+ By Theresa Sanchez
Annapolis is spoiled. Sure, the waterfront views are breathtaking, the historic buildings are magnificent, and the cultural arts are thriving, but there’s one local treasure worth lauding that many people are unaware exists. We have something no other town has, and that’s a “Jeni.”
Specifically, Jeni Parris Brady, a local music enthusiast who has helped strengthen the city’s live music landscape from behind a camera lens and a computer screen, as founder of Naptownmusic.
“I just can’t believe she even exists. Our scene is so lucky,” says Julie Cymek, lead singer of the rock group Sweet Leda. “I think she might have a secret twin or clone; I don’t know how she goes to so many different shows in a single night, when she has already worked all day. My husband [Sweet Leda’s bassist] and I joke that if you want something done, give it to a busy person.”
Busy is just one description of the Annapolis resident. Humble would be another adjective, given that Brady would rather that the focus be placed on her product rather than on herself.
Had it not been for a party in Pennsylvania, there might not even be a story to tell. In July 2012, Brady attended the Jam at the Dam festival in the Poconos, organized by the management and booking agency One Koast Entertainment, which was cofounded by “Pirate” Rob Bryan. There, Brady connected with a number of Annapolis musicians and had quite the transformative experience. “I came home with a full heart and so much wonder. I recognized that we were involved in a robust renaissance period, and saw that many local venues were [finally] beginning to consistently support our musicians.” She saw that something very special was occurring in our community, and was determined to share it with as many people as possible.
When Brady launched Naptownmusic as a monthly blog hosted by Visit Annapolis (previously the Conference and Visitors Bureau for Annapolis and Anne Arundel County) in 2012, she knew that she wasn’t reinventing the wheel. She also knew the importance of real-time information delivery, and opted for online outreach, rather than traditional print format.
Here’s a crash course on her predecessors:
Larry Freed started publishing the “Annapolis Music Scene Magazine” in 1989, after observing what he called a “steady decline in the number of people attending local music performances and, subsequently, a significant decrease in the amount of live music being offered by the local venues.” He was of the belief that, if people “realized the outstanding caliber of music that was being performed each night in their own town, they would surely come out and support it,” and he was right. Over the course of three years, he and his colleagues helped unite the entire music community. From 1992 to 2010, the publication had several different publishers—Andrew John Davis, Natalie Hannon, David “Ody” Odenwald, and Becky Cooper-Rusteberg —and changed names and setups a number of times
– from Alive, Chesapeake Entertainment, and Chesapeake Music Guide.
Brady quickly realized that monthly updates were insufficient, and further developed her communications into a full, 360-degree package of virtual integration: Naptownmusic. It can be accessed on nearly every social media platform, including a website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. There is also a free interactive Naptownmusic app available via iTunes and Google Play, where users can find bios, photos, videos, interviews, and reviews of over 100 musicians, in addition to comprehensive calendars, and even some playlists.
“Jeni is carrying the torch,” says Freed. “What she does really matters. Without it, you lose more than just a calendar and some cool Facebook photos and videos. You lose the entire connective tissue that pulls it all together and brings it to the people who live in this area. These people understand . . . that there is something very different in our music scene that they would not have known about, had it not been in Naptownmusic.”
Many people don’t realize that musicians are often too busy to market themselves effectively. They are tasked with doing so much else on their own: writing and recording material, selling merchandise, and touring. Moreover, the music business is not what it was, five or ten years ago. It’s something Jordan Sokel of the indie-soul-rock outfit Pressing Strings knows all too well. “Marketing yourself is not for everybody. Some artists are completely turned off by the idea . . . But how else are you going to get your name out there?” he laments. “A lot of the time musicians wouldn’t think to film themselves and post it to social media. What Jeni does is indispensible.”
Brady is just as keen on relationships as she is on content. In addition to the local talent, there are many larger acts that come to Annapolis on tour, and sometimes they play with area musicians. Brady aims to be fair in coverage, but is clear that her priority is the relationships that she has with “our folks.” Who is that exactly? Everyone from buskers to children in Naptown Sings, to well-known singer-songwriters and other acts. “Our folks, who are out on the road, and seen in our community and our culture. We have 24/7, 365 days a year—we have relationships with them. That’s my priority.”
Brady believes that if we keep embracing music and putting our community out there for the world to see, then Annapolis will elevate its status. “What I want to do is, if somebody is dropped in the middle of Main Street—like a pin on a map —then they should be able to easily find their way to wonderful music and entertainment.” █
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