Interview with Greg Seltzer.
We sat down for an interview with Greg Seltzer, the Founder of Philly Music Fest, and got all the information we need on this non-profit music festival that funnels all of its earnings right back into the City of Brotherly Love (after paying its musicians, of course!) September 25th through the 28th will be four days of music, panels from music industry leaders, connection, networking and FUN!
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By Jen Strogatz
What Greg had to say…
Independent Philly: So, you are a lawyer at Ballard Spahr…
Greg Seltzer: Yes, ma’am. I’m a lawyer and it’s funny, I’m not like a lawyer like you would think. I mean, I’m a business lawyer. I’ve never been to court before, pretty much my whole job is helping small businesses, and large businesses, and doing transactions. So like, my brain is just kind of wired to default to the legal world. But yeah, my day job is a lawyer at a big law firm in town.
Independent Philly: Have you just always been a really big music fan? Or how did you get into all of this?
Greg Seltzer: Yeah, I’m a music fan first, I’ve had a lifetime, you know, in the music-fan industry. So I’ve never been really behind the scenes at all, I just lived in a city for a real long time before moving to Narberth, and just go to shows and devour music and, you know, write about music with my friends and stuff like that. So I’m, I’m certainly a fan first. And Philly Music Fest is really kind of, you know, born out of that. We’re only in our third year. And the first year, it was like, kind of a non-promoted, you know, ‘beta’ to see if this thing would work. So really, last year was kind of the full first year of four shows at three venues. And yeah, just kind of a fan first.
Greg Seltzer: I mean, just to give you a background on kind of how the whole thing coalesced. You know, two concepts kind of came to me at essentially the same time and it manifested into Philly Music Fest. That was from seeing stories about music education in the public school system for underprivileged kids in Philadelphia being cut. And you know, I was just kind of thinking to myself, like, “it’s really unfortunate that the kids in the public schools, they don’t have music anymore. They don’t have chorus, they don’t have jazz band, they just don’t have the funding for it. And they don’t have the time to commit to it, and the teachers, and you know, what’s happened is that kids are losing music as an outlet for stress for their issues and creativity. So a bunch of music education nonprofits popped up, but they’re not well-funded. I kind of had that issue floating around in my head.
Greg Seltzer: And then around the same time, there was a bunch of Philly bands that were kind of finally breaking out. Dr. Dog, War on Drugs, Kurt Vile, Japanese Breakfast… I mean, there were kind of like five or six bands that were just breaking out at what felt like the same time, and it occurred to me that Philly should embrace its music scene a little bit more nationally, as opposed to, ‘yeah, we’ve got some great bands here. We’ve got a great indie-rock scene and a great hip-hop scene. And you can go to some shows but like, nope, it doesn’t really coalesce into an actual industry.’ So I kind of married those two up. And I just thought to myself, like ‘if we could put on a show, a series of club shows, that feature only these Philly bands, but instead of taking a promoter or producer fee, just cut all of the overhead costs out of it and generate proceeds to donate to music education charities. I kind of got that cycle in my mind of like, ‘Whoa, this could kind of cycle money from fans to see local artists, but then the money cycling back to charity for kids.’ So it kind of works.
IP: That’s amazing. I mean, Philly does have such an eclectic, wonderful music scene. And we really don’t have much, like, we have Made in America, and that’s sort of it.
Greg Seltzer: You’re right, we have Made In America and by no means like, am I competing with them. But yeah, we don’t really have anything. So this kind of plugs the gap and I mean, it’s important.
You know, your publication (Independent Philly), it has the word “independent” in it, right. So, the third prong of the Philly Music Fest mission is to post these shows at independent music venues. World Cafe Live, and Johnny Brenda’s and Milkboy are all owned by just Philadelphians, they’re not owned by big corporations. So that’s really important for the mission, to kind of keep these venues going. And I mean, you can see from our branding. Not only the artwork but on our website too: We don’t allow corporate logos, we don’t allow banners, and we don’t name stages after phone companies. We just try to keep it pretty stripped down, pretty indie and focus only on the bands and the charities.Greg Seltzer – Philly Music Fest
IP: Your whole mission is just really powerful. Do you have a vision for the future of Philly Music Fest? Do you have some ideas about where you want to go with it?
Greg Seltzer: I do. They’re not fully baked, I mean, we sold out all four shows last year. So my short term goal for this month is to sell out all the shows again this year, hopefully in advance. I think that’s important for next year to show traction and to prove to people that it’s not just a cool concept that it actually works. And last year, it did. It worked. We donated $25,000, to charities after paying all the local musicians. Everyone came out and had a good time. So it kind of all just worked, but in terms of the future, probably a longer conversation…
But you know, we could we could expand to more nights and bigger venues. That’s kind of the natural thought process of, ‘Hey, can we do five nights? Could we go to a larger venue.’ World Cafe holds about you know, almost 1,000 people. So can we go to a bigger venue or something. But my focus, if I had to bet on where the expansion would be, is probably to expand the content portion. Like these bolt-on content events. One of them would be Tech Tour, which we’re doing again this year. So if you go on the events page on our homepage, there are two, kind of, side events, if you will. One’s called Tech Tour, and the other one’s called (in)Side Hustle. And you should definitely go to that. That’s on Saturday afternoon *(September 28th, 2019). The registration links right there on that events page. We’re debuting that this year with XPN. And what it is, is it’s two panel discussions. Kind of like what you would find at “South by” (SXSW)
IP: Yeah! I was just saying that to (a mutual friend of mine and Greg’s) like, “this could be a little SXSW for Philly.”
Greg Seltzer: Well, we’re taking baby steps. Haha, I’m like, “just chill dude, we gotta sell out before shows.” And I’m doing a small little panel discussion on the music industry. And I hope to get 50 people there. Like, baby steps. If we do that, then we can expand that a little bit. So for now, it’s basically just two panel discussions. One’s on the business of music in Philly, and the other one is on promoting your brand. Not only as a musician, but you know, as a recording engineer, or a manager, or a publicist, or an agent, there’s gonna be like, all of those people on the panels. And the audience could be emerging artists, it could be some kid that wants to be a manager, it could be someone that wants to be a music photographer, and like, how do you do that? Who should you know? And should you know managers or agents, or whatever. So I’m kind of trying to do an event, a free event, that gets all of the music industry, people in Philly, together for a meetup and discussion. So that’s what (in)Side Hustle is.
IP: So it’s great networking. It’s about getting people in Philly together. I love that.
Greg Seltzer: Yes, it’s content, you know, two panel discussions, and then getting people together.
IP: I like how everything that you’ve done with this sort of just feeds back into itself, you know. It’s like recycling all of these elements that are going right back into the city, into the local musicians, into the kids and music programs. It’s just a really good idea and the fact that you’ve not only thought about it, but have executed this and are doing something to take action is incredibly admirable and much needed in todays world!
Greg Seltzer: I’m trying, you know. I don’t really know what I’m doing. But I go slow. And I execute on my vision.
Then the other event is called Tech Tour. We did it last year. It was super, super successful. So we’re doing it again and it’s almost sold out this year. There’s like 12 tickets left. So Tech Tour, a really short explanation, is that the tech and startup community in Philly is intertwined with the music industry. Everyone at these startups loves music. And a lot of the musicians actually work in startups and tech and coding.
What Tech Tour does is it brings music performances for one day, one afternoon, into the offices of the tech companies, into the startups. And it’s a blend of panel discussions of content about startup company issues, nothing about music. And then in between the startup company panel discussions, there’s music performances. So Yeah, so it’s like 125, 150 people. That’s like the max we can get into this tech company called Guru Technologies, and we’re going to have some panel discussions on like AI, gig economy and diversity. And then in between, you have like, Andrew Lipke, and Marielle Kraft and the inGLORIOUS, which is a hip-hop band, they’re going to do little half hour sets. It’s just kind of bringing the tech and startup community together with the music community. Just so they’re supporting eachother.Greg Seltzer on “Tech Tour”
So back to your question. Yeah. That’s how I see the festival, and the important thing to do in the future is to continue to do four days of music, maybe five days of music, maybe a bigger venue. But really, it’s to start to increase and more heavily promote the content that bolts on to make this kind of a more fulsome offering to the community.
IP: So, what did you listen to when you were growing up? And what do you listen to now?
Greg Seltzer: Kind of the foundational rock elements. Yeah, I wasn’t really in the hip-hop lane when I was growing up. So my kind of big pillars are Neil Young, Grateful Dead. Yeah. And then just all of the British rock you know, Clapton, The Kinks. I was a huge Kinks fan. And then you know, from there, I kind of started listening to the Clash and started to bring more of that punk element into it. Then college was kind of when I got into jazz and then I pretty much dropped all the rock and was straight exploring jazz for at least two to three years. And then, when I kind of came back to the world of rock and punk, I just started devouring everything, got more into country and bluegrass and I explored that. And then I started getting into, you know, indie-rock probably around the late ’90s, early 2000’s.
IP: Elliott Smith, Nirvana?
Greg Seltzer: Yes. Elliott Smith is right in my lane. Yeah.
IP: Ah, I can’t even discuss Elliott Smith, I’m too obsessed with him.
Greg Seltzer: Yep. I devoured all that Elliott Smith stuff. I love Jason Molina. And then I got into kind of the big indie rock bands of now, I was on the bus if you will, for Wilco and the National from the beginning. So what do I listen to now? It’s essentially just all the modern indie rock.
IP: Cool. So what do people need to know about the artists playing at Philly Music Fest
Greg Seltzer: So, the Johnny Brenda’s show on the 27th, it’ll sell out by the end of the week, Speedy Ortiz is playing that. So check out the lineup. And then, you know, part of the point of the festival is for people who can’t get to shows on Tuesday nights, you know, at 11 o’clock pm, you know, it’s hard. So, this is kind of a curated lineup of some of the hottest bands of Philadelphia in 2019. And you can come out for one night or four nights and you can check out a bunch of bands and then see who you like to and go back and listen to them.
IP: What’s the age range like? What was the age range of the attendees from last year?
Greg Seltzer: It really depends. The first night of World Cafe Live, I would say the crowd was like mostly 30 year olds. 30 or 40. But then the second night, the whole crowd was kind of in their early to mid 20’s. So It just depends on which bands playing I think.
IP: That makes sense. I’m only asking to see which night my mom and stepdad would like the best!
Greg Seltzer: Yeah, they would love Friday night. Friday nights like when Ali’s playing (Ali Awan- Local Spotlight) and it’s more of like a basic rock night. Whereas Saturday night, the headliner, Man Man, they’re like a group of caged indie rock animals. They’re like, insane. They were huge. So, they haven’t put out an album in like five years, Man Man. And they’ve been like on hiatus or something. Big Philly band, they’ve had a ton of success. Pitchfork is in love with them. If you check their Pitchfork scores, they’re like in the 8’s. And then they moved to LA., and now they’re coming back to Philly. This is kind of like their first homecoming show now that they’re back. But they’re just like caged animals and then Sun Ra is playing before them, which is like an interstellar, crazy jazz band. So like that might not be the best show for like a 60 year old person but the Friday night? Yeah, Friday would be good (Friday, September 27th at World Cafe Live).
* You can get your tickets to Philly Music Fest Here.