There isn’t one inch of unoccupied space on Chuck Morris’ office walls.
The CEO of AEG Presents Rocky Mountains has assembled a haphazard collage of album covers, platinum records, and framed photographs that gives visitors the impression they’re looking at an out-of-sequence timeline of Colorado’s music scene, starting with the early 1970s. Morris can tell you the story behind every piece of memorabilia, but the unifying theme is clear: He has had no small part in building the live music industry in this state. So, when Morris says the local scene is better than ever—“Almost everything is good in my book”—one might be a little skeptical. At 73, he’s got an interest in securing his spot in the history books.
But even if Morris is burnishing his legacy, he’s not wrong. Over the past several years, Denver has started to position itself as a world-class music hub. Between 2011 and 2016, the music industry—which includes venues, musicians, promoters, studios, music education, management companies, and the like—grew by 22.8 percent. That increase, says Michael Seman, the director of creative industries research and policy in the College of Arts & Media at the University of Colorado Denver, outpaces gains in both the Denver metro region’s energy and bioscience sectors. “Having a thriving music scene isn’t just important because it’s an economic driver,” he says. “It’s important because a healthy music scene attracts innovators. Cities should treat their music scenes like their tech clusters.”
That is, of course, no easy task, especially in a city where an exploding population and economic forces like the tech sector and the cannabis business are driving up real estate prices, a problem that seems to be disproportionately hurting the creatively inclined. Still, the city and state are trying to foster the musical arts. Beyond Imagine 2020—the city’s cultural plan initiated in 2013—there’s Governor John Hickenlooper’s Take Note program, which in 2017 began providing access to musical instruments and instruction to every K–12 student in the state. There’s also the Colorado Music Strategy (a public-private collaboration, fully launched this past year, that supports the state’s music ecosystem with grants and resources) and the Denver Music Strategy, a similar but city-specific initiative set to be released this month. “Most places don’t have a music strategy,” says Stephen Brackett, lead vocalist for Denver hip-hop group Flobots. “That makes us pretty special, but we need to make sure something happens from these initiatives.”
An infusion of support could be a boon to the scene, especially if resources are allocated in a way that gives artists more freedom to create and tour while still being able to afford rent here. But even if those resources fail to materialize, the local music business’ vibrancy isn’t about to fade, no matter how pricey a condo in RiNo might become. “Yes, Denver is getting big and expensive,” says Wesley Schultz of Denver folk rock band the Lumineers, “but art will survive. There is still room for us here.”
The king of the mile-high music scene agrees. “We have great clubs,” Morris says. “We’re bringing up new, talented bands. Per capita, Denver is the number one market for live music in the country. And Red Rocks is the greatest amphitheater in the world.” Morris might be a bit enamored of his kingdom, but—with a few exceptions—he has every reason to be.
Centennial State jobs related to the music industry.
Annual revenue generated by Colorado’s music industry.
There’s Been A Lyrical Explosion On The Rocks
Since 1906, the year Red Rocks Amphitheatre had its first performance of record, Ship Rock and Creation Rock have played host to more than 2,800 concerts, some of which—like the 1983 show that contributed tracks to U2’s Under A Blood Red Sky—have gone down in rock ’n’ roll lore. Nearly 112 years later, however, it is not the big moments but the big numbers that are the showstoppers. In 2010, Red Rocks hosted 73 events that included live music. By 2017, that total had more than doubled to 154. The venue should see similar numbers this year too. “We’re booking as far out as three years now,” says Brian Kitts, spokesperson for Red Rocks. “And the season has been extended from Memorial Day to Labor Day to mid-April through Halloween.” The venue’s competitive booking process and the boxing out promoters and bands must employ to grab center stage illustrates just how compelling Red Rocks—and the Denver music scene, by extension—has become in recent years.
Live music events at Red Rocks since 2010
EDM Is The Genre Du Jour—And Denver Can’t Get (Or Produce) Enough
Whether you call it EDM, dance music, club music, or something else entirely, the relentless bass lines long associated with nightclubs, raves, festivals, and ecstasy-fueled concertgoers have gone fully mainstream. As it turns out, the Centennial State has been both supportive of the evolving genre and prolific when it comes to birthing artists. For the past seven years, the Colorado Convention Center has hosted Decadence, a two-night electronic music extravaganza that culminates on New Year’s Eve. In February, organizers held the first Denver International Electronic Music Festival at the University of Denver. Plus, Big Gigantic, GRiZ, Pretty Lights, Bass Physics, and a host of other big-name electronic producers have ties to the Front Range. Denver-based Lane 8, who released his second album, Little by Little, in January and will light up the Ogden on the 23rd of this month, talked with 5280 about the amplifying appeal of electronic music.
5280: Should I call you Lane 8, or…
Lane 8: Well, my real name is Daniel Goldstein.
Got it. So, Daniel, how does one become an electronic music producer?
I played piano as a kid and did some garage bands with my sister. But no one ever wanted to play as much as I did. I was obsessed. Then I realized if I had a drum and a piano—or something that could make those sounds—I could make music all by myself.
Why has EDM seen a surge in popularity?
Music moves in cycles, and it seems like every 10 or so years the cycle changes. But electronic music has gone a little more pop recently. It makes it more accessible. It’s also gotten more radio play because of that. Today, DJs are main stage at festivals and big venues—many of them are global icons.
Is Denver’s scene as great as everyone says?
Denver’s electronic scene is thriving. Red Rocks is a gateway to electronic music these days; there are so many [EDM] shows there now. Tons. A world-class venue can bring a genre to a bigger audience.
New Venue: The Black Box
Why It’s Hot: Everyone loves being in on a secret—and that’s exactly how you feel when you walk into the dark confines of the Black Box. Although the 16-month-old Cap Hill venue has certainly been discovered, as evidenced by the packed dance floor, the electronic-music-focused club has an intense underground atmosphere that all but confirms you know something that others only wish they did.
This Month: The Trill Resurrection Tour on March 9
Denver’s Venus Create A (Mostly) Healthy Ecosystem For Local Bands To Grow Their Audiences
No band has ever stepped onstage its very first time and been anything other than pretty darn awful. Which is why a nurturing music scene needs a robust list of “development rooms” alongside clubs and venues that are geared toward semi-established and veteran musicians. If Denver has one dull spot in its otherwise polished roster of live music venues, it’s the relative dearth of small clubs and so-called DIY sites. “I played a lot of terrible, soul-sucking shows at Herman’s Hideaway,” Stephen Brackett of Flobots says. “You need to have those entry-level spaces, though, for when you’re not good.”
But once a band begins to build a crowd and can prove it’s worth a certain number of tickets, it also needs room to move up—and that’s when navigating the landscape requires a measure of ingenuity. “It’s tough in Denver because AEG owns or operates a lot of the venues,” says Joe Richmond, a local producer and longtime Denver musician who has played with bands like the Still Tide, Tennis, Churchill, and Meese. “You have to deal with those politics, because as a baby band, you want to get into AEG venues. But independent clubs often suffer as a result.” In other words, Richmond explains, a spot like the independently owned Syntax Physic Opera might find that a rising band would opt to play at the Larimer Lounge because it’s the same size and it’s an AEG-associated club. “Jonathan Bitz at Syntax, who really cares about growing bands,” Richmond says, “might lose out because he doesn’t own a bigger room, like AEG’s Bluebird, for a band to move up to.”
All of which means local bands need to be strategic. “Owners and promoters look for serious bands,” says Emma Cole of 18-month-old indie band Wildermiss. “They want to know you’re not going to be an asshole onstage, that you’re going to sell tickets, that you’re going to deliver. Be on people’s good sides and you’ll catch a break.”
Of course, not everyone does—and that can be frustrating. There are Denver bands and independent venue owners who believe AEG’s stranglehold on the market narrows opportunity for everyone. “I’m sure there are musicians who say they aren’t getting our attention,” AEG’s Chuck Morris says. “I’m sure they say they can’t get a break. And I’m sure we do miss some.” His advice to those bands? “Play every dump you can. Create an audience. Do that and I promise we’ll hear about you.”
Before a local band headlines Fiddler’s Green, it has to sell enough tickets to climb the rungs of Denver’s network of venues.
Almost Uncomfortably Intimate Stages For Neophyte Musicians (Capacity: 100 or less)
- Moon Room (Owned, operated or associated with Live Nation)
- The Quinlan Cafe at Swallow Hill Music (Owned, operated or partnered with Swallow Hill Music)
- Ubisububi Room (Independently owned)
Standard Development Rooms, Some with Better Beer Than Others (Capacity: 101 to 200)
- Lion’s Lair (Independently owned)
- Larimer Lounge (Owned, operated or associated with AEG Presents Rocky Mountains)
- Mutiny Information Cafe (Independently owned)
- Lost Lake Lounge (Owned, operated or associated with AEG Presents Rocky Mountains)
- Syntax Physic Opera (Independently owned)
- Seventh Circle Music Collective (Independently owned)
- The Meadowlark Bar (Independently owned)
Smallish Clubs That Toggle Between Local And Touring Acts (Capacity: 201 to 300)
- Hi-Dive (Independently owned)
- Globe Hall (Owned, operated or associated with AEG Presents Rocky Mountains)
- Skylark Lounge (Independently owned)
Medium-Size Venues That Can Sometimes Command More Established Artists (Capacity: 301 to 500)
- Marquis Theater (Owned, operated or associated with Live Nation)
- Cervantes’ Other Side (Owned, operated or associated with AEG Presents Rocky Mountains)
- Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox (Independently owned)
- The Black Box (Independently owned)
Sizeable Halls Where A Band Can Make A Name For Itself (Capacity: 501 to 1,000)
- Bluebird (Owned, operated or associated with AEG Presents Rocky Mountains)
- Oriental Theater (Independently owned)
- Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom (Owned, operated or associated with AEG Presents Rocky Mountains)
- Summit Music Hall (Owned, operated or associated with Live Nation)
- Herman’s Hideaway (Independently owned)
Auditoriums Where The Marquee Can (Sometimes) Display A Household Name (Capacity: 1,001 to 7,000)
- Paramount (Independently owned)
- The Ogden Theatre (Owned, operated or associated with AEG Presents Rocky Mountains)
- The Grizzly Rose (Independently owned)
- Fillmore Auditorium (Owned, operated or associated with Live Nation)
- Denver Botanic Gardens UMB Bank Amphitheater (Owned, operated or partnered with Swallow Hill Music)
- 1stBank Center (Owned, operated or associated with AEG Presents Rocky Mountains)
- Bellco Theatre (Independently owned)
- Denver Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms (Owned, operated or partnered with Swallow Hill Music)
- Gothic Theatre (Owned, operated or associated with AEG Presents Rocky Mountains)
Two Of The City’s Coolest Outdoor Venues, Where Headliners Feel Like They’ve “Made It” (Capacity: 7,001 to 10,000)
- Red Rocks Amphitheater (Owned, operated or associated with AEG Presents Rocky Mountains)
- Levitt Pavilion Denver (Independently owned)
Full-Production Stages With Lineups That Include Acts Like OneRepublic And Lady Antebellum (Capacity: 10,001 to 20,000)
- Pepsi Center (Owned, operated or associated with Live Nation)
- Fiddler’s Green Amphitheater (Owned, operated or associated with AEG Presents Rocky Mountains)
If You’re Selling Out These Stadiums, You’re Probably Friends With Bono (Or You Are Bono) (Capacity: 50,000 plus)
- Coors Field (Independently owned)
- The Broncos’ stadium (Independently owned)
There Are So Many Talented Local Bands You May Never Have Heard Of—But Should Go See ASAP
The Band: Wildermiss
Genre: Indie rock
Notable Song: “Carry Your Heart”
Next Colorado Show: Keep an eye out for a headlining show in Denver in May
The Band: Amzy
Genre: Alternative rock
Notable Song: “Words”
Next Colorado Show: April 13 at the Bluebird Theater
The Band: The Still Tide
Genre: Indie rock
Notable Song: ‘Give Me Time”
Next Colorado Show: Look for a Denver show in April
The Band: Iolite
Genre: Alternative pop
Notable Song: “Bloodstream”
Next Colorado Show: The band’s next Colorado date is TBD
The Band: Dragondeer
Genre: Psychedelic blues and soul
Notable Song: “When I See You”
Next Colorado Show: March 10 at the Bluebird Theater
The Band: OptycNerd
Genre: Pop/hip-hop fusion
Notable Song: “Marathons”
Next Colorado Show: The band played the Larimer Lounge in January; its next Colorado show is TBD
The Band: Flaural
Genre: Psychedelic rock
Notable Song: “Nonnie”
Next Colorado Show: April 10 at Boulder’s Fox Theatre
The Band: Brent Cowles & The Foxhole Family Band
Notable Song: “Lift Me Up”
Next Colorado Show: Tour dates to support a new album are forthcoming
The Band: Khemmis
Genre: Doomed heavy metal
Notable Song: “Above The Water”
Next Colorado Show: The band played the Gothic in February; its next Colorado show is TBD
The Band: Primitive Man
Genre: Auditory existential dread
Notable Song: “Inevitable”
Next Colorado Show: April 9 at Syntax Physic Opera
Musicians Are Moving Here For The Music Scene (OK, And For A Few Other Things, Too)
It’s difficult not to get sucked in by Adam Deitch’s enthusiasm. The drummer for funk band Lettuce has been waxing poetic about Denver’s music community for five minutes, uninterrupted. He only stops when his dog—which he’s been walking while we talk on the phone—isn’t following commands. “But seriously,” he continues, “the scene is amazing.”
Deitch would know. In the music business since 1994, the drummer-cum-producer came up in New York City and has worked with the likes of 50 Cent, John Scofield, Matisyahu, DJ Quik, and Pretty Lights. “I’d been coming to Denver for 15 years,” Deitch says. “I always hated to leave. So after playing the Fillmore in December 2015, I said, ‘Why am I leaving?’ ” Not long after, Deitch found a home in Denver.
The musician confesses he isn’t the only artist smart enough to have figured out that the Denver area has a lot to offer musicians. After rattling off a few musically inclined folks who have recently moved here—Lyle Divinsky of the Motet, Grant Kwiecinski (aka GRiZ), Dave Bruzza of Greensky Bluegrass—Deitch explains it’s not just that the club owners are friendly or that fans seem more engaged. “It’s just a different experience here,” he says. “Denver is the next thing in music.”
So What Does Denver Offer?
“We love being here; it’s not oversaturated. We can be an indie rock band and not feel like we’re just another indie rock band.” —Emma Cole, Wildermiss
“Denver has the best venue in the world in Red Rocks. That is not a matter of opinion.” —Chris Tetzeli, 7S Management
“This state has an amazing jam and funk scene. Plus, the festivals are epic. People here like to dance and do drugs—and that’s only good for us.” —Eric Halborg, Dragondeer
“The music scene has grown to be a supportive place for musicians. There’s a large population of single people without kids who have disposable income. I would think the percentage of the population that regularly sees live music is high compared to most cities. Most musicians want to go where they can earn the best living, and when you include the awesome weather and all the other things Colorado offers, it makes sense why musicians are moving here.” —Scott Morrill, owner of Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom
“Film on the Rocks gives local bands who may never headline Red Rocks a chance to play there. It’s great exposure. And who knows?” —Joe Richmond, drummer and producer
“The legalization of marijuana was a watershed for live music in Colorado.” —Don Strasburg, AEG Presents Rocky Mountains
“In New York City, everyone has an agenda. Denver has a more idealistic feel.”
—Wesley Schultz, the Lumineers
The Bands Played On
Some of Colorado’s biggest success stories are still putting out new tunes.
Big Head Todd and the Monsters
Latest Album: New World Arisin’
Latest Album: Noenemies
Latest Album: Oh My My
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
New Album: Tearing At The Seams
Scheduled Release: March 9, 2018
Slim Cessna’s Auto Club
Latest Album: The Commandments According to SCAC
Latest Album: Cleopatra
Latest Album: Petals
The String Cheese Incident
Latest Album: Believe
Yonder Mountain String Band
Latest Album: Love. Ain’t Love
Superfly Plans To Buck The Red Rocks Effect
If you didn’t know there was such a thing as the Red Rocks Effect, you’re not alone. But the folks at Superfly, the creative company behind music festivals like Bonnaroo and Outside Lands (pictured above), are well aware of the phenomenon. “Not a lot of towns are competing with the greatest amphitheater on the planet,” AEG’s Chuck Morris says. In short, festival promoters in the Mile High City have learned—the hard way—that popular touring acts and concertgoers alike would rather be living it up between rust-colored outcroppings in Morrison. “With the limited success of the Mile High Music Fest back in 2010,” Morris says, “we determined that people would just wait to see a band at Red Rocks rather than seeing them on a soccer field.”
Superfly is challenging that conventional wisdom by bringing a three-day music festival to Denver in September 2018, and Rick Farman, co-founder of the company, believes green fairways might be a more compelling setting than Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “It was a long journey to find the location that would work,” Farman says. “Overland Park Golf Course is definitely on par with any of our other festival locations. And if we execute in the way we’re capable of, success will come.”
Although Farman declined to disclose any details specific to the festival—the name hasn’t even been released yet—he was more than happy to explain why his company zeroed in on the Mile High City. “Denver is known in the music industry as a top-tier market,” he says. “It has a smart, engaged fan base; music and culture are intertwined at a premium; and people like to have a good time.” Rock on, Mr. Farman.
New Venue: Levitt Pavilion
Why It’s Hot: The Mile High City’s newest outdoor venue—located inside Ruby Hill Park in south Denver and capable of holding 7,500 music fans—will host its first full season of concerts this summer. The amphitheater, a public-private partnership, has a mission to increase access to the arts, which means the majority of its events are free. Fortunately, this isn’t a get-what-you-pay-for scenario: In a truncated 2017 opening season, the pavilion presented several notable acts, including Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, UB40, 311, Hippo Campus, and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. This year, Levitt Pavilion executive director Chris Zacher says Della Mae, Larkin Poe, the Unlikely Candidates, Chuck Prophet, and Carbon Leaf will headline free shows at the venue, while War will play a ticketed show on August 4. Bonus: Zacher will book Colorado bands to serve as openers at every concert.
Next Show: This season’s opening event will be an admission-based show on May 26 featuring the Fab Four, a Beatles tribute band.
Tickets: Levitt will offer 50 free concerts and about 15 ticketed shows this season.
Bands Are Recording Albums Locally (but Studio Time Ain’t Cheap)
Colin Bricker chuckles softly when asked how long it takes a band to make an album at Mighty Fine Productions, his six-year-old Denver recording studio. The variables—how experienced the artists are, how outlandish a musician’s sonic vision might be—are laughably numerous. But the question is an important one for both baby bands (who need quality recordings to give to radio stations, promoters, venue owners, and labels) and veteran acts (who want to lay down new material). For either party, time in the studio with sound engineers can mean a hefty investment. Curious about how it all works, we asked Bricker to break it down for us.
Stage Of Production: Recording
What Happens: Unless it’s a jazz recording (which is usually done live), drums and bass are recorded on one track, vocals on another, guitar on another, etc.
It Can Cost: $50 to $100 an hour
Typical Hours For A Jazz Album: Up to 32
Typical Hours For A Rock Album: Up to 64
Stage Of Production: Mixing
What Happens: During this stage, the different recording tracks are blended together to get the sound a band wants.
It Can Cost: $50 to $100 an hour
Typical Hours For A Jazz Album: Up to 16
Typical Hours For A Rock Album: Up to 24
Stage Of Production: Mastering
What Happens: This is the finessing phase, during which the song lineup is determined, the fade-ins and fade-outs are created, and the audio effects are perfected.
It Can Cost: $50 to $100 an hour
Typical Hours For A Jazz Album: Up to four
Typical Hours For A Rock Album: Up to four
Total Typical Cost For A Jazz Album: Up to $5,200
Total Typical Cost For A Rock Album: Up to $9,200
The Sound Of Music
The Centennial State does not suffer from a lack of quality studios.
- Mighty Fine Productions, Northeast Park Hill
- Third & James, Valverde
- The Blasting Room, Fort Collins
- Black In Bluhm Recording Studio, South Park Hill
- The Keep, Overland
- Rocky Mountain Recorders, Valverde
- Silo Sound Studios, Hampden
- Moon Magnet Studios, North Park Hill
- Colorado Sound Studios, Westminster
- CCM Recording Studios, Hale
- The Spot Studios, Lakewood
- Imprint Studios, Thornton
Muscle Shoals At 5,280 Feet
Denver’s Third & James has modeled itself after the famed Alabama studio.
It’s no small thing to say you’re creating a recording studio in the image of one whose owner, Rick Hall, won the Grammy Trustees Award in 2014. But Joshua Olsen, a career musician, songwriter, and producer, isn’t afraid to aim high. “We’re built to offer the Muscle Shoals vibe,” he says.
What that means, Olsen adds, is Third & James—which is both an independent label and a big-room recording studio—wants to find unknown local artists and help them craft quality recordings by involving a community of musicians in the process. “Denver feels like a small town,” Olsen says. “Everyone is already playing on everyone else’s records. I wanted to create a culture that does that on purpose.”
The ultimate goal would be for Colorado musicians to regularly congregate at Third & James’ Valverde studio—which opened in late January—and make beautiful music together. “We’re a label that owns a studio,” he says, explaining he has signed three artists, all based in Colorado, so far. “If you’re an artist, come talk with us; be part of the community; write songs with us; play with us.” We think Hall would be proud.
We’re Using The Power Of Music To Solve Serious Issues
There’s a pragmatism to Jami Duffy that’s often conspicuously absent from those working in the nonprofit world. Duffy doesn’t have time for cockeyed optimism. She’s got real-world issues to deal with—two, in particular. The first is Colorado’s disturbing high school dropout rate; the second is the plight of local musicians struggling to find consistent income. Although they are seemingly disparate dilemmas, Duffy has found one potential solution: Youth On Record (YOR).
The 10-year-old nonprofit, which moved into its custom Lincoln Park digs in 2014, puts the local music community to work in a way that addresses the dropout problem. “We employ Colorado musicians and place them in public school music classrooms,” Duffy says, “where they provide programming that at-risk kids can be excited about.”
Right now, YOR pays 20 professional musicians to serve about 435 students—90 percent of whom identify as people of color and 95 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch—in Denver Public Schools classrooms each year. YOR’s philosophy is that its partner artists are often more relatable teachers for at-risk kids because many of them come from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. “Music is a great in,” Duffy says, explaining that YOR’s partner musicians are multi-instrumentalists, poets, singer-songwriters, hip-hop producers, DJs, and everything in between. “Then the relationships grow from there.”
YOR doesn’t stop at the classroom, though. The nonprofit also reaches kids—about 560 of them—through outside-of-school programs. One of its most popular is Open Lab, during which kids (ages 14 to 20) can spend time in YOR’s first-class sound studio, take piano lessons, or learn how to mix and master recordings. “These kids have things to say,” Duffy says. “The music they learn to make through YOR is relevant and important. We just need to listen.”
Bands that receive free meals through Denver-based Illegal Pete’s Starving Artists program each year. The fast-casual burrito joint has a small record label, the Greater Than Collective (it’s worked with artists such as Esme Patterson). But marketing director Virgil Dickerson says the larger mission is to help bands, both from Colorado and elsewhere, do what they do best—make music—and it’s amazing how far a tasty burrito can go when you’ve spent too many days in a van on a low-budget tour.
Vinyl Is So 2018
Feel free to file it under, “all that’s old can be new again,” but pressing vinyl is exceedingly hip once more. Over the past 10 years, record sales in the United States have increased dramatically, which made us wonder: 30 years after the fall of the format, what’s the pro-con breakdown on these spiral-grooved beauties?
A Side: The Pros
The Demand: Vinyl is one of the hottest items on the merch table—meaning it can be a revenue stream for bands in the age of iTunes, when almost no one pays for full albums.
The Look: Music fans the world over consider vinyl records, with their highly stylized sleeves, to be not only keepsakes but also works of art.
The Feel: Spinning vinyl is a tactile experience that can’t be replicated by pressing a smartphone screen.
The Details: In an era when most music is streamed (leaving listeners with nothing tangible to hold), vinyl brings the label back into play. That middle-of-the-record sticker is valuable real estate where bands can list exactly who was involved in the production of an album and where the LP was recorded.
The Sound: Although it’s become almost cliché to say it (and plenty of folks disagree), fans of vinyl argue there’s a warmth to the sound of a record that digital can’t reproduce.
B Side: The Cons
The Cost: Pressing vinyl is expensive. A typical run of 100 12-inch records can cost about $1,600, which means a band would need to sell every unit at more than $16 each to turn even a marginal profit.
The Gear: Even though a vinyl revival has swept the nation, many households don’t have turntables; in fact, only 66,000 turntables were sold in the United States in 2016. For comparison, an estimated 35 million iPhones were purchased in America in the same year.
The Supply: Except for Third & James, which will begin manufacturing vinyl on an in-house press sometime in 2018, there are limited (like, zero) commercial options for getting vinyl made locally.
The Quality: Digital may not deliver that nostalgic experience vinyl nerds are looking for; however, MP3s aren’t plagued by tracking errors, surface noise, or scratches.
Radio Isn’t Dead Either
A local station pushes aspiring bands—and people are listening.
The Fray, Tickle Me Pink, Flobots, Love .45, Meese, Rose Hill Drive. You know these names in part because Denver-based 93.3 KTCL gave all of them a chance. Jeb Freedman, better known by his radio name, Nerf, and Alf, who doesn’t use his given name, have long been supporters of Colorado bands. They keep their ears open for local talent, put them in rotation, and then tell DJs across the country about them. On top of that, 93.3 airs its Locals Only show at 9 p.m. every Sunday night, plays local tunes all day on March 3 (303 Day), and hosts two annual contests—the Big Gig and Hometown For The Holidays—specifically for Colorado musicians. Winners of these contests get exactly what they need: exposure, in the form of radio spins and stage time at live music events, and time in the sound studio, paid for by the station.
“Nerf is a tastemaker nationwide,” says Joe Richmond, whose former band, Churchill, placed first in Hometown For The Holidays in 2011. “People take notice when he says something. Bands get record deals because of him.”
We Don’t Have Quite Enough “Industry”…Yet
Although the live music segment of the scene is thriving, a common lament among musicians and executives is the lack of “industry” in Denver. Put another way: There aren’t enough local companies that provide goods and services to support the music business. The Mile High City, for instance, could use more of the following.
Yes, Denver lays claim to Kevin Clock, Joe Richmond, Joshua Olsen, Evan Chavez, and a few other talented song-making gurus (we recently lost hit-maker Ryan Tedder, of OneRepublic fame, to LA), but according to industry types, the Mile High City needs an infusion of experienced producers to help push local musicians beyond being simply “Denver good.”
AEG has a tight grip on Denver’s scene. In addition, Live Nation—which recently took over promotion and operational duties for Soda Jerk, a Denver-based company that had been known to promote local bands and owns several venues—has a significant (and growing) slice of the local promotion business. Another promoter might struggle to break into the market, but the diversification could be beneficial for aspiring bands who can’t seem to draw AEG’s gaze.
There are more than a dozen quality recording studios (see “The Sound Of Music” on page 76) along the Front Range, but according to insiders, only a few of them are truly world-class. Audiophiles say the city could support five or six more top-tier studios.
Artist Management Companies
With 7S and Madison House (which represents the String Cheese Incident, pictured)—two premier management companies—located in the metro area, one might consider leaving well enough alone. However, given the increasing volume of local bands, another shop couldn’t hurt. Says 7S founder Chris Tetzeli: “If we don’t get a band, we want someone here in Colorado to get that band.”
With the exception of SCI Fidelity Records, Third & James, Greater Than Collective, and a few indie labels most folks have never heard of, there’s just not a lot doin’ on the label side of things in the Centennial State.
Small club owners famously detest working with booking agents—the professionals who make all of the arrangements with venue buyers and/or promoters of a show—but many bands need the help of a high-level organizer who can hammer out the details for them. Having more locally based agents who would know the scene and work with Colorado’s unsigned acts could help nascent bands book more and better shows. Of course, there are those who believe young bands should book their own shows until they start selling out bigger venues.
Denver Is Just A Little Envious Of Fort Collins’ New Music District
The mile-high music scene doesn’t want for much (OK, a few things; see “We Don’t Have Quite Enough ‘Industry’…Yet” above), but it’s not difficult to be envious of the 17-month-old Music District, a five-building, open-to-the-public campus near Colorado State University that’s driving the college town’s already thriving music community. Held within the district’s 37,000 square feet are apartments for artists-in-residence, a radio station, performance areas, state-of-the-art rehearsal studios, a library, and gathering spaces with fast Wi-Fi. Want to take a private piano lesson? You can do that at the Music District. Want to practice with your band before you head into the recording studio? You can do that too. Want to listen to a panel discussion about the music industry from those in the know? Yup, that’s available as well.
Backed by the Bohemian Foundation, which was founded by billionaire philanthropist Pat Stryker and has a mission to empower communities through grant-making, the Music District hopes to be the glue between the existing infrastructure of the FoCo music landscape. It also aims to be a meet-up point for the musically minded. “We want high-level touring artists, amateur musicians, hobbyists, and fans to be part of our community,” says Jesse Elliot, director of the Music District. “In 2018, we’re going to increase everything—music academy availability, access to lessons, artist residencies, co-working spaces—and hold at least 100 events so we can try to get everyone involved.”
We’re Still Struggling With The Closures Of Glob and Rhinoceropolis
Discouraged. Frustrated. Heartbroken. These are just some of the descriptors musicians used in the days after two of the Mile High City’s most prominent underground music venues were shuttered by the Denver Fire Department in late 2016. The closures, which were unexpected and forced nearly a dozen people from their homes, came shortly after a deadly fire at a similar artist collective in Oakland, California. Rhinoceropolis and Glob—both of which had been in operation since 2005—housed illegal but affordable live-work spaces for creatives and doubled as concert venues for boundary-pushing shows. These so-called DIY venues, which tend to come and go in warehouses in cities across America, serve multiple purposes: They provide artists with cheap places to live and raw space for studios. They foster a community where artists can be loud and messy and creative 24/7. They create word-of-mouth networks of all-ages venues where young bands—or musicians with little commercial viability—can find supportive crowds as they tour the country learning how to be onstage. But on December 8, 2016, a lot of Denver’s DIY music died, and it hasn’t recovered—despite efforts by the city to work with landlords to reopen the spaces. Below, two former tenants—Madeline Johnston, a singer-songwriter, and Luke Thinnes, an electronic music producer—explain why DIY spaces are so important.
Madeline Johnston, 26, Midwife
I lived at Rhino for a year and a half. It was full immersion, and I learned a lot. It all seemed so magical, surreal, and timeless. Residents had two rooms—a studio and a living space. Everyone was so immersed in each other’s work. Rent depended on how many people were living there, but it was very affordable. These kinds of places are of the utmost importance for artists. They help you find your place in the world, in your scene, and within yourself. Being exposed to all kinds of experimental work and all genres of music and art in this central, ever-changing hub is really powerful. I discovered my voice there. For those of us who don’t fit the conventional mold, having a place to call our own and to be comfortable (or uncomfortable), having a place to express yourself, to experiment, and to cultivate a community, is truly amazing. It saves lives. These places are a beacon in a world full of darkness.
Luke Thinnes, 24, French Kettle Station
Having a room and a studio for reasonably cheap is about all I need, and being able to perform and host shows in the same space was a massive, life-affirming bonus. Two amazing things about shows at Rhino were the intimacy and the element of surprise. Maybe people would go to see their friend’s band play but then saw another act that was mind-blowing. You have to remember that variations of Rhino and Glob exist all over the world, and many of the acts that would play Rhino and Glob would become friends. When artists are interfacing on a human level, there’s potential for an organic bond to be formed—and that bond isn’t reliant on an expectation of larger success. These are often a bunch of young people who are genuinely stoked to be doing what they’re doing, so they send some emails, jump in a van, travel the country, and show the world what they’re made of.
The Seventh Circle Music Collective stands resolute in a decimated DIY landscape.
You’ll often find Aaron Saye in a little gray house with maroon trim near the intersection of Federal Boulevard and West Seventh Avenue. Saye doesn’t own the house; he leases it. But he doesn’t live there. Instead, the 32-year-old keeps the small house with a detached garage tidy so a bunch of concertgoers—
teenagers in the punk scene, thirtysomethings into indie rock, metalheads of all ages—and earnest young musicians can enjoy one of the very few DIY venues left in Denver.
Spared the fate of Glob and Rhinoceropolis because no one was illegally residing in the space and because Saye had secured the correct permits, Seventh Circle Music Collective is an underground music lover’s music venue. With five shows a week and a suggested donation of $7 to $10 (60 percent goes to the band; 40 percent goes to pay rent), Seventh Circle makes a modest profit each year, just enough to keep the operation afloat…for the time being. “There are obstacles for DIY spaces everywhere,” Saye says. “Here in Denver, it’s rising rents and zoning with the city. Right now, there’s really nowhere else for these bands to go in Denver, and we can’t handle the demand.”
Still, Saye—with the help of about 40 active volunteers—often mans the door, runs the sound, and books the talent because he believes it’s important to keep Denver’s DIY dreams alive. “These places are breeding grounds for young bands,” says Saye, who works as a tour manager for three Denver bands and doesn’t take a dime from Seventh Circle. “It’s a stress-free environment for figuring out how to behave as professional musicians.”
Newcomer Nocturne Nurtures An Already Buzzing Jazz Community
Session musicians like 38-year-old jazz saxophonist Samuel Williams often feel like they have to say “yes” to every project just to make a living. But there’s one opportunity that Williams—and more than 100 others—have been thrilled to sign up for over the past three years: a residency at Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club.
One of the few clubs—if not the only club—in the state to offer such a program, Nocturne has become what Williams (pictured above on sax) describes as a nexus for Front Range jazz musicians. “[Nocturne co-owners] Nicole and Scott Mattson are so supportive of local musicians,” says Williams, who finished a two-month residency in February. “There’s a sense that Nocturne is a place you can count on and trust and, most important, where you can take chances musically onstage.”
Which is the primary reason the Mattsons created Nocturne’s artist residencies. “Jazz is all about risk and experimentation,” Scott says. “In these residencies, artists can push themselves, and we get to put amazing music on our stage.”
The residency works like this: A musician applies with an original idea, like taking the music of the Beatles and putting a jazz spin on it. Scott pits the idea against the dozens of others he receives each month and selects the one he believes will work best onstage. Then he talks through the idea with the musician, asks what other musicians the applicant might bring in, and then schedules eight concerts, for which band members typically take home at least $100 each per show. The musicians then begin brainstorming, writing, and rehearsing. Although all eight concerts focus on the same music, the shows are never repetitive; the music evolves. “The residency gives me the chance to dive into music I’m passionate about,” Williams says. “For an audience, the changes in the music from week to week are cool to observe.”
Where to find America’s classic genre in Denver