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Missoula Area Music Association

A new group has formed to advocate for musicians in and around Missoula.

It's a community effort "looking at all sides of the spectrum" to explore how "we can better serve the music scene," according to Maria Zepeda, a musician and the organization's president.

The Missoula Area Music Association, or MAMA, wants to create an open conversation among artists — whether new or veterans — and venues and businesses that host live music about what they both respectively need from each other, Zepeda said.

The mission they laid out in the news release is to:

• serve as a resource that connects the music community via advocacy and education.

• create a healthy and motivated musical environment through partnerships.

• provide equal opportunity while helping to promote fair pay.

It's working toward nonprofit 501(c)3 status, which rules out paid membership, and it's not a union. At this point, to be a member, all you have to do is sign up via email to get their newsletter, and you may attend meetings, volunteer for leadership roles or other ones, and are also welcome to donate.

They have about 100 members and a goal of 406 by Jan. 1, and hold meetings on the first Tuesday of the month. (See information box.)

The age range leans toward college students through people in their mid-30s to 40s, and they hope to reach out and bring in veteran musicians who have laid the groundwork for the music scene over the years and hear their perspectives as well.

"Their experience in playing in Missoula has really set the stage for what music is now and helped keep that culture that we love strong," Zepeda said.

Vice President Anthony Lamarr Brown said that for "communities this size, there are certain things to know. History is so important to know when you're building new organizations, because if you neglect the history, you're going to have a really tough road," he said.

Zepeda said that "at the end of the day, we just want to empower musicians of any level, age, demographic, style, genre. There's not any form of music that we don't want to be a part of," she said.

They've also reached out to advisers who can "provide other perspectives that we don't have," Brown said. Those include Barbara Neilen, executive director of Destination Missoula; Joe Glassy, co-operator of Wave & Circuit; Tom Bensen, executive director of Arts Missoula; Naomi Siegel, founder of Lakebottom Sound; Randy Rathert of Elevate Church and Matt Olson of Attack & Release Studios.

The group grew out of conversations last January among Zepeda, Brown and hip-hop artist Wayne Steele. Brown, a musician who moved here from Madison, Wisconsin, had started a monthly songwriter circle at Wave & Circuit performance space where they met.

They later held larger meetings to talk about issues in the music scene. Those included fair compensation, and what that might mean depending on the type of gig. They've talked about artists being asked to play for exposure or free drinks — an area of concern for performers who are sober or working through addiction.

They want to find ways to encourage audiences to want to support artists through cover charges and intentional listening during performances, ways to create safe spaces for audiences, and how all the groups involved could effectively work together.

Zepeda said one topic that's come up, whether with beginners or veterans or artists of all types, is the fear of starting a conversation about negotiating fair pay. They hope they can help give creators the tools they need to start an open-ended talk between the artist and the customer, where no one is scared that trying to negotiate will sour a relationship for good.

From the perspective of a venue or hosting business or organization, there's a set budget and costs, whether that means paid staff or less obvious things like utilities.

"They might not be able to pay that full amount that the artist is going to want, but in order for their business to thrive, that's their budget and that's what they have to go on," she said.

From the artist's perspective, there's everything that goes into the music you hear on stage.

"A show, you might only play for an hour, two hours, three hours, four hours, but then you've got to set up, you've got your rehearsal time, you've got your driving time, you've got any time spent promoting yourself, there's these hours that go into it and this detail, and this heart and soul and passion," Zepeda said.

The group has taken cues from Wisconsin's Madison Area Musicians Association (whose mission is more strongly tilted toward education and supporting youth); and New York's WAGE (Working Artists and the Greater Economy), which advocates for fair pay for artists of all media. Brown was a member of the Madison group before moving here; and they've reached out to WAGE for advice as well.

From those discussions, they've realized that the association will take years to grow but ultimately could create a long-lasting difference, with potential for chapters throughout Montana.

Brown thinks of this phase as "an all-call" to everyone who's invested in the music scene.

"This is the time to meet us at the table, and not just be there but be an active partner and participant in our mission," he said.

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