Oct 16, 2023 - Business

Charlotte wants to become a music city

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 31: (L-R) Singer Scott Avett, bassist Bob Crawford, singer/guitarist Seth Avett, cellist Joe Kwon and fiddle player Tania Elizabeth of The Avett Brothers perform at Bojangles Coliseum on December 31, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jeff Hahne/Getty Images)

Charlotte’s identity is multifaceted — we’re a bank town, a craft beer mecca, a sports and entertainment destination and a landing place for a growing number of transplants. These days, experts and insiders are working to make Charlotte into a music city, too.

Driving the news: The Confluence Music Conference takes place in Charlotte Oct. 18-19 at various venues around the city, though sessions take place at the AvidXchange NC Music Factory.

  • The two-day event includes performances, networking, discussions and panels on everything from cultivating a fan base to the impact of the music industry on North Carolina.

The goal: To provide attendees with tools or connections they might need to advance their careers in music, says Rick Thurmond, chief marketing officer at Charlotte Center City Partners, which is putting on the conference.

Long term, the aim is to establish Charlotte as a “regional hub for music,” he adds.

Why it matters: The Charlotte area has produced some big-name artists over the years — Anthony Hamilton, the Avett Brothers, Reneé Rapp, Fantasia Barrino, to name a few. Problem is, Thurmond says, often when an emerging artist wants to take the next step in their career, they move to a bigger music market like Nashville, Los Angeles or New York.

  • That’s where the industry is — the record labels, the publishing houses, the music business. Ultimately, the hope is to one day make it such that they could find all the resources they need here.

“We’re trying to become the best version of Charlotte that we can be. I think the best version of Charlotte is one where music is an essential part of our identity,” says Thurmond, a longtime local music supporter who launched Music Everywhere CLT in 2017.

Zoom out: The music scene in Charlotte emerging now like its startup scene. Of course, we have homegrown talents and even unicorns — startups with a valuation of at least $1 billion.

  • But Charlotte is still building up its startup ecosystem (especially in the form of investment), so many local startups leave for places like Silicon Valley to grow.

Of note: Leaders here don’t want to turn Charlotte into another Nashville, where the music industry has an estimated annual $10 billion economic impact on the region. Nobody is trying to get major record labels to relocate here, Thurmond adds.

Yes, but: Charlotte doesn’t do enough to support artists and musicians, says Eddie Zimmerman, better known as “Eddie Z,” who opened The Playroom in 1994. The Charlotte rehearsal facility and studio has called major artists clients over the years, from Aaliyah to Dr. John.

  • Zimmerman cited voters’ rejection a few years ago of a quarter-cent sales tax to raise money for arts and cultural programs. Charlotte just isn’t a “music friendly” city yet like Seattle, for instance, where some businesses even reserve parking spaces for musicians, Zimmerman adds.
  • Plus, the city’s also lost some of its most beloved venues that long nurtured emerging artists, from Tremont Music Hall to Double Door Inn.

“You have to leave Charlotte to get famous in order for Charlotte to appreciate you,” he says.

Flashback: Years ago, Charlotte had a chance to establish itself as a country music city.

WBT, the Charlotte radio station that turned 100 last year, was a country music radio station with variety shows founded three years before Nashville’s WSM came onto the scene, Axios’ Michael Graff reported. But WBT, led by program executive Charles Crutchfield, in its early years was hesitant to go “all in” on country music, believing it to be just a fad.

  • Thus Nashville instead emerged as Music City USA.

Our city still had several notable roles in music history. Louis Armstrong, Nat “King” Cole and James Brown all performed at the Excelsior Club on Beatties Ford Road.

  • And along Central Avenue, we had Reflection Studios, where R.E.M. recorded their iconic album “Murmur.” James Brown also recorded there, as did Joe Walsh of the Eagles. But Reflection closed in 2014 and was torn down to make room for the apartment complex The Gibson, which incorporated a music theme in its branding.

What she’s saying: “Music creates energy in a city. It really does,” country music star Trisha Yearwood, a Nashville resident who was in town recently volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, says of Charlotte’s emerging music scene.

  • She and her husband, Garth Brooks, have performed here for decades. They both say they’ve always felt welcomed by the enthusiastic crowds here. “You guys have got it going on,” Yearwood says of Charlotte.

Details: The Confluence Music Conference will bring together artists, producers, managers, business leaders and other industry experts — but it’s open to casual music fans, too.

  • It starts Wednesday at 9am. Ticket options range from two-day conference passes to all-access passes, which also include access to two evenings of live music and an invite to a VIP opening party Oct. 17 at Middle C Jazz. More info on tickets is available here.
  • You can also buy tickets to individual shows at the door of each venue — Neighborhood Theatre: $20, Visulite, Stage Door, Middle C: $15, All others: $10. See the list of shows here.

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