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The 2013 Music Issue

Getting schooled in the art of the hustle from the people who know Richmond music the best.

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At the pre-issue roundtable for Style Weekly's annual Music Issue, our team of writers and critics gather to discuss potential stories, drink beer and eat pizza, and, of course, wallow in our gold bullion and widespread influence. The conversation eventually turns to the sorrowful state of music education in schools and the kind of determination and focus it takes to become a musician these days.

Most music programs at schools in Chesterfield County must raise more than 90 percent of their budget, says Keith Cottrill, director of bands at James River High School, where students are charged $350 a year to join marching band. Block scheduling and the push for Standards of Learning accreditation have meant cutting electives, and it's always a fight for programs to survive. "The importance of what we do in fine arts is being diminished and we're only hurting ourselves," he says. "The studies are out there, students involved [in music] score higher on tests."

What happens when school ends and the real world begins? It's a serious hustle during a time when record labels pay for less, people download music for free and schools offer fewer classes for students and teachers. What the new music landscape really seems to be doing is making a necessity of the do-it-yourself mentality, which is cranking out a generation of savvier musicians who have a better understanding of what to expect than their predecessors. For most, that means to expect nothing — certainly not money.

On the upside, Richmond's music scene has never been so vibrant or diverse, at least not in a long while. There are different-sized clubs available for bands to play nearly every night, as well as some "corporate" work that bands pick up — the business parties, weddings, festivals and other events that help pay the bills. Not to mention the online audience that can make or break a band. As Reggie Pace, who spent the last couple of years touring the world with Bon Iver and playing such nationally televised shows as "Saturday Night Live" and "The Colbert Report," tells us: "There is a niche for everything out there. The world is big."

But what grabs us most is the passion of these players and the lengths to which they go to keep making music. What can they teach us — and those who aspire to be like them? What have they learned by doing? And so we open our notebooks to the working musicians, producers, promoters, managers, teachers and bloggers for the lessons they have to pass along. So open your ears to Richmond's working musicians. Class is in session. — Brent Baldwin


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