Isolation Drills: Greg Seltzer (Philly Music Fest)

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area had been staying at home over the past year and a half, learning to adapt to a “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’d been doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Seltzer: Given that I’m not a performer or musician, or even an artist, the pandemic likely affected me differently. I’m built for isolation. I’ve got a day job as a business lawyer who represents entrepreneurs and creatives, which is easily transacted at home. However, when the pandemic hit and things got heavy and blue, my mind and body did what I’ve always done to fend off depression: I got to work.

While the lawyer gig was decently steady, my music community was reeling. I founded Philly Music Fest five years ago to help local musicians and reinvest in music education. Philly Music Fest is typically a multi-night series of shows featuring only musicians from or living in the Philadelphia region, held at independent venues, with all profits donated to local music-education programs for kids. However, in the midst of an unprecedented shutdown of the music industry—with the lives of my musician friends, venue staff, engineers, producers, promoters, managers, agents destroyed—I felt that Philly Music Fest had to help.

In the very first month of the shutdown, Philly Music Fest launched a microgrant program that provided funds to local musicians and venue staff. We provided more than 330 microgrants that helped folks in our community make rent, buy food and pay bills.

I had already fully booked the 2020 iteration of Philly Music Fest at the outset of the shutdown, scheduled for September 2020, but it was clear that Philly Music Fest would not take place in-person. So, we canceled the 2020 in-person festival and pivoted to a virtual livestream format with Japanese Breakfast, Langhorne Slim, Mt. Joy, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Arnetta Johnson, Zeek Burse and Arthur Thomas. Each band played a live set onstage at Ardmore Music Hall, and we streamed the two-night “festival” to tens of thousands in our region and across the country. While not perfect, we paid all the bands and donated $50,000 to music education programs (i.e., Rock To The Future, Musicopia, Settlement Music School, Beyond The Bars, Girls Rock Philly and more).

Flash forward a few months: Some amazing scientists brought us a vaccine, and it looked like an in-person festival might work in 2021. I spent every non-day-job waking hour trying to figure out how a tiny non-profit music festival could work with limited-capacity shows, increased security and safety costs—while keeping ticket prices reasonable, getting a bunch of bands paid—and still generate a profit for music education. Ultimately, I got the math to work, and we have an incredible lineup of six shows scheduled for October 6-10. Headliners are Alex G, Hop Along, the Menzingers, Son Little and Ivy Sole. Our website has all the details—and please feel free to make a donation.

And since I needed a bit more on my plate, I again organized Inside Hustle, which is a Philly music industry panel discussion that takes place on the Saturday afternoon of Philly Music Fest (October 9 at World Cafe Live). The free event was attended in 2019 by more than 150 people, learning from panelists on topics such as navigating large corporate conglomerates as an independent artist, examining the strengths (and weaknesses) of Philly’s music ecosystem and some boring-yet-important concepts such as should a band have an LLC, how to protect songs and logos, and accounting for equipment purchases and expenses.

I feel strongly that Philly can be a first-class music city, but it will take more than simply having a few breakout bands. A first-class music city needs first-class studios, managers, labels, innovation and promotion. Inside Hustle is my attempt to gather a diverse array of voices and hope that disparate parts and players can work together and collaborate to elevate the Philadelphia music community.

Ultimately, though, I’ll just keep working.