Last year, during the Sound Off! finals at MoPop, Naked Giants, the 2016 winner, was rocking New York’s Madison Square Garden. It was a fantastic coincidence. Had they not been otherwise preoccupied, they may well have been at MoPop’s Sky Church cheering on the finalists, like so many other Sound Off! alumni have done over the years. It’s an illustrious group that includes Parisalexa, Travis Thompson, Dave B, Sol, Manatee Commune and many others.
For this year’s Sound Off! competition, 124 musical acts submitted tracks hoping for one of twelve semifinalist spots. Virtually every genre and cross-genre was represented, and a few genres unimagined. What they have in common: All are under 21 and from the Pacific Northwest. With so many tracks to listen to and such high stakes, the judging process is extensive. A youth advisory board spends a month listening to the music, ultimately winnowing the pool by half. Then an internal team of musicians and recording artists at MoPop spend three weeks with it, narrowing the pool by half again. Finally, a who’s who group of judges young and old spend an afternoon listening to the remaining 25 to get to the final 12. “It’s a lot of listening, and it’s a lot of fun,” says Robert Rutherford, MoPop’s Manager of Public Engagement, who has overseen Sound Off! for the last three years.
Over the course of three weekends spanning from February 15–29 the twelve semifinalists engaged in a competition for one of four spots in the March 7 finals. Emmett Lukas, of Tiny Planet, one of the semifinalists, said, “I don't think any of us in Tiny Planet really care much whether or not we make it past where we're at now with the competition. We're just super grateful to have made it to this point, to have made all these new friends who happen to be amazing musicians, to have access to press and the resources of MoPop and KEXP, and to have the opportunity to deliver a crunchy-tasty-bizarre performance on MoPop's amazing Sky Church stage in front of a bunch of PNW people who really care about music and are involved in the scene.”
And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. MoPop started Sound Off! in 2002 to support up-and-coming musicians and set them on a path for community building and professional growth. With Seattle pricing out so many at the same time that it’s gotten harder to make a living selling recorded music, the mission is even more critical now than it was then. "We’ve removed as many barriers to participation as we can,” says Robert. And as far as MoPop is concerned, everyone selected as a semifinalist wins. “We’ve oriented the program so we have continuing relationships with these people. We try to communicate opportunities, not just that we have for them, but that the city has for them. We live in a really amazing town for music, and there are a lot of opportunities out there they may not be aware of.”
Before the competition, all semifinalists attend an orientation weekend in which they receive professional development from industry veterans, take part in a professional photoshoot, play in a world-class venue. And, in a world where connections matter, they join the cohort of Sound Off! alumni. “Orientation weekend was a great way for us to get all introduced to each other while soaking up all the necessary info, getting hyped together, and touring around MoPop a bit,” said Emmett. “The pizza provided by Pagliacci was tasty fuel for conversation during our lunch break hang out, and there were vegan options too, which was helpful for a couple other members of my band and me.”
At Pagliacci, we're super proud of Seattle's music scene and are thrilled to take in the future of local music over the next month.