While putting together the Fall Arts feature on Baltimore's music scene for the September issue, I asked Blake Leyh for a few comments. Leyh, the music supervisor for The Wire, has a unique outsider/insider perspective; he lives in Brooklyn, but he's spent a lot of time checking out and evaluating Baltimore's music scene. These days, he's busy scoring a new series, starring Edie Falco, for Showtime, so his response didn't beat our deadline. Still, I thought it was worth sharing.
In an era where media is facing more and more massive corporate
consolidation, a vibrant grass-roots regional music scene like
Baltimore's is even more valuable and important to music fans in the
rest of the country. Although the internet has democratized the tools
of distribution to a certain extent, most people who are interested in
discovering new music have fewer options than they used to. All radio
stations play the exact same music, thanks to Clear Channel. The
major labels are releasing fewer records. And the phenomenon of
reality TV and shows like American Idol is really just a way for media
conglomerates to fill their time slots with "artists" that they have
developed themselves and who are thus more akin to employees than
truly original voices. In this media landscape, the rich music scene
in Baltimore—which has truly grown from grass-roots, based on
musicians talking and listening to each other and supporting each
other's development—is even more important than in an earlier time.
The Wire was not responsible for "creating" a local hip-hop scene in
Baltimore -- not by a long shot. But many artists have told me that
by supporting the Baltimore hip-hop scene at a crucial moment in its
development, The Wire helped the scene get to the next level by
bringing national exposure and interest. Darkroom Productions are
releasing their own nationally distributed CD!
Although sales of The Wire soundtrack CDs released on Nonesuch Records
in January have been truly abysmal and a personal disappointment, I
think both of those records have been extremely well received
critically, and are continuing to be quite influential among DJs and
other tastemakers. And because they were released internationally,
they have definitely allowed music fans world-wide to hear a taste of
Baltimore that wasn't previously available to them. I know the Beyond
Hamsterdam disc has been popular with DJs in England.
Lafayette Gilchrist has specifically credited living in Baltimore as a
crucial part of his success. Living in a city that is less expensive
and has a deep wealth of musicians has afforded him the chance to
develop his voice at his own pace. In New York or Los Angeles it
would be much harder to put together a large jazz band like The New
Volcanoes, because musicians have a lot more demands on their time and
expect to get paid for rehearsals as well as gigs. In Baltimore,
Lafayette can draw from an incredibly talented pool of musicians who
also have more time and are willing to invest more of their own
resources in a project like The New Volcanoes.