Chuck Brown Carey Colvin 2006

 

As many musicians in the DMV were preparing for New Year's Eve gigs across the city, the Washington Area Music Association (WAMA) was preparing an email that would change the musical landscape in the tri-state area.  Opening in 1984, WAMA sent an email to all of its members stating, "It is with great sadness and regret we have come to the decision to close WAMA's doors effective December 31, 2017.  At this time, there simply is not enough energy, funding, or leadership to continue this wonderful organization at the level its members deserve."  With the email sent by the organization, its members only had a few days notice of its closing.  Known for the "Wammies," WAMA swelled to over 800 members at it's peak, providing a number of artist development and networking opportunities to artists across the DMV.    

We reached out to representatives of WAMA and spoke to board member Stacey Williams, whose been on the WAMA board since 1991 after arriving in the area from Illinios.  It was through this conversation we learned that unlike many other associations in the area, WAMA had a completely volunteer staff, something they maintained since their inception, and all expenses for the awards or other resources offered to members, were paid for by member dues.  Over the last few years theres been a decline in membership, thus giving indication that the people equity had been stretched to its max.  

We asked what could have been done differently.  She pointed towards a problem many non-profits and associations who depend on a volunteer base to succeed have to deal with...burnout.  "We should have paid more attention to the burn-out of everyone from the sponsors, musicians, and partners who we had to call on again and again" she stated in a call also pointing out, "We could have been more diverse than we were."    

Read the interview below:    

 

  1. When was WAMA formed & what need was it trying to meet?

 

WAMA was started in 1984 and its mission was to highlight and promote the diverse musical talents in the DMV area. We wanted to disprove the idea that in order to make it musically, you had to be in NY, LA, or Nashville. D.C. was home to Go-Go, harDCore, great bluegrass and roots music but with little external recognition. Charles Stephenson, who was managing EU at the time, soon joined four others to form WAMA.

 

  1. Was there any example WAMA followed and tried to implement in the DMV (examples of other organizations Doug similar work)?  

We followed the examples of the Bay Area Music Awards (BAMMIES), and the Boston Area Music Awards, but we took it a step further and became more than just award show presenters.

 

  1. How were the WAMMIES developed?

The founding fathers of WAMA, Mike Schriebman, John Simpson, Charles Stephenson, Tom Carrico, Michael Jawoek started WAMA in 1984. The first WAMMIES was at Lisner 1985. They decided to put on an award show to showcase area talent, to recognize those deserving of Hall of Fame status. John still remember sitting in his backyard with the other founders as they practiced walking down a hill to the podium to “accept their awards” as they tried to figure out how long each award presentation would take; how to try and streamline the process, etc.

 

  1. At its peak, what was membership like?

800 members, which was comprised of musicians, agents, managers, publicists, suppliers, venues, fans, and other support personnel.

 

  1. How could WAMA be used as a resource by an independent musician?

-WAMA offered a number of professional development opportunities through workshops, networking and conferences.  One of the biggest resources (and benefits) that WAMA provided was networking through WAMA-sponsored events. For example, musicians from all genres crossed paths that ordinarily would not have been available to them, and sometimes ended up collaborating. Due to these opportunities, musicians and other members of the music scene (radio, entertainment law, venues, etc.) met, mingled, and thus became a close-knit community.

-The Crosstown Jam offered showcase opportunities for artists with participation by ASCAP, BMI and label reps.

-Barcodes for product could be obtained through WAMA. WAMA partnered with the Local Music Store so artists could have an additional means to sell product. WAMA also partner with the Future of Music, RIAA and NARAS to make sure our base was being represented in the industry and on the Hill.

-The WAMA directory provided a comprehensive listing of everything an artist would need to further his career, (i.e. attorneys, managers, PR, equipment, venues, supplies, etc.). We partnered with various local and national businesses for discounts member only benefits.

-The WAMMIES was our way to recognize the plethora of talent that existed in the tri-state area. All genres were welcomed. Our support helped many artists garner national and global recognition (Eva Cassidy, Emmitt Swimming, Thievery Corporation, Eddie from Ohio, Deana Bogart, Basehead, Mya, Dave Mathews Band, etc.) We’ve paid homage to Joan Jett, the Clovers, Roberta Flack, Chuck Brown, EU, Starlight Vocal Band.

 

  1. When did the Writing form on the wall that shutting down WAMA was under serious consideration.

About three years, ago. WAMA has been in existence for more than 30 years and was run by volunteers. As peoples’ careers and lives changed, so did their ability to consistently commit time, and resources to WAMA. Since WAMA’s inception, a number of organizations have emerged providing similar services and thus diluting our base. We struggled with waning membership, and becoming even more diverse. And social media has played a role in having up and coming members shift their focus to outlets they felt were more in step with the digital age and culture. When Mike Schreibman announced last year that he was stepping down, it was clear that there was no one who could dedicate his and Loralyn Cole’s level of time and commitment to keep the organization going.

  1. Without WAMA, what type of void will be left in the DMV?

There have been a number of music organizations that have been formed since WAMA’s creation. I don’t find any of them to be one-stop shopping that WAMA was. Because of the numerous offerings, the market has become splintered and no one organization offers everything, because of that, members are less likely to stay with any one organization a long period of time. Instead of unifying there are a lot of niche organizations.

 

  1. Where do you see the future of the music scene in the DMV area in the next 5 to 10 years?

There are already so many options available in the DMV with more being introduced (i.e. K-

Pop, EDM). Since this is an international hub, that influx of diversity will bring a blending of

different musical genres which I am really excited about.

 

  1. Are there resources musicians/presenters/enthusiasts/curators should know about that could help pick up where WAMA dropped off?

Depending on what you’re looking for, there’s something for everyone. The trick is finding where the best fit is for your interests as an artist, music professional, student, or fan. There’s the Musicianship, WALA and SAW. I highly recommend, networking (see and be seen) as well as volunteering in an organization that is of interest to you.

 

  1. Will there ever be a “revamp?”

Surprisingly, at the announcement of our closing, we were contacted by an organization with an interest in keeping the WAMMIEs going. We are discussing how that would look and how we can make that happen. Stay tuned for future developments!

 

 

*Stacey Williams has been a WAMA board member since 1991 and is the proprietress of Jazz Cat Herder. Her company provides professional development, personal and project management, PR/communications and event production. Follow her on twitter @tonedeafe, or Instagram Jazz Cat Herder.