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Entrepreneurial Business of the Year: MusicFile Productions

Subheadline: 
Now booking bands year-round, the producers of Savannah Stopover are enjoying the sounds of success

Savannah’s music scene is no triathlete, but check its vital signs and you’ll observe a healthy beat of music festivals, local bands and one-off performances featuring musicians from all over the Southeast.

A major force behind this creative, thumping pulse is MusicFile Productions, a local music event and production company founded four years ago by entrepreneur Kayne Lanahan, who noticed a void in the live music market when she first moved to Savannah.

“I would literally look at tour schedules and be like, ‘Huh — Jacksonville, Athens, Atlanta, why aren’t they playing in Savannah?’” she said. “There was a hole in the market.”

MusicFile is the maestro behind the annual indie music festival Savannah Stopover and the newer Revival Fest, a showcase of bluegrass, Americana and Southern rock. Lanahan’s team specializes in scouting and booking up-and-coming indie acts who’ve never played Savannah before.

With creative director Russell Kueker and talent director Peter Robaudo, Lanahan and her crew have managed to steadily grow Savannah’s reputation in the music world — no small feat for a city often overlooked by bigger bands.

“We’re starting to see four years of hard work pay off within the industry,” she said. “The perfect scenario is when a band asks their booking agent or manager, ‘Hey, can you get me back to Savannah?’ And that’s starting to happen.”

 

Origin of discovery

Lanahan moved from New York City to Savannah around 2010 after a career spent in advertising and marketing with big companies such as News Corp., Coca-Cola and J Walter Thompson. She began coming here to look after her mother and soon discovered that she liked the slower pace of life.

At that point, she’d already grown disenfranchised with mainstream entertainment after working on the launch of Fox hit “American Idol” and had begun a blog called the MusicFile.

“(Popular music) was going super poppy and mainstream at the same time technology was giving people more exposure to more types of music through non-traditional channels,” she recalls.

MusicFile’s first big gig in 2010 was hosting a pop-up artist’s lounge at Austin’s South by Southwest music festival, featuring 11 lesser known bands. They also offered laundry and concierge services for the musicians, a tact that would later be useful.

“It was a huge success, the bands all loved it, but obviously putting on something like that in a city you don’t live in is crazy,” she said.

It was then they decided to launch their own music festival focused primarily on discovery of fresh new sounds.

“This lightbulb went off and we realized if some of these bands for the first time are coming to Savannah on their way to Austin, why don’t we just do something in Savannah?” she said.

 

Stopover success

In its fourth year, Stopover defied expectations despite a rainy March. Ticket sales increased by 25 percent over the year, and the festival attracted recognizable acts such as Future Islands out of Baltimore, Hurray for Riff Raff from New Orleans and St. Paul and the Broken Bones from Birmingham, Ala.

“Instead of booking one or two ‘headliners,’ we looked at booking 10 bands that we thought were really up and coming from across the region,” she said. “Hindsight is always 20/20, but we kind of hit it out of the park in terms of booking.”

For example, she said, Future Islands played Stopover just a few nights after performing on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” a performance that went viral.

“Every year with Stopover we try to look at what bands are going to have big news in the first quarter, either album releases or a lot of press behind them, and we try to ride that wave,” she said.

Their second edition of Revival Fest this year, in September, also saw phenomenal growth — more than double, according to Lanahan.

“I think the space is so unique that anybody who went the first year told all of their friends, and we put a little more emphasis and a little more budget into talent,” she said.

Held at the Georgia State Railroad Museum, Revival Fest acts this year included FutureBirds, Roadkill Ghost Choir and David Wax Museum. Lanahan also lined up local chef Roberto Leoci to provide a barbecue feast with a selection of local craft beers and bourbon cocktails.

On top of that, MusicFile lined up bands to play at Savannah’s Fashion Night, Creative Coast’s Geekend conference and ThincSavannah’s “Year of the Local” parties.

“We’re now booking shows all year long … and rounding out the business” Lanahan said. “We’re not putting all our eggs in one basket.”

 

Room to grow

Kueker said while Savannah Stopover is still their bread and butter, they’ve shown that MusicFile, as the umbrella brand, can curate good music no matter the occasion.

“We work with the budgets they give us and what kind of music or vibe they’re going for,” he said.

Yet for all its growth, MusicFile’s biggest obstacle remains infrastructure.

“We could send an email tomorrow to 100 booking agents and say we’re now booking shows all year long and we’d go crazy. Right now, we don’t currently have the venues in town that are next size up from The Jinx and Hangfire,” Lanahan said.

She said although there are spaces that can accommodate 350-500 people, they’re booked exclusively for weddings. This is why national touring acts with big buzz, such as electropop duo Sylvan Esso or hip-hop group Run the Jewels, always seem to skip right over Savannah.

She said beside Club One or Moon River’s patio, with capacities close to 300, the next size up is the Lucas Theatre and the Trustees, which can be hard to fill for a smaller market. Not to mention many bands prefer standing spaces over sit-down ones.

Lanahan believes at least one or two other mid-size places will eventually open up, but not without wider community support.

“There’s two sides to that coin,” she said. “Yes, we need the mid-size venue, but we also need people to fill it, we need people to step up to the plate in terms of supporting indie music.”

That’s why, Rabaudo said, they pull out all the stops when hosting bands.

“At South by Southwest, they’re just a number, they have to lug their gear from venue to venue; they’re not attended to,” Robaudo said. “We feed them, give them a place to stay and sell them on the city. So, hopefully, as their careers get bigger and bigger, they’ll want to come back.”

Looking forward, Lanahan said MusicFile is taking the long view, even if that takes a little longer than she’d like.

“We’re looking at where is Savannah as a city? And what does that mean in terms of its residential and tourist community — and how does music and entertainment fit in with the city’s branding and image five and 10 years down the road?” she said.

MusicFile is just one part of that puzzle, said Lanahan, who believes the introduction of more venues, food trucks and new talent is requisite for any town with an artistic pulse.

“That triangle of music, food and arts is what keeps and attracts young people to a city,” she said. “We want people to be proud that they live here and feel like there’s things to do that are the same as what they could do in Brooklyn or Austin.”

 

ABOUT THE SERIES

As 2014 comes to a close, the Savannah Morning News, Business in Savannah and savannahnow.com continue the tradition of profiling companies and organizations that made major contributions to the local business environment during the past year.

The Business in Savannah staff chose the honorees from a list of nominees submitted by local business and community members, utilizing broad criteria — from growth and success to philanthropy and community involvement.

 

Tuesday: Newcomer of the year — Service Brewing

Wednesday: Manufacturer of the year — PolyCase

Thursday: Business advocate of the year — Harold Yellin

Today: Entrepreneurial business of the year — MusicFile Productions

Saturday: Retail business of the year

Sunday: Small business of the year

More Info

Breakout Box: 

ABOUT THE SERIES

As 2014 comes to a close, the Savannah Morning News, Business in Savannah and savannahnow.com continue the tradition of profiling companies and organizations that made major contributions to the local business environment during the past year.

The Business in Savannah staff chose the honorees from a list of nominees submitted by local business and community members, utilizing broad criteria — from growth and success to philanthropy and community involvement.

 

Tuesday: Newcomer of the year — Service Brewing

Wednesday: Manufacturer of the year — PolyCase

Thursday: Business advocate of the year — Harold Yellin

Today: Entrepreneurial business of the year — MusicFile Productions

Saturday: Retail business of the year

Sunday: Small business of the year

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