On April 22nd, a new, ambitious event will officially launch in Kalamazoo: The Music Hop. The event is billed as similar to the city's Art Hop, but with musicians instead of artists. The event’s organizers say that one night every month, local musicians will perform in restaurants, museums and venues across the city, from the Old Peninsula to the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.
The two organizers are two twenty-something Kalamazoo residents -- Kyle Gulau, a local entrepeneur, and freelance musician Will Alderman.
Gulau and Alderman tell the story of Music Hop this way: They were sitting together at Tibb’s Brewing in downtown Kalamazoo one night. And Alderman, fresh off of getting his masters’ degree, was having a personal crisis. He was debating. Should he stay in Kalamazoo –- a city he loved – and get his doctorate? Or should he head to Nashville and try to make it as a musician?
"Oh man, I’ve been in school since I was five," Alderman says. "And I needed to figure out what’s next. So naturally, you just want to be safe and go to more school. So I was going through, what am I gonna do with my life? I knew Kalamazoo was awesome in the music scene. But I felt like it wasn’t advertised enough."
Quickly, the conversation shifted. Gulau and Alderman asked themselves: instead of Alderman being forced to leave Kalamazoo to pursue music, was there a way for them to change the city so he could make a living here?
"So it evolved into this thought of okay, what we can do to make Kalamazoo a music hub?" Gulau says. "There are a lot of great things going on, but what can we do to put it over the top? I think that was the moment of okay, let’s think about it more than just talk about it."
Ultimately, after talking with musicians, friends and others in the community, Gulau and Alderman kept coming back to one idea. They imagined one night, every month – music filling up downtown businesses while cars and people bustled through the downtown streets.
Alderman says he thinks Music Hop can accomplish two goals. First, he says, it can give new opportunities to Kalamazoo’s musicians.
"There aren’t as many people reaching out to those untapped performers," Alderman says. "So I guess the goal of Music Hop is to do that. To reach out and say , Hey, I know you’re really great at music. I know you want to play more. Here you go. It’s once a month. You can just play."
Secondly, Alderman says, Music Hop can bring new, community-wide attention to Kalamazoo’s music scene, which he says is large but often overlooked.
Chris Falk, who runs the website KZOO Music Scene, says he sees Music Hop as part of a bigger movement in Kalamazoo. He says when you combine Music Hop with other events, like the Downtown Music Jam, suddenly the music scene in Kalamazoo isn’t just limited to bars at 10pm on a Friday night. Now, there are events for everyone.
"It’s important," he says. "Because it reaches people that normally wouldn’t go, I’m going to see this show, this show, and this show."
But others in the music scene say making Music Hop sustainable, month after month, will likely require some more resources.
Right now, the artists at Music Hop aren’t getting paid in money, just exposure. One of those is Kalamazoo songwriter Megan Dooley. Dooley says she’s happy to play right now because she supports the idea behind the event. But in future months, she says, exposure might not be enough.
"I would love to do this for free every month, but our time is often limited," she says. "But I know a lot of us donate it when we can. At the same time, we have to stick up for ourselves. A lot of times people try to take advantage that we enjoy what we do, so technically we shouldn't get paid for it all the time."
But Dooley adds that she thinks Music Hop can be beneficial to artists who are trying to get their name into the community.
"If the opportunities are there, people won’t need the money," she says. "For a wider audience, sell some CD’s, I think that’s all that anybody really wants."
Alderman is a musician, too, and he says he’s already looking into different revenue streams to pay artists.
He says until that happens, he plans to tap into all of the music that Kalamazoo has to offer – from high school on up.
"We want to bring exposure to the music school, specifically, and get them down, as well," he says. "Local musicians. And high school musicians. So the dream vision is you walk down Kalamazoo on a Friday night, there’s a band in every window."
April’s Music Hop won’t be that extensive, but it will present 12 different bands (including Yolonda Lavender, Shelagh Brown and WMUK's Keith Hall) at nine downtown venues, including City Hall, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, and Harvey’s. You can see a full listing of bands and venues here.