Ray Flanagan’s frayed croon curves over Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority Red Line passengers’ heads, painting wistful, bluesy pictures.
From Tower City Center to the airport, the Medina songwriter strums jangling melodies on his acoustic guitar, while the other riders applaud or shoot cellphone videos. Some wave when they reach their stop — a flyer for Flanagan’s website in their hands.
Part of the RTA Summer Jam Sessions, a series of pop-up concerts co-sponsored by new nonprofit Sixth City Sounds, Flanagan is one of 10 musicians who will play on the trains, buses and in RTA stations through Nov. 8.
For Sixth City, the series puts the spotlight back on Cleveland’s music scene — a cultural and economic asset the nonprofit founders don’t think is fully tapped. They want to position Cleveland as a music city on par with Nashville, Tennessee, and New York.
“It’s about leveraging that momentum Cleveland has been experiencing in the last couple of years,” says co-founder Teddy Eisenberg, public relations director at WRUW FM 91.1.
Along with Sofar Sounds Cleveland founder Jeanette Sangston and Seafair singer Chayla Hope, Eisenberg created sixthcitysounds.org, an online directory that underscores Cleveland’s music assets.
It’s a place where bands can connect with city resources, such as rehearsal studios, filmmakers and booking agents. By highlighting the city’s cost effectiveness and underexposed industry resources, Sixth City hopes to attract artists and investors alike.
“We’re making the economic argument that Cleveland is the music city,” says Eisenberg. “You’re getting more bang for your buck here than in Chicago or in Baltimore.”
One of the key economic differences between cities such as Nashville and Cleveland is their well-established music publishing and licensing industry. So, Sixth City is currently developing a series of educational mixers covering a range of music business seminars and how-tos on publishing and licensing.
“Today, you don’t have the big labels, the big distribution,” says Sangston. “It’s pretty much DIY.”
Sixth City has also debuted CLE Music Shelves as a freestanding boost for the local music scene. Handcrafted by Lakewood artisan Lumber Party, the Baltic birch shelves are stocked with albums from local musicians, including hip-hop duo FreshProduce and the rock trio Ohio Weather Band. The shelves rotate locations throughout the city, including Ohio City’s Canopy Collective and Whiskey Grade, and Uptown’s Coquette Patisserie. The artists receive 100 percent of the proceeds.
As Sixth City grows, the nonprofit hopes to seek partnerships with local government and advocate for Ohio tax incentives similar to those for the film industry.
“We’re absolutely going to be the rallying point,” says Eisenberg. “[Musicians] are no longer just going to be thinking about making it in Nashville or LA. They’re also going to be thinking about Cleveland.”