Music Business Development Just One Of Pittsburgh’s Music Scene Shortfalls

Article by Thomas Agnew
Photos by JMY JAM

The Pittsburgh music scene lacks a few things, mainly a shortfall of music business development, music industry knowledge, and the ability to accept the new movements of the music economy. While many individuals struggle to overcome newer problems such as streaming inflation, and the lack of funds which force labels to recoup from artists’ tour and merchandise sales, Pittsburgh venues, promoters, and more are still trying to deal with properly promoting artist and events.

Artist continue to have a hard time dealing with booking shows, which include “pay to play” bookings, selling tickets to solidify spots as opening acts on bigger shows, and ultimately not finding ways to secure newer revenue streams. But these problems are not anything new when it comes to other cities, and we are not the first to encounter them. So who’s to blame?

There are a handful of problems that plague venue owners and promoters, primarily booked events not gaining enough attention to garner enough business sales, hurting their pockets consistently. The result proves to be damning as they become forced to establish ways to make up for their loses. Some of those tactics include establishing bar requirements, having artists sell tickets themselves in hopes of at least breaking even, and taking a cut from the door earnings.

Artist take on their fare share of bumps also as they now have to handle more promotional duties than they’re equipped to handle. Because financial hits keep venues from being able to update equipment, artists may also have to make due with inadequate sound systems that lowers the presentation of their shows.

Finger pointing and criticism of what’s right and wrong in the public, mainly on the internet, is at an all time high. And while some suggestions may bring temporary fixes, such as getting more support from venues for artist or the city’s government changing laws and regulations that brings the city into the future, these suggestions mask bigger problems that many have unwillingly wanted to take on (or even have knowledge of doing so).

The WYEP has taken a step forward to bring in Don Pitts, former head of the City of Austin’s Economic Development Department’s Music & Entertainment Division, who is now a consultant called upon by cities who are having similar structural problems as Pittsburgh. While Don may be able to implement a music census and needs assessment survey as he did for Austin, will the heads of the city government step up first to create strategic goals that lessen the pains of liquor licenses that could start you in the hole, or penalties to venues that notably discriminate against artist/patrons before they set foot in the door, or how commercial real estate does not play well with music establishments? The list could go on and on.

Ultimately, the inadequate music and venue scene has made the city miss plenty of opportunities that could have pushed Pittsburgh as a marquee stop for artists. Many unforeseen challenges await Pittsburgh in the next three to five months. However while it may seem like more pain than pleasurable outcomes before the clouds part and the sun shines, Pittsburgh will continue doing what it does best; put their heads down, and work their asses off.

Written by Thomas Agnew