By Annabelle Hanflig
Pittsburgh Current Intern
Here’s a question. Would you rather see a past-their-prime arena rock band from the nosebleeds of Heinz Field for a couple of hundred dollars, or be front row at an up-and-coming rapper’s gig for five bucks?
If you find yourself imagining which one of your friends you’d want to catch the second option with, the folks behind Love PGH Music may have some ideas.
The new non-profit initiative aims to connect the power players of Pittsburgh’s music scene and cultivate local but loyal fanbases for the city’s many performers. Through a new website and network of local industry professionals, Love PGH Music will highlight and connect artists across all genres as they take the stage at festivals, venues and house shows in the Pittsburgh region.
The project is an offshoot of next month’s inaugural Love PGH Music Month, but both come one year after the release of the Pittsburgh Music Ecosystem Study.
Conducted over a period of 10 months, the study set out to complete an audit of Pittsburgh’s music scene and pinpoint areas where improvement was needed most. The results suggested a “complex and interconnected system of creative and business professionals” whose ultimate goals were stifled by “economic struggle and frustration,” according to the executive summary of the survey.
Former WYEP General Manager and Love PGH Music Month Board Member Abby Goldstein was heavily involved in coordinating the survey. She noticed that while the world had no trouble looking to Pittsburgh to be on the cutting edge of tech and culture, they often turned a blind eye when it came to the city’s music scene.
“We started looking at the systemic issues around why the Pittsburgh music ecosystem doesn’t have the same level of civic pride and support as some of the other amenities that the city is known for, and what would it take to change that,” she said.
Ultimately, Love PGH Music is the product of Pittsburgh creatives deciding that their music scene deserved more credit that it was getting.
The venture started with a collaboration between Goldstein and Pittsburgh Current Associate Publisher Bethany Ruhe to actualize some of the survey’s recommendations. One idea was planning a citywide music awards event. Wanting to avoid pitting local artists against one another, the two settled on a month of highlighting festivals and gigs in celebration of Pittsburgh music. This was the genesis of Love PGH Music Month, and of Love PGH Music.
“I see a group of young artists that have been working really hard, making their own connections and really trying to see how hard they can push their careers,” said Love PGH Music Board Member and BOOM Concepts Co-founder Thomas Agnew. “I think Love PGH Music was definitely built off of trying to help artists and venues get seen and heard.”
Festival directors, publicists and musicians alike jumped at the chance to collaborate on a project that could put the city’s music scene on the map. They’ve always known that Pittsburgh wasn’t short on talent, yet still saw the struggle to be recognized for it.
“I think that Pittsburgh has never taken up a music scene as a point of pride,” Ruhe said. “From my perspective, I feel like people are just not aware enough of how great [the scene] is.”
Here’s another question. What comes to mind for out-of-towners planning a trip to the steel city? Pirates? Pierogies? Peduto? Deutschtown Music Festival Director and Love PGH Music Board Member Cody Walters would rather they try punk in a Pittsburgh basement.
“When people travel to New Orleans, whether it’s Jazz Fest or whether it’s Mardi Gras, they expect a party and live music,” he said. “I would like to put that expectation into the mind of the tourist when they show up [in Pittsburgh].”
While one goal of Love PGH Music is to draw new crowds to the local scene, Walters believes that there’s already room for growth from within. He hopes to see people put their money into their own neighborhoods by supporting the musicians that inhabit them.
“Creating a culture where people actually pay for music is something a number of people are trying to do,” he said.
At the end of the day, what Love PGH Music aims to do is change the way Pittsburghers think about music in their city. The project is forging a new music ecosystem, one where artists don’t have to work a slew of part-time jobs to stay afloat or leave the city for better opportunities elsewhere.
If Love PGH Music takes off the way its founders hope, local artists will have bigger shows, bigger audiences and bigger aspirations for themselves and their peers, said Goldstein.
“The idea here is that we’re creating a big megaphone that we want to use to shout to audiences, ‘This is your chance to fall in love with a local band.’”