As a life-long resident of Milwaukee, I am proud to call Milwaukee my home. I have made it my life's goal to improve the conditions for the arts and music scene in Milwaukee, and as a result, the city as a whole. I take great pride in being a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With that great pride also comes a responsibility to be honest about the state of the local arts and music scene and the city I love. The truth means the positive and the negative, as difficult as the negative may be to read at times. Anyone familiar with the Milwaukee arts and music scene is blatantly aware of two things. The first thing is that there is an immense amount of talent in our city. The second is that there are issues that need to be resolved on many levels if we're going to succeed as we should as a scene.
Milwaukee is the 26th most populated city in the United States. Milwaukee's arts and music talent spans every genre of music and medium of art imaginable. Milwaukee has one of the most highly recognizable art museums in the Midwest and a nationally recognized art school in The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. In 2013 Milwaukee was ranked among the top 12 cities who successfully support their art and music scene by ArtPlace, alongside cities like New York City and Los Angeles. It can be argued that Milwaukee as much or more talent than any city in the US of a similar population, yet Milwaukee usually seems to get lost in the conversation about Midwest music hot spots, usually somewhere between talking about Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Both Chicago and the Twin Cities are within a 6 hour drive of Milwaukee, Chicago much less than that, being only roughly a 90 mile drive. Because of this it is easy to make the drive to Chicago instead of staying at home to enjoy our city's local homegrown talent. Many of the prospective fans in the city opt to drive to Chicago for their night life rather than staying home and supporting local businesses and talent. Without the local fan base to support the artists, it makes hosting local shows less economically viable for Milwaukee music venues. Bars and music venues, like any business venture, are in business to make money. There is a small and fiercely loyal fan base of the local music scene, but there is a potential for a much larger crowd in a city with the population of Milwaukee if Milwaukee residents take the time to realize the level of talent at their doorstep.
Often times it isn't entirely the fault of the fan base for not attending a show. Many times it is the poor planning and promotion of the artist that is to blame for a poor attendance. I cannot count the number of times I have been approached by an artist asking me to come to a show that night, or the next night, and it'll be the first time I will have heard of the show at all. Artists and promoters have a responsibility to inform their fan base with adequate time to ensure a decent turn out. There are excellent examples of well run local shows every weekend, the trouble seems to be with consistency.
One more issue facing the arts and music scene in Milwaukee is the unfortunate practice of hoarding information. Many of the artists are familiar with the creative process; the writing, recording and rehearsal- but they do not know the first thing about the business and marketing side of the entertainment industry. Those with the information and resources valuable to the artistic community in Milwaukee have a responsibility to share that knowledge and those resources with those in their community. Knowledge is no good if it is kept to ones self. Many times those with the resources and information price their services outside of a reasonable price range for those in the independent local scene. Many artists in the Milwaukee scene are not at the point where they are making full time careers out of their art, so they are unable to afford these higher priced services. There are some within the local support community that do offer affordable services and people willing to openly share knowledge that would be beneficial to all artists, and those people are a vital piece to the success of the scene.
The promoters and venues in this city also need to take a piece of the proverbial blame pie. Set times under 15 minutes need to be done away with completely, as do shows with 20 artists on the line up. If an artist is unable draw more than 5 people at a show, perhaps that artist isn't show ready. There is a difference between having quality material recorded and being a show ready performer. The fan base will only pay attention if the artists, promoters and venues give them a worthwhile, quality product to support. This includes adequate marketing of the show, a proper working budget for any event, quality sound system and microphones, an organized structure to the evening to ensure as brief a down time between acts as possible and ensuring the venue has adequate security so the fans attending the show are able to enjoy themselves as they should be able to.
The number of local venues that supports Milwaukee-based talent consistently has dwindled in the past decade or so, and those that do regularly support local talent often times only cater to a certain audience, excluding all others. The blame for this does not fall entirely on the venues. The artists and the fan base have a responsibility to respect the neighborhoods where these venues are located. Many of these venues are located in residential neighborhoods and often times the reasons for these venues closing is due to disagreements with the surrounding community.
Another struggle among local artists in Milwaukee seems to be capturing the attention of the mainstream Milwaukee media. With the exception of a handful of independent publications, the coverage for local talent is woefully inadequate. The responsibility for bringing attention to the independent arts and music scene has, for the most part, fallen into the hands of a handful of local mainstream media outlets that support the local artists and newer, non-traditional media outlets such as podcasts and social media. There are many such podcasts and websites being produced right in Milwaukee working to highlight the massive amount of talent our city has to offer.
The final issue troubling Milwaukee's arts and music scene is one that I believe is actually changing slowly but surely. This issue is the lack of unity within the scene. Far too often the local fan base and even fellow artists are unwilling to step outside of their usual circle of friends to experience something new. The musicians and artists, regardless of genre or medium of art, need to realize that the divisions between us are artificial. The art and music are real. This is beginning to turn around. Musicians are collaborating, genres are mixing and artists are realizing that the art is what is important.
As I have stated, Milwaukee and the arts and music scene has a lot going for it, but there are many ways in which we can do better. I truly believe that Milwaukee and the arts and music scene here are on the verge of something special, we just need to realize what is about to happen and make the necessary changes to ensure our ability thrive and prosper as a scene. Milwaukee is my home and always will be. I will never turn my back on Milwaukee or its people. I also will not turn a blind eye to the issues I feel need to be addressed within our local arts and music scene. I urge all of us to think about the issues I have raised and I urge us as a city to do better...For ourselves and for Our city.