The councilman said he hopes PHL Live shines a light on not only established local acts but also on breakout stars who otherwise would not have the resources to showcase their talents.
The process is as follows:
Starting Aug. 15, candidates can submit music online (phllive.org - the site is up but will not accept applications until Aug. 15) in 10 categories, ranging from classical to DJ. Three expert judges will then select five semifinalists in each genre.
From Oct. 21 to early November, semifinalists will perform around Philly, vying for the top spots in their genres. Venues will include the Hard Rock Cafe, World Café Live, Silk City, Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, and TIME Philadelphia. Most venues will charge a nominal $3 for tickets, with proceeds going to the artists.
Winners will be announced at a final concert/award show in December at the Trocadero (date to be finalized), at which they will receive awards such as cash prizes, studio time, and free consultation with an entertainment lawyer. A People's Choice award will also be given, based on audience votes via the app Decibly.
The main focus is not on competition, said Oh, but on opportunity.
"Philadelphia is a place that has historically had a lot of talented people," Oh said, "but unfortunately I found that many musicians complained that there were limited opportunities."
Hip-hop artist Chill Moody, named music ambassador of the initiative, said, "The talent that we have in this city needs to be celebrated as often as possible. I've seen artists who are amazing performing in coffee shops." These artists might not be ready for a Made in America stage, he said, but events like PHL Live could help prepare them and build public notice. Oh said he hopes PHL Live will also help build the city's reputation as a major creative destination.
"So many people come out of our town and go on to be great artists and musicians, but that's just it," said Go Go Morrow, recording artist and supporter of PHL Live. "They have to leave to get to the next level of artistry."
Stephanie Seiple is cofounder of local independent music network Tri-State Indie and a member of PHL Live's music advisory board. "It's like we're almost disregarding Philly's history as far as what's been done in the past musically," she said, "because now we're not investing in anyone new and coming up. There's a lot of new talent that isn't being recognized."
"It's our time to shine again," said Morrow.
The festival has the genre diversity of Lollapalooza and the audience participation of American Idol, with a much smaller budget. Oh said he has commitments for donations from Comcast, Peco, and the city's office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy. Outside of that, PHL Live has been the work of volunteers, with donation of space from the venues. PHL Live is currently accepting sponsorships ( David.Oh@phila.gov).
Oh said that while not a music expert, he values "the importance of music and art and what it does to help develop people." He recalled visiting some of Philadelphia's poorest neighborhoods and noticing that they seemed to cultivate some of the richest talent: "I remember thinking to myself, 'I wonder if they know how amazing they are?' "