Dave Silver has the same problem as a lot of other startup founders. It’s hard for him to nail down the messaging for the business he helped create.
“It’s a two-sided spectrum,” he said. “It depends on who we’re talking to, our messaging.”
Silver isn’t overthinking it. What REC Philly does is actually complicated. On one end, it’s about linking businesses with creative people to do agency-style work.
On the other, it’s about connecting REC Philly’s 150 members with opportunities to grow their own creative businesses.
“Membership is by far the heart of our program. Everything we do, that’s the why,” he explained. “We want to help artists.”
That ethos came from experience in the music scene, and it’s something a lot of Philly artists probably can relate to.
Back in 2012, Silver was a student at Temple, unofficially managing a few friends who were musicians.
“I was a friend trying to help create a career,” Silver said. “And I was running into a lot of obstacles in not knowing what the hell to do.”
It’s a story every musician that has ever tried to “make it” can probably tell you.
The artists he managed were paying money for shows, not getting the nights, timeslots, or pay they were promised, and feeling like a huge wall stood between them and anyone who would ever hear their music.
Without a decently-recorded demo, a track record of successful shows, or connections to other artists who have those things, it can be hard to find momentum.
You can carve out a following in the DIY spaces, resonate with a few diehards, and build your path that way, but it’s easy to burn out before you get any traction, if you ever get any traction to begin with.
Artists are the first to admit this.
When you’re starting out, you’re on your own. Christopher Hypolite was in that position a few years ago. He’s an R&B artist who performs under the name C. Jae.
He was trying to make connections in the Philly scene, while spreading a thin budget over studio time, promotion, and any gear he needed. He felt like he didn’t know what to prioritize.
“I was spending a lot of money in the studio. I was having trouble finding opportunities to perform,” Hypolite said. “You kind of need somebody with the experience, so you’re not just making all these random moves. I felt like I need to pinpoint the steps I take, so I don’t feel like I’m aimlessly wandering about.”
Back in North Philly, Silver was starting to put the pieces together.
He became the social chairman of his fraternity at Temple. Basically, he was the guy in charge of setting up events at the house.
“I realized a couple resources were available—the fraternity basement, a PA system, and just being at Temple, there were so many people around,” Silver said.
Silver would bring his musician friends together for shows in the basement. It quickly went from friends playing shows there, to people he didn’t know wanting to play shows there. They had open mics and concerts, and eventually a name. He and co-founder Will Toms called what they were doing Broad Street Music Group.
By 2013, they started taking over booking for dead nights at local venues, eventually moving to a schedule that looked sorta like this:
Monday night at Voltage Lounge
Tuesday night at North Star Bar (closed)
Wednesday night at Legendary Dobbs (closed)
Thursday night at Arts Garage (closed)
Six months into doing that, they found themselves booking at bigger venues like The Trocadero and The TLA.
At this point, Broad Street Music Group had become something. It was more or less an events production company with a small media arm. They’d do photo and video shoots during concerts and give it to the artists who played them.
“We realized the incredible amount of talent in Philly, but we also saw in the artist we worked with, the amount of help they needed was apparent,” Silver said. “All people had the similar problem: they couldn’t navigate.”
Silver, Toms, and the team around them started thinking up ways to help.
They found themselves at the center of a massive web of contacts, and instead of just holding them, they connected them to each other.
“We started revamping what were doing,” Silver said. “That’s really when we started REC Philly.”
They still continued to plan events, but it became more about what artists needed.
REC Philly has been described as WeWork for musicians and creatives.
It gives them the space, the connections to grow, and a pipeline of opportunities for work
Members, also known as FREETHINKERS, have access to the REC Room in North Philly. It’s made up of a recording studio, visual lab and a coworking space.
They also have job opportunities.
Hypolite, for example, snagged a freelance modeling job from REC Philly’s connection to a sneaker company. He was able to shoot a music video for one of his songs at the Boom Room through the connections he built there.
— C.لæ (@_CeeJae) September 29, 2017
He was also able to get bigger shows, and he’s getting paid to play music. But he does have some words of advice for prospective members.
“You can’t just sit back and expect stuff is going to happen,” he said. “It’s like the gym. You get the membership, but if you don’t go, you’re not getting any results.”
The progress is impressive.
REC Philly has gotten sponsorships from huge companies like Comcast and Red Bull. It also booked 15 artists for this past summer’s Firefly Festival.
From 2015 to the end of 2016, Silver said, REC Philly was able to put half a million dollars “back into the creative economy.”
This year alone, that money doubled.
“That’s how much money have we paid musicians, how much money we’ve paid photographers, how much have we paid small businesses to do work for those people,” Silver said.
That’s the flip side to REC Philly, the distinction that’s hard to explain.
There’s partnerships with businesses, corporations, and universities. REC Philly pitches marketing campaigns, media services, or talent. Then, the creative people in the membership program do that work, and get paid for it.
“The agency is really what helps pay to keep us sustainable right now,” Silver said. “One big agency client might pay for half of our members per month.”
There’s ambitious goals at REC Philly.
Silver wants to see membership double by the end of the year.
If it grows into the thousands, they’ll need more creative space, more outlets for creativity, and a better member experience.
“We believe as our members grow, we’ll have bigger clients,” Silver said, and bigger clients creates bigger opportunities.