After 20 years of seeing all sides of the music business, Jared Grabb is finally coming into his own. No, it’s not what you might think. It isn’t with a smash hit or touring the summer festival circuit. As a Peoria native with a degree from Bradley University, he’s someone who left town to pursue his passion and has since returned home to do something bigger.
Diplomatic Relations, a local music promotion business is that something bigger. It’s the culmination of this self-described working class musician’s efforts to build a better local music scene.
His latest project started only six months ago but has already begun to pay off. He’s working on laying the foundation for others, providing a platform for them to succeed, and creating a curated experience for area music goers.
“An independent artist needs a larger piece of the pie.”
While earning an art degree in college was a standard means to obtain knowledge, there were numerous other skills learned over the years that were a bit more subliminal. Those very things are what would end up helping provide him with the tools he needs to succeed now.
“Graphic design, photography, recording and other abilities help in allowing someone who is trying to make it on their own fight for every dollar,” explains Grabb.
He also adds, “My conceptual thought process was developed in my schooling—it helps in the creative process today and in other areas like writing music, too.”
Trying to make it as a musician means learning more than just how to make good music in order to succeed. “It’s hard to make enough money on a weekly basis to support yourself, and it’s nearly impossible to play music full-time here in Central Illinois. Most people can only afford to do it part-time. So, as an independent artist, you need a larger piece of the pie,” Grabb says, while referring to the difficulties of a small city music scene.
Having such a wide-ranging set of skills has been his saving grace, which provides him with a chance to make as much as he can given the limited resources to go around.
“People said it couldn’t be done.”
The goal with Diplomatic Relations is to help other musicians, collaborate with other area promoters, and work with local venues to stretch the market as far as it will go.
“We’ll occasionally get people from Rockford, Springfield, the Quad Cities, and Champaign-Urbana with shows featuring touring acts,” says Grabb.
When asked about what is it that would get more people from outside the area interested, he mentions, “You need a city where you can get lost in the place. Chicago is that type of market, where you can just go enjoy the various pieces of the music scene so easily without even being a part of it. Here in Central Illinois, if you don’t create the scene, no one else will. In Chicago, someone else will.”
To that end, he also admits that it’s much harder to make it in Chicago as a musician because you can get lost in the shuffle. “One of my favorite quotes is from Tom Petty, when someone asked him about making it in LA. He said, ‘Bands aren’t made in LA… so go home and start your band, make it happen there.'”
That is something of an underlying message of Grabb’s. While he was somewhat distracted from taking his own career as an artist more serious when living in a bigger city, it was the return back to Peoria years ago that got him back on track.
With Diplomatic Relations he’s trying to stretch the local market by promoting shows, playing shows, and taking on the challenges of a smaller market head on.
Grabb is putting on his 25th show later today. His goal is to do 20 shows a month. “People said it couldn’t be done,” he says with a confident level of self-determination. He wants to prove them wrong.
How do you do it?
Grabb’s approach to creating a bigger piece of the pie for everyone is pretty simple. However, it’s something you don’t often pick up on from seeing a flyer hanging at a coffee shop or bar. “I’m trying to create an experience for the audience that is beyond their expectations.”
The quantity of the events goes up with shows on the weekend and when a touring act is in town, but the quality has to be there for people to want to play music somewhere and for an audience to want to show up.
From his perspective, there’s no such thing as competition with other acts, promotion groups, or venues with live music. He explains the core mission of his business plan: “Diplomatic Relations is about creating a special event so that even if you haven’t heard of a local act, or it’s an unfamiliar place, you can trust the production. Collaborating with musicians and venues builds a foundation to help build the music community here.”
There are pros and cons that come with any business decision. “Around here you can’t gig every night, which is a negative. On the positive side, all of your efforts matter. It matters to the scene,” he says.
For someone who has toured the U.S., Europe, and has released some 150 songs, you get a very calm sense of where his new passion lies.
Art is an addiction.
“I tried giving up music and growing up. I’ve worked some not so great jobs in the past for money, but I didn’t have that outlet. I have to play music and it doesn’t matter if it makes me money or loses money,” comments Grabb.
There’s actually some tie-ins from his work in the service industry that carries over into music promotions. It’s a relationship business that is about handling people. What’s the biggest surprise that he’s noticed at this point in his career? His work with Diplomatic Relations and the events he produces gives him the same high as playing the show himself. “I get that feeling from every show.”
His main goal with Diplomatic Relations and the emerging music scene he’s cultivating, is to restore the value of the craft and the product itself. As technology is making music easier to produce and social media is making it easier to distribute, there’s still a divide between what people will consume and what they’ll pay for.
“A lot of people still want ’90’s prices for things today,” he mentions somewhat frustratingly. “The price of everything else has gone up with inflation, and it’s just not possible to make music a viable career pursuit for people that aren’t established or just getting started.”
Again, just as he mentions before, it’s the establishment of a worthwhile product (i.e. the experience) that will draw you in with the content.
Just before departing he says, “It’s work. It’s good work. It’s fun work.”
See Jared Grabb at work and enjoy the experience that Diplomatic Relations is creating by attending one of the upcoming shows.
Featured image via Meredith Jane Nunn