RapidChat: Stefan Schwartz on GR's growing music scene

As a volunteer for WYCE radio, freelance writer for Local Spins, former tour manager, and frontman for GR's premier funk band — Melophobix — it's safe to say that Stefan Schwartz has an extensive resume when it comes to his experience within the GR music scene.
Rapid Growth: How long have you been playing music with Melophobix?

Stefan Schwartz: Well, Melophobix was founded in November of 2015, but I suppose my musical roots run deep in the West Michigan scene. Prior to that I spent about five to six years assisting and tour managing Gunnar & The Grizzly Boys. I’ve also spent a year or two as the bass player for the The Legal Immigrants. During all this time, I’ve also hosted an open mic and continue to collaborate and gig with dozens of other groups and musicians as opportunities present themselves. Outside of my day job, I try and stay as involved and informed in the world of music as I can, whether it’s via Local Spins, WYCE, researching the latest in copywriting laws and publishing rights, going to a show, or working on my own material.

RG: What is your sound influenced by?

SS: Great question, honestly, I think Melophobix has kind of become a product of its environment. Oddly enough, prior to the band’s conception, very few of us were even friends, let alone acquaintances. Some of us were introduced to each other at the first session playing in a room together. From there, we were able to take some of my previously written material and really interpret those tunes on a level I’d never thought possible. Individually, we are all over the place when it comes to “likes” and “dislikes.” Personally, I grew up with Punk, Reggae, and Ska as my quasi go-to genres, but I basically had a love for any good or gripping melody.    

RG: What got you into music, personally?

SS: Oh, I’m not [sure] there’s anything specific. As long as I can remember I’ve loved to sing and play. I began music [at] a very young age, hated practicing, gave it up, and picked it back up a couple years later to never put it down again. 

RG: Do you have any future goals with the band?

SS: Well we’ve got a few, but I think the ultimate idea is ‘growth.' Grow our reach, grow our audience, grow ourselves, and grow the band. It’s still all pretty brand new, so taking some well-advised next steps may lead us in one of several directions. However, playing music is unquestionably in everyone’s blood, so I think short term, another album perhaps? We are always working on new material, cooking up the latest and greatest in the cover world, and continuing to do all the things that make us happy.

RG: Any plans to move to a larger “music city” to increase your exposure?

SS:  Absolutely not. There is literally zero reason to relocate a band these days, unless it’s to a central location for launching tours. It’s 2019. We have the internet. The cost of exposure is the cheapest it’s ever been — not to mention the most accessible — and the market is insanely saturated. The business side of music is absolutely bonkers when you delve into it, but the need for major labels and industry representation has sort of come to a screeching halt in the modern era. So like Melophobix, tons of groups are trying to stay as independent as possible. More than ever you’re seeing the music industry become increasingly DIY. 
RG: Does owning your own record label and publishing company provide any value-added benefits for Melophobix?

SS: Absolutely. So rather than pay people or entities a percentage or commission on goods, products, and services sold, I’ve been able to keep pretty much 100% of our generated revenue in our pockets. When it comes to artist compensation in the world of streaming, there is a rather severe lack of regulation or standardization, and most people don’t even know how to collect on what’s rightfully theirs. MELO Records gives, not only the band, but myself or any one else as a creator, writer, artist, musician, whatever, a sort-of umbrella to operate under. Keeping a lot of stuff in-house allows us to use maintain creative control and follow our own path.   

RG: There are more live music venues in West Michigan than ever before. What’s causing this demand?

SS: Frankly, people are moving from other cities in the area to GR to play music because the scene here is thriving. I mean, it’s not like crowds are flooding in … but I’ve witnessed a fair share of migration from cities such as Lansing, Detroit, Traverse City, etc. With more and more locations offering live music — not only on weekends but under the week as well — it’s no wonder that there is an influx of musicians ready and willing to accept paying gigs. On top of that, additional big ticket venues like 20 Monroe Live and The Listening Room have been added to the list of sought-after stages.

RG: Within that same vein, have you found that the smaller venue spaces are more aggressively competing against each other now?

SS: Oh, 100 percent. If the Saturday show stopper is playing on any given stage, bet your britches that folks will flock to any specific location based on marquee-worthy name alone. But on nights lacking a national act, concert goers literally have dozens of options to see live music all around the city. Plenty of smaller venues may have built-in crowds fueled by certain neighborhoods, but all in all, there’s some serious competition when answering the question “what to do tonight?” Because the reality is that there’s several answers and none of them are wrong.  

Jenna K. Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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