Saving the EMP

Very sad article in today’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer (one of two daily rags here) regarding the Experience Music Project, Paul Allen’s multibillion-dollar music museum.

Personally, I was excited when the EMP first opened–so excited that I bought a one-year family membership. How disappointing! The ride never changed. The exhibits never changed. The hands-on music lab–the coolest (maybe only really cool) thing in the EMP–was always packed to the rafters. Worst, I was promised early notice to buy tickets for shows there, but never got any such notice, and every show I tried to attend was sold out days in advance. Needless to say, I didn’t resubscribe.

Last year, when a relative was in town, I bought another one-year membership because it was actually cheaper than buying three standalone entry fees ($60! Ouch!!). Once again, I was sorely disappointed. There’s really no reason to visit the damn thing more than once or twice a year. Worse yet, it’s depressing–it’s usually half empty (except for that hands-on lab) and the cavernous spaces reinforce this sense of being in a morgue or crypt. Just an awful, un-fun experience all the way around.

It seems like Paul Allen’s losing interset in his mid-life rock ‘n’ roll obsession–I read that he’s selling his interest in local college station KEXP as well. That’s good. As the PI’s companion article on the EMP’s “secretive culture” makes clear, Mr. Allen’s a paranoid nutball. It’s going to take somebody else to save what he’s built.

And here’s how:
1. Cut the entrance fee in half, to $10, immediately. $20 is outrageous. Even the Museum of Modern Art in NYC is getting flak for raising admission fees to $20. And in terms of cultural significance, the EMP’s a wart on MOMA’s backside. Van Gogh’s Starry Night or a guitar played by Hendrix? No comparison. $10 might get some people back in there.
2. Book more shows in the SkyChurch (big venue). At least 4 per month. I’d love to see EMP creating some competition for the Showbox, Seattle’s default mid-sized (max capacity less than 1,000) venue for touring bands.
3. The Liquid Lounge is the best venue in Seattle that nobody’s ever been to. Why is that? They should book local bands seven nights a week, and really promote them–have a graphic designer create fliers that the bands can pass out and put on lampposts, buy some radio promotion, buy some ads in local weeklies. Seattle’s got a great music scene, where bands support one another–it’s far better than San Francisco, where I used to live–and up-and-coming bands would love a way out of the “pay our soundguy $100” hipper-than-thou cabal that currently controls many small local venues.
4. Halve the security staff. What are they protecting? The exhibits are all alarmed and behind bulletproof glass. And there’s something distinctly un-rock-and-roll about getting yelled at for accidentally bringing a beer bottle outside the confines of the Turntable restaurant when searching for a bathroom.
5. Increase the size of the sound lab, the only cool (and consistenly popular) part of the museum. Expand it into the space currently occupied by that idiotic “pretend you’re a rock star” ride thing. People might want to play at being rock stars once, but they’ll never go back. But banging on free instruments is really fun. Change up the stuff in those rooms and make more of them and people will flock to them.
6. Create a small movie theater with a fantastic sound system and show rock movies, every night of the week. I’d pay $10 to see Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii on a big screen with a killer PA, rather than at home. There are thousands of rock movies sitting at my local video store–why couldn’t EMP screen them?
7. Sacrifice one floor of the lame exhibits and build a decent recording studio. Charge reasonable rates so that unsigned bands have a chance to make a top-notch recordings without spending ten thousand dollars. Heck, why not run a promotion and management company out of the EMP?

In other words, support and promote the local music scene, rather than catering to tourists. Active not passive.

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One Response to Saving the EMP

  1. 8 years later…

    This is such a great post and it’s so disappointing that, as far as I know, they took none of this advice. I especially like the ones about hosting concerts and building a recording studio. You could even make the walls transparent and pipe the sound out so people could watch (and listen to) a real album being recorded.

    If they implemented even one or two of your suggestions I would happily buy a membership.

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