SoundCorps tunes up to help musicians market, brand—and get the Gig
On a Thursday afternoon in early autumn, Stratton Tingle finds 30 minutes of down time and decides to take a nap in his car. This morning, he woke up at 5:15 a.m. to prepare for a presentation to a possible investor, had three other meetings following the presentation and has two more after his midday nap.
Looking and feeling refreshed, he walks along the patio of Niedlov’s on Main Street, is stopped three times by people who tell him about things like a show in town, a new song on the blogs or just to say hi to a familiar face and finally gets to the counter and orders a black coffee.
Back on the patio, he settles himself in for another hour of talking, another meeting of sorts. He doesn’t take his first sip of coffee until he’s 20 minutes in; he just holds the mug for warmth and regains his energy that way. Tingle’s a familiar face around town for three reasons. One is because he’s been here for 10 years and is a local by any local standards. Two is because he’s soon to become the face of Chattanooga’s growing music scene and economy. And three is because he has unmistakable dreadlocks that flow down to near ass-length.
“Our mission is to build Chattanooga’s music economy,” Tingle says. The “Our” he is referring to is SoundCorps, a nonprofit built from within Chattanooga’s municipal government whose job, day in and day out, will be to work on the initiatives to grow the economic and cultural impact of music on the economy.
“What we’re focused on is job growth within the music sector,” he says. “People’s eyes tend to glaze over when you talk about this stuff, especially musicians, but it makes a world of difference if you’re able to actually work within the industry that you’re trying to create art in. You learn a lot about all the functions and facets of the industry and learn that pretty much any artist in their career has probably worn up to 20 different hats.”
SoundCorps’ mission, in the executive director’s own words, is to serve two clienteles: the music industry professional and Chattanooga as a community. For the music industry professional, whether they go after it for a career or a hobby, SoundCorps is designed to offer resources to people who want to grow their businesses and their personal music brand.
“A component of everything we’re doing in the music industry sector involves networking,” Tingle says. “Strengthening ties with the industry ourselves and offering resources for them, like professional development and communication. Not so much craft, but business stuff.”
That’s exactly what SoundCorps plans on attacking first: teaching the music community about audience growth through PR and marketing at the organization’s first workshop on Nov. 9. Things high on every musician’s agenda are: How do I get my stuff out there? How, in the city of digital renaissance, do I get noticed? How does a Chattanooga musician or band take advantage of the fiber optic network that is nationally recognized as groundbreaking and job-producing? How does someone use the Gig to get radio play? Get people in a studio? Start their own venue? The correlation between the two—incredible World Wide Web speeds and regional and public outreach—should seem like obvious waters to test. But according to local musicians that’s not the case.
Superbody is a local band originally from Dalton, GA that now attempts to make their start in their adopted city of Chattanooga. Still in their early beginnings, they are known for creating artistic, strange and indefinable music that even Tingle has a hard time explaining. Superbody, made up of Caleb Dills and Robert Gregg McCurry, has the advantage of controlling how they come off as performers and as people in the press.They answer questions as the characters in the band as opposed to the actual people they are.
For example, when asked how they like the music scene in Chattanooga, McCurry responds with, “It’s wonderful. I love feeling the rumble of drums and guitars on my nightly walk down Market Street.” And when Dills is asked if he notices advantages of the fiber optics network, he admits, “My Yahoo News has never refreshed quicker than in Gig City.”
But in a candid conversation over the phone before he slips into character, Dills takes a more honest stance on the scene here.
“There’s not really even a scene,” Dill says with a small laugh. “I’m trying to come up with a solid answer because I don’t want to say that and come off as an asshole because everyone is trying to make something happen here. But I feel like shows here are promoted to an older crowd and Gregg and I want to play to young people because we’re young people. People who are in college are a lot more fun to play to and that kind of doesn’t exist here. That’s why we’ll play a lot of shows in Athens. But I know they’re working towards changing the culture and I’m obviously all for that.”
A rumor that Dills heard but isn’t able to confirm is that with the new hire of Mary Howard Ade, Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau’s first music marketing manager, the city is looking to make Market Street a lot like the main strip of bars that you’d find in an Athens or a Nashville.
“I think the local talent is here,” Ade told the local daily in August. “The next challenge is to increase the numbers of local engagements and the size of the local audience.”
Her job, however, is primarily focused on attracting out-of-towners and putting Chattanooga on the map as a music destination.
Tingle and the rest of SoundCorps understand that without an audience, a music industry struggles. That’s where the community comes in.
“We hope Chattanooga can more often and more effectively engage in its music community,” Tingle says. “We hope that Chattanooga as a community can more easily define the music scene and also tell the story and be proud of the heritage, the history, as well as where we’re at right now and also start to think about the future. Those are our two focuses. Business development and community inspiration.”
Another local musician, SoCro, a veteran of the Chattanooga music scene, sees both pros and cons to the current situation the city finds itself in.
“The platform that we’re given here is awesome because of the size and the familiarity,” he says. “You’re able to meet venue and bar owners, build a relationship, get gigs that way. We’re positioned right in the middle of the South, we’re well located. But the problem with Chattanooga is it’s hard to make a living being a musician. Getting a paycheck is tough. There are no labels here, no connections to be made.”
“Venues, genres and movements will always change, but players have changed and that’s the one I want to stop,” Tingle says. “Chattanooga has grown up and raised some really good artists, many of whom struggled to maintain careers in the industry. I don’t think anyone would argue with me about the fact that we do tend to bleed out artists. Some of our best artists see better opportunities elsewhere because of resources.”
As far as getting his music out there, SoCro said he does what he always has: grinding one way or another. Facebook and Instagram are his go-to social media avenues. Whether it’s music, videos, pictures, random posts, it all goes up on Facebook. And you can never go wrong with hanging posters around town.
“It’s all about association,” he says. “Association, association. Branding, branding and repetition. It’s all about building relationships with bands, groups, venue owners and hitting up the Internet like crazy. You have to play to people’s attention spans.”
Speaking of the Internet and the cultural impact that it has on today’s music marketing, does SoCro recognize the power of Gig City?
“I’m actually not on the grid,” he says. “I’ve actually still got Comcast so I personally don’t notice it.”
He says this with a laugh and admits he comes off like a digital dinosaur, but insists that as a singular musician and marketer, he doesn’t notice the high speeds of Gig City but that his promoter and booking manager, Johnathon Surmann, definitely does.
Tingle echoes what both Superbody and SoCro said about getting their word out in this day and age. It’s a mix between social media and the old-school way. He doesn’t think people in Chattanooga do it any differently here than in other places—the difference always comes from the people and the talent.
“I think that’s true in any community,” he says. “If you’re not hanging up posters you’re not promoting your show. Or handing out flyers or standing outside of whatever concert gets out at Track 29. If you’re not doing that you’re missing out.”
SoundCorps has high expectations and plans in motion to grow the music economy for at least the next three years. But it’s still early.
“The idea of going into a skyscraper in town, knocking on the door and talking to someone who has just done the initial PR release to an album that is just about to go platinum in four weeks can actually happen in Nashville because they have 70 years of history,” Tingle says. “If we can get some of those people here, people will see more opportunities to build a career.”
SoundCorps is resident in the new The Arts Building, E. 11th St., Ste. 300. (423) 777-4217, chattanoogachamber.com/business-directory/soundcorps