ATL Collective Uses Classic Albums to Strengthen Atlanta’s Music Scene

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ATL Collective Uses Classic Albums to Strengthen Atlanta’s Music Scene

For the last decade, the organization known as ATL Collective has been bringing Atlanta musicians together around a shared love of classic albums. What started in 2009 as some ideas scrolled on a napkin and an opportunity to put on live music above a coffee shop turned into an Atlanta live music institution. ATL Collective’s main attraction is a popular local concert series in which Atlanta musicians interpret and perform iconic albums live in full. ATL Collective wanted to help unite musicians in the city with a concept that was inclusive and collaborative rather than elitist and competitive.

In the early days, they hosted monthly DIY pop-up shows in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward. They chose albums, recruited musicians and rounded up local restaurants to donate food that tied into whatever record was chosen for the show (mac and cheese for Fleetwood Mac or red velvet cake for the Velvet Underground). The concept allows people to uncover the talent of both up-and-coming and veteran Atlanta musicians while enjoying music that’s already familiar to them. To put their success into context, they’ve covered 93 albums across 15 different venues with almost 25,000 combined attendees throughout their almost 10-year history, according to their website.

For now, ATL Collective’s primary revenue stream is their live music series and, like their collaborative mission, they take into consideration what musicians want to play and fans want to hear. “We’re pretty democratic,” says Micah Dalton, the organization’s co-founder and artistic director. “Everybody will throw records into a hat and there’s criteria around it. If there’s a reissue, we try to be cognizant of that. Also is this band offering something fresh and still in the zeitgeist? And what is our community listening to? Some of my favorite records have been the ones when we started out with 30-40 people as a potluck. Memories that come to mind were Paul Simon’s Graceland where you couldn’t even make out who was singing between the crowd and the artists. That was a beautiful moment. We’ve done What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye twice and the first time we played Eddie’s Attic was really special to me.”

As successful as ATL Collective has been in driving home their mission, Dalton explains the organization has moved into its next phase—making the transition from thriving small business to a non-profit, and they’re currently raising money to fund their current and future endeavours. Earlier this year, the group became a 501c3 non-profit to help scale their vision from a concert series to a more broad effort to support Atlanta musicians. In a recent email from the organization, Dalton wrote, “Sometimes a vision is too small for the potential of the community it aims to serve. If we went big and tried to really become a multidimensional, influential, and collaborative musical center for like-minded music makers and fans, we could fail. And fail big. But then I started to think of it a different way—if we dream big we can also succeed big. If we want to really honor the vision and potential of this collective, we need to think larger scale.”

In the past three years as a for-profit LLC, they’ve dumped over $200,000 into the pockets of their participating musicians—the vast majority of which are Atlanta-based, according to the organization. In order to expand the brand and continue to support Atlanta music, they are seeking more resources in addition to public and private partnerships. ATL Collective refers to itself as a “multi-dimensional entertainment company,” and they’re raising money to pay current expenses as well as expand the organization and tap into its full potential. “We would continue to spend money on our administrative muscle. As a small business, most people were trying to do this as a side job, trying to keep the lights on,” Dalton says. “So we really need to first pay our people and keep our program as it stands—sometimes two to three shows a month. So, to pay for marketing, development and everything else to keep that going. And then ultimately, to continue to figure out how to serve Atlanta music fans and Atlanta music makers more.”

ATL Collective isn’t interested in promoting one particular live music scene in Atlanta. They want to bring people together from all the different scenes and celebrate their talents and shared love for their city. There are some younger faces in the group, but some members are longtime Atlanta musicians with impressive credits like Rick Lallor (Jamison Ross, Lera Lynn), Robby Handley (of Montreal, Lera Lynn) and Khari Cabral Simmons (Indie Arie). Though there is plenty of promise for ATL Collective, Dalton knows that bringing together the entire Atlanta live music scene isn’t an overnight task. “Atlanta is fragmented in a lot of ways musically, the same way it is geographically,” Dalton says. “So you have a lot of different scenes coexisting at the same time. There’s not a lot of labels and publishers here, which I think are the sign of a really healthy growing music industry. As far as the music scene, especially East Atlanta, there’s obviously a legacy there between The Earl and 529. I think the live music scene, the improvisational music scene, the jazz scene, and hip-hop are all definitely thriving.”

Putting on a local concert series isn’t enough to serve all the needs of local musicians. Dalton says it’s about providing opportunities for musicians to support themselves. “I’d like to be part of the music ecosystem that’s sustainable for the long run where people that have been part of the live music scene can lean into other opportunities that don’t require being gone all the time on tour—publishing opportunities, tv, film and sync,” Dalton says. “I think a lot of those opportunities already exist, it’s just that people have not been connected and industry and infrastructure haven’t followed it, so we don’t know if we’re the people to create that infrastructure as a non-profit, but we certainly want to bring people together, so our songwriters can sustain.”

Dalton also acknowledges the potential pitfalls of growing into a local music support network. People might question the motives or plan of action, even if they agree with the organization’s mission. “We certainly don’t want to wear this hat of ‘We are the people trying to improve everything or trying to gentrify the music scene’ so to speak. We’re committed to getting a real read on what’s needed rather than saying ‘Hey we’re a non-profit that’s vaguely helping music.’”

Dalton likens the concert series idea to musician summer camp. “We like to think of our shows almost like camp for the musicians even though everyone’s an adult. Everyone comes together around an album and normally, ego’s not involved because everyone’s coming together with a shared love of an artifact. Right now, we’re really trying to focus on making our shows great. Like a theater or a ballet. Now that we’re positioned as a non-profit, we want to be more explorative in our programming to serve a greater need.” Dalton says. “We’re open to marketing, connecting and growing the talent that’s here, but we want to make sure we’re not suffering with our primary goal which is to make sure our main series is doing well and modeling the rich sound of the city.”

Now that ATL Collective has been around for almost 10 years, Dalton has some advice for other cities looking to elevate and create a community around their music scene. “For organizations in other cities, especially secondary markets where there’s not a lot of infrastructure or conventional talk of ‘Hey I’m going to get a manager’ because there’s probably one manager in town and that manager’s about to go to Nashville, I would say figure out how to combine your scenes and find the common through lines and attitude of your city and then model it for people. Try to work in a collaborative way and get fans excited about it that aren’t necessarily scene kids. Get adults to pay for it because it ultimately may be a way of serving the next generation of scene kids or music makers.”

You can check out ATL Collective’s upcoming shows here, and you can donate to the organization directly here.

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