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VOL. 132 | NO. 181 | Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Promoters Exporting Authenticity Of Memphis Music in Another Way

By Bill Dries

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A new 5,000- to 6,000-seat concert venue at Graceland by early 2019 is competition. But it probably brings more customers to the overall market for concerts in the city, says the founder of Music Export Memphis, the city’s export office for the music business.

Elizabeth Cawein

“I think it’s valid certainly to talk about competition in venues of similar size,” said Elizabeth Cawein on the WKNO/Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines.”

“But I also think that anytime you introduce something new into the marketplace like that, it’s inevitably going to bring people … who maybe have never come to see a show of that size before,” she said. “If we can actually create a new consumer by bringing new venues into the marketplace then that is a net win for the entire industry.”

Graceland Holdings managing partner Joel Weinshanker has said the new arena on Graceland’s 120-acre campus will be a starting point for touring shows featuring Memphis music talent. It will start with a gospel music show focused on an album Graceland is teaming with Sony to produce.

Cawein’s organization works with the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Greater Memphis Chamber to promote business with similar export offices in many countries.

“We essentially exist to create opportunities for musicians to showcase their music and hopefully in doing that drive results in music tourism, economic development and brand awareness for Memphis across the board,” she said.

Pat Mitchell Worley of FanfareCR and the host of the syndicated radio program “Beale Street Caravan” estimates there are about 30 organizations locally that work to promote Memphis music and musicians.

Pat Mitchell Worley

“Unfortunately for us, we don’t have as many organizations that focus on the business of music, which is what a lot of artists here need,” she said. “That’s a piece that’s been missing for the music industry. It’s just that general education. If you don’t go to the University of Memphis and get a degree in music business then how do you learn how the music industry works? A lot of them do it through trial and error.”

The music industry in other cities includes more entertainment attorneys who do more than guides musicians or songwriters through the legal checkpoints of being a business.

“In other cities you can go to an entertainment attorney and if he likes you and believes in you … he will put money, invest in you and help you make it sort of over those hurdles – or you may have a label that does that,” Mitchell-Worley said. “You may have an infrastructure that does that. And since we don’t have that strong foundation or the infrastructure here, then artists have to figure it out themselves.”

Megan Carolan, who is on the board of Music Export Memphis, came to Memphis as a student at the University of Memphis and is also a musician.

Megan Carolan

“I wanted to go to college in a city that had a music scene and music industry. Memphis drew me here,” she said. “One of the coolest things about Memphis is I was reading in textbooks music history and about different things that happened. When I got to Memphis I could actually meet these people. They are here and they wanted to teach me and they wanted to pass along their knowledge.”

Kevin Kern, vice president of the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau who until earlier this year was spokesman for Elvis Presley Enterprises, says Graceland is in many ways an entry point for visitors interested in the city’s broader music history and an ongoing music scene.

Kevin Kern

“Our global brand is music,” Kern said. “There are a lot of great assets in this community. But music is our identity – has been and probably always will be because we are still generating great music in this city. People are not only coming here for Elvis. People at Graceland realize that. That’s why Beale Street is so important. That’s why Stax and Sun are also so important. Our music story as a whole continues to bring people here.”

Cawein said the concept of identifying Memphis music as an export also speaks to the city’s broader reputation in music history.

“There is something that is really, really ingrained in the music,” she said. “If you look across the core things that come from Memphis outside the music sector – We start things. We invent things. It’s true across the board. … Original comes from Memphis. And that’s really, really true and really rich in music. But I think what makes an export strategy so easy to me, is that people outside the city love our music.”

Holiday Inns founder Kemmons Wilson was a business adviser to Sun Records founder Sam Phillips and at one point in the 1960s had a Holiday Inns record label. Before he founded FedEx Corp., Fred Smith partnered with Ardent Studios founder John Fry in making and distributing records from a studio and business in the garage of Fry’s parents.

“Behind The Headlines,” hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

The new emphasis on promoting Memphis music is to make it less reliant on insiders to know what is going on around town musically.

“Memphis has always exported music. We’ve always had showcases at conferences, at events around the country,” Mitchell-Worley said of the Music Export Memphis effort Cawein is leading. “The difference in what she is doing is she is partnering with the CVB. She’s partnering with the chamber instead of the music community just talking amongst itself.”

“We just don’t talk to people outside our sector,” she added. “That is changing and it has to change in order for the music sector to be seen as an integral part of the Memphis economy.”

Kern agreed.

“Music is the heart of the city,” he said. “It’s homegrown. We’re creating culture. We are truly authentic here in Memphis.”

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