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Monthly forum aims to educate, strengthen ties in Grand Rapids' music community

Let's Talk GR Music is a series of conversations bringing together all the complex and multifaceted parts and people of the local music community into one room.

/Briana Urena-Ravelo

Underwriting support from:

/Chris Foote

/Brett Shirey

On Monday, March 28, 2016 on the Northwest side, a small, eager group of members of the local music community crowded into a recording space in Grand River Studios. They were gathered to hear the latest in a series of conversations about Grand Rapids and music started by Scott Rider, drummer in the band, Valentiger.

Let’s Talk GR Music is a platform for discussion about our local music community,” says Rider. “Once a month I try to find a topic, location and speaker. The goal is to meet new people, discuss what is happening, grow through learning about new outlets, people and practices, and to create unity in our music community.”

“Music and Business" was the theme of the fifth talk. After Roy Wallace introduced the studio space with a little background and history, Gary Sironen of the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians began. After addressing the work the Federation of Musicians does in the music community, he spoke to the crowd about his experiences, the tricks of the trade and the kind of skills and personality traits needed to successfully make a living off of one's music. He spoke of the need to continue to work on and improve technical skills, being professional and tending to conducive relationships by being personable and respecting the time and energy of those musicians working with, whether it be club owners, producers and studio workers or other musicians.

Featured in the spaces of different Grand Rapids area organizations and businesses, the series has acted as a meeting ground for various types of people in the local music scene and businesses. All bring differing interests to the topic of music and community, whether it be booking shows, the business and technical aspects of creating music, or the diversity and inclusion concerns of communities.

At the first talk of the series, held in the Wealthy Theatre annex in November, with no set theme or speaker other than to act as an introductory space to the series, interest and passions were high. Many people came with conflicting ideas about what the foremost needs and pressing issues for musicians and audience members in the community were. Others came with skepticism over the need or merit of such a series altogether.

"I’d say one of the biggest criticisms has been people thinking there is some sort of group trying to “control” the music community, or people wanting to see 'less talking and more support' by going to more shows." says Rider. "I’ve even heard people say they don’t want to get into a huge stressful debate. I understand all of the concerns. They are all valid, but I assure you that I am not trying to control anything except how long we occupy a space or speaker thas donated their time. You can still go to shows if you come to these meetings. Debate happens, but I think people try to respect each other at these events."

An aspect of Sironen’s “Music and Business” talk was recognizing the value in one's art as a musician and the right artists have to be properly compensated for their work and time. The value of community members and their work and the need to spread skills and support one another across communities has been an intentional theme in the talks, one which Rider had a lot to offer on.

“Number one, I’d love to connect more musicians with other different musicians. It’s amazing what can happen if you reach out to others.” says Rider. “Number two, my hope is that people [will start to] help “educate” or “mentor” new musicians. There is so much talent in GR. Musicians that have been around should help newer acts. Newer acts should challenge the “older” generation to keep improving. Number three, I’d like to create excitement for what’s going on. The music community does not have a huge budget behind them telling people about all the good things so maybe this will also bring new faces down to start changing the culture. In short, I hope to inspire growth for our music community.”

On his hopes for the conversation going forward, Rider says “Personally, I am always trying to learn about my surroundings. I have a belief that you can improve your community by starting with yourself. Everyone has an opinion on how things work. Everyone is right and wrong. For me, I would love to start seeing more diversity in the curation of shows. I’d love to see more open-mindedness, both in the progressive and conservative worlds. I’d love to see more forward thinking. I’ve always been very DIY. I’ve always challenged myself and my band to explore options. I’ve tried to do it “right” but in the end there is a pretty good chance you're are going to do something stupid and/or annoy someone. Others' perception is your reality.“

These questions about differences in people's perceptions and realities are at the heart of the creation of the talks. "The main reason [I started this series] is because it’s already going on, but there is not a lot of transparency to our music community. Understanding can go a long way to building relationships and lines of communication between different genres and different sub-communities. Just because someone is not 'into' a certain scene in GR does not mean there isn’t value in what is happening. I hope these start to bring more collaboration."

Disclosure: The author had the honor of hosting "Let’s Talk GR Music #3" on Inclusion and Racism in the music scene with her friend Steffanie Rosalez of the Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanities, and other employees of the GRCMC have also presented at these talks.

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