Behind The Scenes Of The Cleveland Music Scene

If there’s one thing the Cleveland music scene is known for it’s that, like the song that the band The Presidents Of The United States sings, Cleveland rocks. In my opinion, it’s a diverse and energetic scene that is filled with opportunity. Working in the industry has always been a dream of mine. Sometimes it can be difficult to know though, as a young adult still in college, what direction is the best pathway to take to meet this end goal. I’m always asking industry professionals for advice because everyone has a unique and interesting story of how they first got started. I especially like speaking with millennials about this topic since I’m able to relate to their struggles and successes. One millennial who’s had success in this field is Black Squirrel Radio’s general manager, Justin Graci.

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Justin Graci. Photo used from Graci’s Twitter

Aside from currently being the BSR general manager and the Marketing Director for BravoArtist as the Marking Director, Graci, a 21-year-old public relations major at Kent State University, has previously held positions within the Cleveland music scene as an intern for The Grog Shop, the Promotions Director at Black Squirrel Radio. I recently asked him for some advice about how he started working for the industry, and about some of his experiences working specifically in the Cleveland scene. Check out my interview with him below!

Q1: How were you able to break into the Cleveland scene when you first decided you wanted to work with music?

A1: “I mean obviously networking is the key to everything, but networking as in like making friends with people who are also doing stuff or are interested in the same stuff as me. Then they would advance and kind of tag me along for the ride. Meeting people who saw I was dedicated enough to the music scene, and how I promoted things to people and tried to get them to go to the things I was doing. So it was kind of like, people just noticed how into everything I was. I tried to reach out to street teams, just to get into shows for free. I interned with The Grog for my senior project in high school, and I kept a relationship with them and did stuff for them when they needed me. Then Black Squirrel Radio, I just got into for music and somebody noticed how into everything I was and how I wanted to work in the music industry, and they told me to join the staff. Then BravoArtist, same thing. They knew I was super involved with Black Squirrel Radio and super involved with the music scene, so they brought me on because they knew I would do a good job.”

Q2: What has been the most challenging part about working for the industry?

A: “It just takes a while to advance. I mean there are people who work above me who obviously have the jobs that I would prefer to have, but it’s hard to advance in something if there’s already people there because you can’t really advance unless those people move on, and a lot of people obviously aren’t going to go anywhere. So it’s hard to find your footing and what direction you want to go in. Especially in a city like Cleveland, it’s a big music-based town because there’s a ton of people who want to do the same thing, but there’s not a ton of places to do it at. So I think the hardest part is the room for advancement because it’s hard to find something.”

Q3: How would you say Cleveland’s music scene is different from another city’s music scene, so for example, Chicago, New York City or another city that’s similar?

A: “The Cleveland scene to me seems like, local band-wise, I think we have the strongest local scene. I don’t know if that’s coming off a biased standpoint or not, but I think that we have one of the strongest local scenes in all of those places. Everything in Cleveland and all the venues are tailored correctly to what bands play there, like everything works better. I’ve been to shows in Chicago where I felt like the venue didn’t fit the band playing. It’s just not over-saturated in Cleveland; I think there’s a right amount of everything. In bigger cities like in Chicago and in L.A. and New York, it’s too big of an area so they get oversaturated and there becomes too much of everything so it’s just not interesting anymore, and it’s easy to fall out of stuff. The people in Cleveland are more dedicated to certain things because it’s not oversaturated. There’s the perfect amount of everything. There’s the perfect amount of venues, the perfect amount of local bands, there’s the perfect amount of shows that come here and it’s not too much.”

Q4: So specifically working with the local Cleveland bands, what is it like working with Cleveland musicians?

A: “This is more of a stereotype I guess, but I feel like other places are more snobby. Like if you’re from New York or L.A. or something I think it’s engrained in your head that you have this chance to get big just because you’re from that area. In Cleveland it’s like people actually build up and try to work towards something… I just feel like Cleveland bands are more grateful, and they work towards something rather than in other cities. I feel like [in other cities] it’s just like, ‘I’m from New York. We’re going to go on this tour. We’ll get big.’ There’s not a lot of progress.”

Q5: What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in the Cleveland music industry?

A: “You just have to do it really. You might be scared of reaching out to people because you get nervous that you’re not going to hear back or that they’re not going to like you or whatever, but there’s room for everyone in the scene…You just have to be dedicated to what you want to do and express that. If you express yourself and express what you like doing, somebody will find you. Obviously you should reach out to them, but the first step is to express yourself to the audience that you want to present yourself to. Follow people on Twitter that you look up to, respond to their tweets, favorite their tweets, and that actually works. I’ve had people that I really loom up to follow me back. It’s all about networking and expressing yourself and showcasing that you’re the most dedicated to something and you like this the most so you would be better than everybody else at this kind of thing. Not over-confident, but just the right amount.”

Do you have experiences working in the Cleveland music industry? Leave a comment below!

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