Philadelphia musicians will have a new platform to have their voices heard this fall when the city’s inaugural PHL Live project gets under way. Announced this morning in a City Hall press conference by Councilman David Oh, the project takes the form of a multi-genre, multi-venue battle of the bands spread out between October 21st and November 4th, with winners performing at a finale concert set for December at The Trocadero.
“Our world is changing and we need to change with it,” Oh said of the initiative to the crowd of fifty or so gathered in the resonant City Council caucus room on City Hall’s fourth floor. “Music is part of the economic makeup of our city. Jobs, sales, and yes, tax revenues. We need to keep out talent here and make sure out new talent finds success as well.”
This sentiment was echoed by Philadelphia-born singer GoGoMorrow – one of PHL Live’s ambassadors to the music community – who has worked and toured with internationally renowned artists such as Lady GaGa and Marsha Ambrosius. “There was a time where people looked to us,” she said, referencing the Philadelphia International-produced hits she listened to growing up. “Now, we travel outside our city to get noteworthy when people used to come here. … There are not as many platforms for musicians to get their start. That’s why I jumped at the chance to be involved. I think this could really be a start up for shining a light back on our city.”
The PHL Live Center Stage competition kicks off on August 15th, when local artists can begin submitting YouTube videos to the project’s website; the songs they submit can be original, public domain or non-copyrighted. Judges in a spectrum of ten genres – classical, country/folk, hip-hop/rap, jazz, world, pop/dance, R&B, rock, gospel and DJ – will choose five finalists when submissions close on September 30th. Then, beginning on October 21st, each genre category will showcase at different venues – Hard Rock Cafe will host the world music showcase, for example, while World Cafe Live hosts the country/folk showcase and Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church will host the gospel showcase. The audience will get to vote at the show, online and via a PHL Live app for their favorite. Winners will perform in a finale at The Trocadero in December.
Oh says the final round will include cash prizes, as well as studio time and consultation time with entertain. In addition, all the showcases and the finale at The Troc will be ticketed events ($3 a pop) with a portion the revenue divided among the performers. “I’m no musician, but I know it takes risk, it takes a lot of talent and effort, and we want to make sure people are getting paid for their music in our city,” he said.
Other ambassadors and members of the PHL Live advisory committee spoke to the crowd as well; rapper Chill Moody underscored the need to get the word out among the music community. “I see a lot of musicians here today, and that’s a big part of it, so we’ve got a good start,” he said. “But we’ve really got to work to explain to artists how important their participation is.”
Grammy-award winning producer Calvin Higgins, who worked with many of the city’s neo-soul luminaries like Jill Scott and Musiq Soulchild, said the project spoke to him because it provided much-needed opportunities to artists. When he met Musiq Soulchild, Higgins said, the “Love” singer was a homeless kid who wanted to be a musician; Jill Scott was a poet and he helped her realize her words could be used in conjunction with songs.
“Philadelphia is a music city, always has been, and is still, but we don’t see it that way,” Higgins said. “We don’t always appreciate it in the city, we don’t provide platforms for young people striving to be the next Will Smith, or Jill Scott, or Patti Labelle, we don’t always provide opportunities for young artist to display what they are doing.”
To a similar end, Oh said he was introducing two pieces of music-related legislation to City Council this fall. One, modeled after a similar law in Seattle, would provide for 30-minute musician loading zones at venues that don’t have off-street parking. The idea came from Jodie Saueraker of Exponent Entertainment, and Oh said the law has identified Seattle as a city committed to live music.
Oh also said he’d push for a City Council resolution that Philadelphia makes a good faith effort to hire local talent for city-sponsored major events, such as the Wawa Welcome America Festival on the Fourth of July.
“There are talented people in every neighborhood in our city,” Oh said. “Black and white, college educated and college dropouts, with or without criminal record, they may or may not speak English. Some may become rock stats some may not, but on that journey will find out who they are.”
Higgins concurred. “We won’t have many winners,” he said of the PHL Live competition. “But we’ll help a lot of young people find their voice.”
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