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New survey planned to determine health of Cleveland’s music scene

happy dog packed.jpeg
Dave DeOreo
Ideastream Public Media
With venues like the Happy Dog in Cleveland still trying to recover in a post-COVID world, co-owner Sean Watterson says it's time for a survey to gauge the size and economic impact of the city's music industry.

A census of the Cleveland music scene is in the works to gauge how the industry is doing.

Organized by the Cleveland Independent Venue Association, the survey will try to measure the social and economic impacts of live entertainment.

Sean Watterson, co-owner of the Happy Dog in Cleveland, is part of the team working for the next three weeks to invite nonprofits and businesses connected to the music industry to be a part of the Greater Cleveland Music Census. The plan is to have those groups deploy the survey in mid-October.

“That’s bartenders at venues, that’s the musicians who are performing, songwriters, the people stamping out the vinyl at Gotta Groove – all of them,” he said. “The one thing that it isn’t is a music fan survey.”

The study is similar to one conducted in 2011, which had a broader cultural focus to include music therapy and education. The results led to the creation of the venue association, then called the Cleveland Music Club Coalition. Watterson said it also spurred changes in how Cleveland charges admission taxes at small venues. With 12 years and a pandemic since then, he hopes the census will guide future marketing and legislative efforts on behalf of the music industry.

“A lot of us are still trying to get back to - not pre-COVID levels - we’re just trying to get back to break-even,” he said. “And pre-COVID levels, in the best of times, the margins are 2-5%. What we’re seeing is changes in people’s patterns and sense of community. These venues have always been community living rooms.”

Sound Music Cities will conduct the survey and has done similar studies in Chattanooga, Sacramento and its home base of Austin, Texas. The project here will survey people who work in the music industry in Cuyahoga County, and it is supported by $25,000 from the Cleveland Foundation.

“So, if you live in Lake County but you play a gig in Cuyahoga County, you’re part of that ecosystem,” Watterson said.

Watterson said that Akron, Canton and Youngstown have been put forward as a separate ecosystem for survey by Sound Music Cities in the future. Watterson expects results in early spring – just as the summer concert season gets underway and venues face a new challenge.

“There’s a lot of outdoor music and free music festivals,” he said. “It’s actually a really hard time in the venue community, because it’s hard to then get people to pay to see a show.”

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.