City Paper is not for tourists
Miles Ryan is the owner and founder of 7DrumCity, an organization that offers music lessons and practice rooms for D.C. professionals seeking to lead healthier, more balanced lives through cultivating hobbies like music. “There are a lot of boring people in D.C. I hope to convert some of them into artists,” Ryan explains. “Everybody is creative in their own way somehow, so everyone should have some kind of creative outlet, just like everyone should exercise.” 7DC has recently expanded its mission: In November, Ryan opened The Pocket, a new music venue on the top floor of 7DC’s North Capitol Street NW complex. In the last two months, it’s hosted shows by local artists gaining traction and heavyweights like Southeast-born-and-raised rapper Nappy Nappa. City Paper sat down with Ryan to talk about The Pocket’s launch and 7DC’s plans for its future.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
WCP: What made you want to open a performance space?
Miles Ryan: It becomes its own marketing machine and gets more heads in the door, and we can offer a lower-cost way to participate in the community that we’ve built over here. Before, you had to be in a band or want to take lessons, which, you know, it’s an investment. For a music fan who’s really passionate about music, who’s like, ‘Well, 7DrumCity’s so cool, but I don’t really want lessons right now,’ now it’s like, ‘Oh, well, come to the show tomorrow, or tonight, or right now.’
WCP: You all opened officially on Nov. 1. How has it been going since then?
MR: Well, it’s been going really good in terms of all the people that have been coming in and discovering it. We’ve had a few misses, you know, we’re in the educating-people-that-we-exist phase. I’d say the thing that stands out the most is the bands—well, and the fans—everyone is raving about how good it sounds in here. I got an acoustical engineer to come in and consult on a design. That’s the consistent thing for musicians; they’re always just so excited. And what has been interesting is their enthusiasm for the experience, even if only 10 people showed up.
WCP: How’d you come up with the name for the space?
MR: Oh, The Pocket? So when you’re playing in the pocket, when you’re playing with other musicians, it’s like you’re kind of locked into the rhythm and the groove of the music. Or it’s like, you’re directly on the beat. It’s kind of hard to describe, but you can be slightly, slightly ahead of beat or behind the beat in terms of your tempo, and when everybody’s playing precisely, like, beyond recognition connected, you’ve got this sort of spiritual bond with your bandmates. It’s a very euphoric, special, spiritual moment. That’s honestly what kind of motivated me to build a space like this in general—because that experience is so cool and special that I want more people to experience it.
WCP: Has there been a learning curve? Are there things you’ve tweaked or changed?
MR: Oh, yeah, absolutely. It’s been a wild six weeks just now. I mean, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that you can’t trust Facebook. Facebook sucks. Although it’s still necessary; you can’t just not have an event page. Promotion is its own animal. And running this bar—I thought it would be simpler. I’d never run a bar before, like selling alcohol.
When we started, I had been working with Songbyrd Music House over in Adams Morgan [for booking bands]. And they’ve always been really helpful and a resource for me, especially Alisha [Edmonson]. We ended up sort of just absorbing a lot of this stuff and I was like, ‘I really want to do this.’ It’s really fun to talk to all the bands and do some negotiating and understand how to run a venue, so it turned out that we kind of outgrew the delegation to a contractor for the booking within a month … Now I’m doing it.
WCP: What’s your strategy to booking? Do you have a specific genre focus?
MR: We want to diversify the genres for sure. The only thing, though, is that if we’re going to be engaging the community that’s built in, bands that have drums and guitars tend to be more of the focus, because we’re a drum-based place. I think also the strategy is to really develop local bands and D.C. artists. Touring artists are always really cool, but I always want to ask them about their local draw. And, honestly, you know, I didn’t really build this place for touring bands. I built this place to develop our community, primarily.
WCP: What are you thinking about moving ahead?
MR: Like I said before, diverse genres, diverse people; we want to make sure we got a good balance of women artists and that kind of thing. However, I also want to have a good range of types of events too, so jams and other types of events. We want to do a 7DC showcase, almost like we’re promoting specific bands as a label or something, but without being that yet. I don’t like that word [label], though, it just feels exclusive. Jams, showcases, open mics, you know, other formats, I think would be important for the fabric of building a scene.
WCP: What does the ideal 7DrumCity community look like to you?
MR: I envision people living fulfilled, balanced lives. That’s our kind of mantra here. I envision adults that are enjoying their life with a hobby. The vision is to increase the number of people who are who are more awakened in their lives with something they love doing. I envision more people engaging in music in some way or another. That can be just going to a show!
But, you know, I also envision this block blossoming more. North Capitol has struggled a lot over the years and has a lot of people struggling and suffering. I think another good side effect to build towards is cleaning up and improving the neighborhood without it being a gentrification type of thing—for example, the fact that we have free events and the fact that we didn’t bulldoze the buildings, the fact that we at least make an effort to reach out and draw people in. I’ll just kind of keep growing in that direction instead of being giant buildings with no character.
Oh, I want to add one more thing, please: also making D.C. more of a music city and recognized as such, like in the press nationally. It would be really cool if I read something about how D.C.’s music scene is growing.
To Do This Week is your twice-weekly email roundup of arts and cultural events. It’s the perfect way to know what’s going on, and subscribing is a great way to support us.