Local music

The Sound of Winston-Salem

Carol Andrews facilitates a group of musicians to explore the local Winston-Salem scene.

Carol Andrews facilitates a group of musicians to explore the local Winston-Salem scene.

“What one word would you use to describe the music scene in Winston-Salem?”

Think about that question — what would your word be? It’s a question that has been asked and answered many times, especially recently as the scene continues to rebuild itself during a quiet phase. Think about these questions, too: How can we support its growth and the members of our community who are growing it? What resources can we provide to musicians to help build their art and their hyperlocal presence? Why is it even important to help this industry thrive in the first place?

Finding (actionable) answers to these questions — and so many more — was the goal of a recent focus hosted by Alec Robinette, a fiduciary and founder of Elemental Financial. After Alec moved to Winston-Salem from Nashville, he realized that while the landscape was not the same he could serve as a music economy advocate. Elemental works primarily with musicians and other creatives providing a value-driven approach towards understanding personal finances and empowering them to take ownership of their wealth potential.

The focus group consisted of area musicians and performing artists that span genres and journeys. Some are just starting to define their voice while others have been in the game for decades. While their styles may be vastly different, the general consensus came together and decided on a few certainties.

Most importantly, everyone agreed that the problem in town isn’t a lack of musicians. There is talent everywhere as long as you’re looking hard enough; but several issues impact artists’ access to tools they need for success. There is also no shortage of community members who are local music supporters. The key, however, is finding ways to connect the two demographics.

The group cited several obstacles standing in the way of growth, including a shortage of venues, a lack of inclusion and diversity, attracting audiences to go out and pay for live music, and sparse funding from non-corporate sources. One group member also pointed out that poor planning and lack of motivation (“slackness” was the word used) are both something he sees as problematic among musicians who aren’t finding opportunities for exposure.

So what about solutions? The most common suggestion among group members was a different business model for venue owners. While alcohol revenue is a major source of income for live music venues, it limits the target audience. Minors and those who may not be into the “drinking scene” have a hard time finding venues, and the venues that do exist tend to be homogenized in regards to audiences. The idea of crowdfunding and cooperative venue strategies was also addressed, with the merit of this approach being that it would put the power in the hands of community members who are also stakeholders.

There is one thing that everyone overwhelmingly agreed upon: the industry needs more support. Rebuilding — or creating — the Sound of Winston Salem is going to take a systematic approach, with plenty of planning and pivoting along the way.

Are you a musician living in Winston-Salem? We are compiling data to better understand our music economy. We would appreciate 5 minutes of your time to fill out the following survey.

Winston-Salem Music Economy Survey