Seattle is sometimes called the “Rainy Northwest” due to its reputation of being dank most of the time. That has not stopped Washington State’s largest city from attracting numerous tourists every year.
In fact, tourism data for the area indicate that there were over 38 million visitors in 2015, an improvement over previous years. What’s attracting them? Well, people flock to Seattle for its rich history, culture, and art, as well as to take in a number of interesting landmarks such as the famous Space Needle (which is an artwork in itself).
But despite the tourism boom, there is one thing that many Seattle residents, especially those who have lived there for a while, are starting to worry about; the fear that the once thriving live music scene might be on the decline.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Seattle gave birth to the grunge movement – a rebellious type of alternative rock/pop music that also brought along its own fashion identity. It was never really classified as a genre, but instead represented the mental state of the youth growing up between the 1980s and mid-1990s and how they interpreted the popular music of the day.
During this period, a number of music standouts emerged, all giving rise to grunge, which connected with a wide cross-section of music lovers, at first in Seattle then across the United States and, finally, around the world.
Nirvana, led by Kurt Cobain, was one of several bands that helped to push this new movement into the mainstream, becoming superstars in the process.
The success of Nirvana’s groundbreaking LP, Nevermind is well documented and considered a fine piece of musical art. Other bands which came to prominence and helped to further catapult the Seattle live music scene were Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden (whose frontman, Chris Cornell, recently passed).
However, the Seattle music scene had begun taking root decades earlier and was a launching pad for many stars, including the great Ray Charles, who reportedly did his first recordings in the city in 1948. The legendary Jimi Hendrix also got started in Seattle (at the Seattle Center Arena) before he blew up big after moving away. And even Quincy Jones began his career while growing up in Seattle.
Then there is the legacy of being a pioneering city when it came on to music. Seattle’s musicians were responsible for creating punk rock, which, according to the music historians, eventually helped to bring about grunge. At the same time, a number of bands were emerging, providing their own interpretation of the music, which eventually split fans of the music into hardcore rock and metal music lovers. Needless to say, there were clashes (sometimes violent) between music fanatics on both sides, which ended with the opening of a live music venue, Gorilla Gardens.
Over the years, the rich history of Seattle’s music scene and the growth of grunge led to the “Emerald City” becoming a haven for live music events and prompting the opening of other venues. From intimate nightclubs and lounges to large arenas, people could take in the city’s finest on any given weekend and at various music festivals.
So, what’s changed? Why is there concern now that live music might be dying in Seattle?
Home to technology giants such as Microsoft and Amazon, the influx of tech workers to the city have been blamed for helping to dampen (no pun intended) the live music scene in the city. It is felt that these high-income earners are mostly tied to their desk jobs and are not as interested in going out to live shows, even though they can afford to.
According to Guy Keltner, a musician and co-founder of a record company who moved from Seattle to Brooklyn in 2015, “There are a lot of people who just want to do that job all day, sit on their computer and then they go home and watch Netflix, and they don’t really get out of that bubble. They might go hiking on Saturday. That’s their lives. And people wonder why we’re moving. Because no one wants to go to our shows. No one wants to go to a show anymore.”
Keltner was one of several musicians who were interviewed in an article by Radio Talkshow Host and Writer, Rachel Belle at MyNorthwest.com, which explored whether tech culture was killing Seattle’s music and art scene.
Another possible culprit that is being blamed for the alleged demise of Seattle’s live music scene is the higher cost of living, which is also partly related to the growth of tech companies. More tech workers coming from other parts of the U.S. and from other countries has seen increased costs for housing, food, and other commodities, as the new residents have more spending power and are able to pay more for rents and mortgages.
Unfortunately, this has resulted in the migration of grassroots Seattle residents, who have become unable to afford the new way of life. In addition, it has also resulted in musicians not being able to carry on, as well as higher ticket prices for music festivals held in Seattle. As pointed out by the writer of an article which looked at whether free music festivals were dying in Seattle, prices for some of these events were steep, starting at a low of $250 for just admission.
The growth of Spotify and other music streaming apps has changed the way how people consume music, no doubt. Back in the days of grunge, most people discovered new bands by going out to live events. Moreover, getting a hold of cassettes and CDs was much harder and cost more back then.
Today, many young music listeners can simply turn on their smartphones or laptops and get on YouTube or Spotify, diminishing the need to go out to live events. Furthermore, songwriters and artists, who want to make music with professional recording studios, are finding it increasingly difficult to get hold of qualified musicians and producers to collaborate with as they move away. This, however, is not unique to the rainy city.
The live music scene is still alive and kicking in Seattle based on the number of events that are still being held. However, the concern about the decline in numbers, especially of patrons, is still a cause for concern.