider that Blues Boy Riley King cemented Memphis as the Home of the Blues after W.C. Handy led the way, Memphis is at the heart of music for America. You wouldn’t know that today. If it wasn’t for Justin Timberlake, and that damn irritating Uptown Funk, Memphis wouldn’t make a blip on the musical radar. I take that back, we are now famous for the song Hard Out Here For A Pimp by Three6Mafia, but while that is a good accomplishment, I’m not sure the Hi-Ryhthm Section would say “Now that’s the Memphis Sound!” Nashville has even taken the moniker of The Music City.

I’m quite sure I could come up with a lot of stuff to write in regard to Memphis music, but I’m sure you get the point. The old Memphis sound is dying off. In the last few years many of the musicians that recorded all of that classic music from Stax have passed on. What has Memphis done to promote and give the world the people who are left? Take Me To The River. That’s it. I mean this weekend Justin Timberlake will be inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, but I will guarantee you that people like Darryl Carter and Howard Grimes will not be invited. I mean honestly, and I love Hip-Hop, when Yo Gotti is the next biggest artist from your city that doesn’t scream Home of the Blues does it?

There are several music based tours here. My family even took the Graceland Tour; which was actually very good. However, the Graceland Tour was kind of like kicking it at the retirement home. In other words Elvis will always be a draw, but how long will Sun Studios and Elvis keep Memphis in the hearts and the minds of the world? Forever possibly, but then again there has to be some connection to the future, and there is a future. Stax now has a high school that performs, but there has yet to be a star who has been produced from the school. There is also a strong music college in Visible Music College, but the structure is primarily gospel. Combined Stax Academy and the Visible Schools (College and Community Music School) are producing a lot of talent, but that is not the problem.

The Problem

Memphis has given away its status as the Home of the Blues and the cradle of music for the United States. This lies squarely on the shoulders of the Memphis leadership.

Underlying Issues

While there is the Beale Street Music Fest, the Levitt Shell Concert Series and other series, there is not a consistent marketing campaign that has been created to promote Memphis to the rest of the country as a destination for music.  Without a true marketing campaign that is focused on music and reinforcing the musical education of students in the city Memphis is slowly becoming less important to the music world. That’s actually not true. People still come and record here. Otis Clay, Cyndi Lauper, Bruno Mars and others know that Memphis has some of the best sound guys in the business. The problem is the emphasis needed to enhance tourism is not being given to Memphis music.  Part of the problem here is the venues are not organized and promoted. There is the Fed Ex Forum, Minglewood Hall, The New Daisy Theater, The Coca Cola Pavillion on Beale Street, Lafayette’s Music Room in Overton Square and the countless bars on Beale, but there is nothing cohesive pulling the city together to promote Memphis as music.  There has been one great addition and it seems that someone does understand the importance because the Memphis Blues Foundation was given a solid upgrade, but as it is on South Main Idea Number 3 comes into play. The connective tissue just isn’t being repaired quickly enough to regain any position of relevance.

What Has To Happen

If you’ve seen the movie Akeelah and The Bee there is a scene in the film where she taps her leg to spell s-y-n-e-c-d-o-c-h-e. Synecdoche is when a part is made to represent the whole. Memphis should be music and music should be Memphis. Local artists shouldn’t feel the need to leave Memphis and go to Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles or Nashville to build a career. These are a few steps that need to happen for things to change. After you read these please feel free to add your own thoughts in the comment section. Maybe, just maybe someone will catch wind of this and begin to implement some of this.

  1. Take what already exists, build a campaign and organize the tour companies and feature those tours that carry people to all of the popular musical locations in Memphis. Because each individual location in Memphis’ music history can occupy 2-5 hours of your time a 3-5 day vacation package should be promoted that allows visitors to go to Graceland on Day 1, Stax Museum on Day 2, Sun Studios, Beale Street and the Blues Foundation on Day 3. By creating a triumvirate based on these locations, Memphis genuinely has a connective fiber that is equally as impressive as Nashville’s Row and Grand Ole Opry.
  2. Something that is already occurring is the improvement of locations around the tourists stops above. This improvement needs to be taken seriously and should be a priority.
  3. Right now music studios are hard to operate because it’s becoming increasingly easier to record at home and launch a music CD from your bedroom. This is affecting the music industry overall. However the Beale Street Music Festival should not be the only premiere event in a historically important music city. The heads of the most prominent music studios and music schools in Memphis should be given a chamber in city hall. Not given, but these people should certainly be granted office space in city hall to coordinate a city wide talent search that runs annually. This city wide talent search can have a website created. This website can be monetized and promoted as district talent shows are run to find a representative from each area. For example, South Memphis, North Memphis, Germantown, Collierville, Hickory Hill, Downtown, Midtown all can run and operate their own American Idol styled talent search. These events could be coordinated with the multiple clubs and venues and artists performances can be voted on through a YouTube page (revenue), the website (revenue) and of course as the competitions become closer to finishing the clubs and venues would benefit. The final competition will have enough funding generated for the top producers in Memphis to come together and produce an album for the ultimate winner. This would create an annual competition that not only generates interest in Memphis music throughout the year, but would also generate interest nationally. (This all has to be thought out more of course. I only create the ideas.)

Memphis is music. There is more talent here than in any city in the country. I say that without stuttering. Unfortunately the lack of organization and promotion hinders the growth of the music industry. Memphis should be a premiere destination for A&Rs of record labels. Memphis should be a return home for every person who thinks they can play the Blues. Until there is an understanding in this city that it can’t just be a Blue collar distribution center and still survive then Memphis will continue to be known only as the home of the First 48. As a matter of fact this leads me to Idea Number 5. Check back tomorrow to get into my final solution in this series.