Stratton Tingle is a name known far, wide, and deep in the heartbeat of Chattanooga across many different circles. Ask any number of people and they will know him by his name, his legendary dreadlocks, or the impact he has had on the community at large. He has his fingers in many projects, but these days he focuses most of his energy on SoundCorps. Stratton began playing guitar at 11 years old and has since then shaped his craft with enough finesse to co-found several now-defunct bands such as Antebellum, Prophets and Kings. He currently performs as a solo artist as well as with SoCro and appears on occasion with Summer Dregs. With his combined musical and business experience at the Chamber of Commerce, he has been an important advocate for the growth and development of the music industry in Chattanooga by focusing on personal relationships and educating the community.
What is SoundCorps and why did Chattanooga need it?
Stratton: Over a number of years, the local music scene coalesced multiple times and expressed a desire to grow together in some way. The desire to make a difference was there, but picking up momentum took a long time because the efforts were led by volunteers who had lives outside of strengthening the music community. But the voices were heard by philanthropic organizations such as the Benwood Foundation and the Lyndhurst Foundation, who hired consultants from Austin, Texas to do a study of the impact of music on Chattanooga’s economy. The consultants determined that the impact was significant and offered suggestions on ways to grow that impact. One of the things the report suggested we do to spur more music activity in Chattanooga is establish an organization that wakes up everyday to check the health of our music economy and work on programs to make it bigger. That’s where SoundCorps came from, and why our mission statement is to build the local music economy. Success in that endeavor means that there are more jobs for music industry professionals, including, of course, musicians, but also non-musicians like record label executives, publicists, merchandisers, record store owners, instrument manufacturers, venue owners, recording engineers, and more. Everything we do is with that goal in mind.
What is your role as executive director?
Stratton: I’m the only full time employee of SoundCorps, so I do a lot of stuff. If you break it down into how I report what I do, it’s a mixture of administration, programming, and fundraising. Since we’re a new organization, the largest chunk of my time in the beginning went to nonprofit administration – things like reporting, accounting, and jumping through all the hoops required for tax-exempt organizations reporting to the IRS.
This year, programming has been the main focus because engaging our constituents is where the rubber meets the road in actually fulfilling our mission. So, the big question is whether our programming is actually making a difference. At the end of this year, looking back on the launch of all of our programs and the growth that we’ve seen, we can emphatically say, “Yes, we are succeeding!” We hope to build on our success and expand into 2017.
Fundraising and revenue development has become a more major focus as we move toward expansion. Many of our programs were built in such a way that they could be run with minimal involvement by me so I can focus on making sure people in the community know who we are as an organization and are able to plug into the benefits we bring. SoundCorps has had the extreme privilege of having start–up funding during this initial year, but we have to run things like a business – we have to understand what our revenue streams are, how to maximize those, and how to make sure our sponsors and donors feel a maximum benefit and return for their money through community growth.
What are SoundCorps biggest accomplishments of 2016? Its biggest challenges?
Stratton: Launching four successful programs has been the biggest accomplishment thus far. Craft Masters is our 8-week music industry intensive course, designed to help class members take their music industry idea from dream to reality. TakeNote is our quarterly series that allows industry professionals to network with each other locally, with others from out of town, and get educated about recent music industry trends. Sidewalk Stages, our most visible program, helps performers to expand their audience and realize new income streams through street performance. The street performance initiative, coupled with our online music industry directory, provides locals with easier access to our local music professionals. If your company needs a band for a holiday party, if you need a sound system, or a place to record music, check out our directory and hire a local.
The proof that our programs work to fulfill our mission can be seen in successful businesses like Honest Ox Music Publishing, which launched after completing the Craft Masters course. Local music producers like Tryezz and Swayyvo have engaged in Sidewalk Stages and our other programs to build their businesses in ways that they hadn’t before predicted.
Looking back, I think helping people understand what we do has been one of the biggest challenges. Economic development is not a sexy word, but it’s absolutely at the heart of what we do. Communicating that job creation is what we’re after has been difficult to do, for me personally and as an organization. Communicating our goals and outwardly celebrating our successes is something that our organization will continue to improve on.
What are some goals for 2017?
Stratton: We’re going big in 2017. This year has been sort of our proof year and it’s gone really, really well. We’re organized, so re-launching our programs will be pretty easy and we’ll have more capacity to engage more people and communicate on a larger scale. We’ll also be launching a couple of new projects on top of the ones we already run. I’m really excited to build on some very important partnerships we’ve developed over the last year with organizations like River City Company, Jazzanooga, the City of Chattanooga, the Chattanooga Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and more. You’ll also see us building new partnerships with the Road to Nightfall series, UTC, and hopefully the Children’s Hospital at Erlanger. We plan on building on the momentum we’ve got going with our online database and other aspects of our website, like the Sidewalk Stages schedule. The whole team is preparing for growth in 2017.
Photo by William Johnson Photography