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Haley Bell
Dr. Knepler
FRINQ Portland
17 February 2015
Portland’s Influence On Music
“Hello Portland! This is one of my favorite places to perform.” said Kurt Vile while
performing at the Crystal Ballroom. As I stood in the front row, I
gazed around the venue admiring the creative architecture. People
of all ages gathered to celebrate 100 years of phychadelic music. A
three day micro music festival was being held in the ballroom to
celebrate the music scene of Portland. The Crystal Ballroom, being
one of the most infamous venues in
Portland, was the perfect location
to start my research on Portland’s growing music industry. What
most interests me about Portland’s music scene is the venues.
Venues help to attract artists but, venues attract people to their
shows more importantly. Venues hold people of a community together to celebrate and enjoy
music as one. But, what makes Portland a desired place to preform?

The identity of a place says a lot about what kind of experience one will have. The people
of Portland give an independent rock feel to the city. Walking around the city, local companies
rule the streets. The people of Portland would rather buy local than import from large companies.

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The independent economy aspect of Portland influences the music. The venues in Portland
attract independent artists for the most part. These artists play music that is different and
“hipster”. Portland is known for being “hipster”. According to dictionary.com, a hipster is a
young person who is trendy, stylish, or progressive in an unconventional way; someone who is
hip. Portland is all about being trendy. Portland sets trends in music, bikes, beer, coffee, etc.
Because of Portland’s “hipster” identity, unconventional music has become the norm.
To start a trend, one must first break the norm. “The Authoritarian institutions of society
try to censor and discipline young people, but at the same time the entertainment industry of
fashion, music, and movies knows that there is profit to be made from the extremely valuable
and coveted demographic of young consumers”(Moore, 231). Deviance in society is normally
looked down upon, but, only from deviance do we get change. Independent musicians are known
for being deviant in the industry. At first, their music is thought of as weird, different, or bad by
the older crowd but, soon enough people of a community seem to conform and accept the new
ways. Rap music was once thought to be the music of juvenile delinquents, but rap soon caught
on throughout society and is now thought of as main stream culture.
When social deviance becomes the norm in a place, there is now a new social identity to
the place. As hipsters began to change the fashion in Portland, they also started to find indie
musicians only few knew of and made them popular. Unknown artists in Portland are part of the
culture and venues like the Crystal Ballroom, Roseland Theater, and Wonder Ballroom support
this culture. Portland has produced musicians such as Modest Mouse, Portugal The Man, and
The Decemberists. These musicians tour the world spreading the culture of Portland throughout
communities. Portland has a reputation for attracting artists to the city, the people of Portland

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want indie musicians to fill the venues. The people of Portland want to listen to indie artists, so,
Portland has a supply of artists to the industry. “[…] Local music scenes serve as contexts for
interactions which can go on to construct local and global awakens of local identity”(Brain, 6).
From this quote, one can see that local music in a place shapes the identity of the place as well as
the global identity.
The identity of a place influences the kinds of venues that place has to offer. Artists are
attracted to fun, laid back, cool, and hyped venues. The people of a place have a lot of influence
on the venues. I have attended many concerts in multiple venues throughout Portland and at
almost every show, members of the bands express how much they love performing in Portland.
The crowds are always upbeat and enthusiastic with the bands which makes for a very cool
environment. In my interview with Corey Osten, the Property Manager at the Crystal Ballroom,
he told me venues attract artists via the deal structures they are able to offer as well as by the
profile the venues have created. The profile that the venues have created is made by the people
attending shows, as well as the bands performing. All of these factors make up the vibe of a
venue which ultimately attracts musicians to a place. “Other local live music venues were
popping up around town as well, such as Mississippi Studios, whose Facebook page states that is
“”a venue built by musicians, for musicians and music lovers alike””(Brain, 2). Venues around
Portland are made for the music crowd, not for profit, which keeps the music personal to the
listeners. But, profit is made from these venues because people of Portland are attracted to
venues by the artists they book and the vibe that is produced.

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Population of People Between States (2010)
Population

4800000
3600000
2400000
1200000
0

Louisiana

Kentucky

Oregon

Oklahoma

Connecticut

https://populationeducation.org/tags/united-states-population
Music Venues Between States (2011)
Numer of Music Venues

60
45
30
15
0

Louisiana

Kentucky

Oregon

Oklahoma

Connecticut

Tennessee Research and Creative Exchange

According to both charts, all of the states are close in population yet, Oregon has 58
music venues in comparison to Kentucky’s 20 venues. The number of venues is based off size,
counting only the small venues, not including live music in bars. The number of venues that
Oregon has to the rest of the states is genuinely higher. This shows that Oregon has more of a
supply to the music industry. In the largely competitive music industry, Oregon thrives over it’s

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competitors in number of venues. Oregon has a unique scene that musicians like and keep
coming back to. Oregon having 58 venues, makes the music economy dominant over places like
Kentucky and Connecticut.
Although venues in Portland affect the music industry largely, the music starts lower
down. To be able to play at a venue like the Crystal Ballroom, the musician has to be well known
in the city, but, all musicians start somewhere. Portland has great opportunity for new musicians.
While walking in down town Portland, one can hear a variety of street performances. I
personally love to walk downtown and enjoy the beats of people just wanting to share their
music with anyone. A city with music all around is a city that is close in community. Street
performers know their music will be enjoyed.
Along with street performers, coffee shops have a great opportunity for young musicians
in Portland. Because there are so many artisan coffee shops throughout Portland, small gigs are
often found at local coffee shops. In the 1950’s to the 1970’s, Portland’s coffee shops were the
place to listen to local music. “Within a few years, coffeehouses were booking groups- both
acoustic and electric[…]”(Brown, 246). Coffee shops in Portland and throughout the country
were a common place for artists to become known. But, as Portland’s micro brew scene grew
larger, music began to shift to the bars. “Musicians and their audiences were getting older, and
their music moved into bars and taverns”(Brown, 247). Portland’s beer and breweries began to
flourish due to the artisan beer as well as the live music in the bars. Both the music industry and
the beer industry came together to promote one another. Portland’s artisan music economy and
beer grew from there.

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Besides Portland’s energy for music, there are other factors that bring artists to Portland
to perform. Portland has a great crowd for alternative, electronic pop music. Because people of
Portland favor a certain genre, many of those types of bands come to Portland to share their
music with a crowd of people they know will go crazy. On the other side of the spectrum, people
of Portland don't have a huge demand for country music. Yes, there are people that enjoy country
in Portland, but, the majority of the population enjoys a different music vibe; for this reason, we
don't tend to see many country artists in the Portland venues.
Musicians want to perform in a place that tickets will sell. It doesn't matter how cool and
attractive a venue is if the city wont sell out the tickets. Although bands like to perform in home
towns of favorite cities, they have to go where the fans are. Where the
fans are, the tickets will sell. Looking at places like Kentucky, indie
alternative bands would be less likely to perform in Kentucky rather
that Portland. This is due to the demand in Portland. The demand in
Portland is greater than places like Kentucky because the fans here
prefer alternative indie/electronic over most other genres. As well as
performing in Portland, bands often like to move to Portland for their music career. “In 2002,
James Mercer moved from his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico to Portland, bringing his up
and coming indie band The Shins along with him”(Brain, 1). Just like bands like to perform in
Portland because there is a demand for their music, indie bands move to Portland to pursue their
music career because Portland has a great atmosphere for music.In a place like New Mexico, the
city must not have had the elements musicians look for. Portland has many venues, local
brewery, night life, and an all around great living atmosphere for any one.

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Having a venue sell out is a contribution to Portland’s economy. Venues exist as a place
for musicians to share their music and contribute to the economy. Small venues produce revenue
for the state as a local business, whereas venues like the Moda Center also contribute to the
economy in a huge way but more as a large corporation. The Moda Center is owned by Moda,
therefore Moda gets a lot of the income from the events. So, although large venues like the Moda
produce more money, small venues contribute to the economy in a very important way as well.
“”The practice of the scene is local in the sense that an individual can go to a real bar, drink a
real beer, and see a real local band that is actually contributing to the local scene”(Brain, 23).
People of Portland enjoy being able to contribute to the local music scene. Like Brain expresses,
being able to enjoy a local band live makes people feel like they as consumers are also
contributing to the music scene.
Advertising for a show is a large part of attaining people to the show. Portland does a
great job of advertising for upcoming shows. The Portland Mercury, Willamette Week, and
venues themselves advertise for local shows. Every week I pick up my Portland Mercury and
check for upcoming shows in my area. Both papers do a great job of easily showing shows for
everyday in the week. The Crystal Ballroom, Wonder Ballroom, and Roseland Theater all have
their own page in the paper to show readers what shows are coming up. Unfortunately, most
shows in Portland are 21 and up. This is very convenient for the local beer scene in Portland. The
beer scene and the music scene coincide with each other profiting together.
In my six months of living in Portland, I have seen the music scene first hand. I have
attended concerts, seen local bands play, and witnessed Portland’s music grow in unexpected
places. I have met people who drive for hours just to watch a favorite band that wouldn't perform

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in their home town. The people of Portland have a special connection with their venues and the
music that comes to play in those venues. Artists come to Portland to play for their die hard fans.
Tickets sell in Portland for indie alternative/electronic music. Venues like the Crystal Ballroom
book bands that they know people of Portland will buy tickets to see. Portland’s nurturing music
industry has grown to let people of all over the country experience to sound of Portland.

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Works Cited
Bell, Haley. Observation. 7 February 2015.
Brain, Tyler James. “Examining the Portland Music Scene through Neo-localism.”( 2011): 1-71.
Print.
Brown, Valerie. “Music on the Cusp: From Folk Acid Rock in Portland Coffeehouses,
1967-1970.” 108.2 (2007) : 247-274. Print.
Heying, Charles H. Brew To Bikes. Portland, OR. Ooligan. 2010. Print.
Moore, Ryan. “Alternative to what? Subcultural capital and the commercialization of a music
scene.”(2003) : 229-250. Print.
N.P. dictionary.com. 2015. Dictionary.com.WEB. 16 February 2015.
Osten, Corey. Personal Interview. 4 February 2015.