The concept was new to Cincinnati: experience music in a quiet, intimate environment free of chatter, phones, and booze. DownTowne Listening Room, located in the historic Shillito’s Building at Seventh and Race Streets, hosted its first show back in June 2014. Presented in the building’s underutilized Club Room, the inaugural show attracted 50 people to the 60-person capacity room.
Founder Scott Skeabeck is an avid music lover who moved to Cincinnati from Philadelphia about five years ago. As a frequent concert-goer and listening room patron on the East Coast, he was determined to bring the experience to Cincinnati. With zero experience producing concerts, he booked his first act.
“I think this is an unmet need in Cincy. Perhaps some people don’t even know they’re missing,” Skeabeck told UrbanCincy back in May. His hypothesis proved true over the next six months. The music series hosted seven shows and wrapped up the year with a sold-out show in November.
While the Listening Room has exceeded its founder’s expectations, the endeavor has not been without its challenges. The Listening Room is slowly building a small community of followers, but the main hurdle, Skeabeck says, is finding its audience.
The concept is unique to Cincinnati and it has been a challenge for people to wrap their heads around a venue that falls somewhere between a coffee shop and a house concert. Similar venues exist, such as Schwartz Point Jazz Club and 213 Listening Room in Over-The-Rhine, though they cater to different genres or only occasionally host events. Skeabeck also says that it has been difficult finding people who are willing to pay $10 to $15 to hear relatively unknown artists when they can hear it a bar for free.
Another challenge is the time and money to produce each show, which occurs in Skeabeck’s spare time outside of his marketing job at Western & Southern.
Once a month he and his wife set up the signage, seating, tables, and sound equipment for the show, and then break it all down that same night so the room can operate as an apartment complex club room. Skeabeck pays for the marketing, promotion, food and security out of pocket since ticket sales go back toward the artists’ guarantee. He has even gone so far to offer up his loft when an artist needs room and board.
In spite of its hurdles, the time, energy and investment is worth it to Skeabeck, who has already booked shows into July 2015.
“Of course, it’s not for everyone; but so many more have thanked us for creating a refuge of solitude where they can really hear the artist and not the audience around them,” Skeabeck concluded.
DownTowne Listening Room will return January 17 with a free local singer-songwriter showcase featuring in-the-round sets by three Cincinnati artists. While the show is free, and already sold out, donations are appreciated and still accepted if you want to support the concept. A listing of upcoming artists at DownTowne Listening Room can be found on the venue’s website.