Catching Up With One of the Most Prominent Figures in Portland’s Live Music Scene
Jim Brunberg is, above all else, a musician and a creator. His musical journey led him to open Mississippi Studios, and later Revolution Hall, two of Portland’s most significant live music and performance venues. We sat down with Jim to pick up some insight on how he got started in the industry and how he feels about the state of Portland’s music scene today.
MIP: How did you get started in the music industry?
Playing guitar in a pizza parlor in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I was playing cover tunes, but soon wanted to start writing my own songs. Later I had a band in the 80s ad 90s, we came through Portland and loved its hospitality and generosity toward musicians. At that time, I was living in San Francisco which felt very entitled and creatively stifling. I decided to move up to Portland, since I was already here almost every week. I opened a recording studio here in Portland, and eventually let people do shows there. It was a great place to make noise, so I moved the recording studio to basement and focused on using the space as a venue. From there, the venue grew very organically into Mississippi Studios.
MIP: How has Portland’s music scene changed since Mississippi Studios opened in 2003?
I would say it’s exactly the same as it was 20 years ago. The spirit of collaboration is still here, the venues are owned by good people, and even the big guys in town are really cool and treat the performers well.
The big exception is that it’s almost impossible to find a place to live here because of the housing prices.
MIP: For those that aren’t familiar, can you give a brief summary of your podcast, Roam Schooled, that you create with your daughters?
It’s a podcast in which you hear my daughters asking childlike questions that spur me to go into deep dives on topics, like why do we have tombstones, or what’s the difference between pets and the animals we eat. At it’s core, it’s a philosophical show.
MIP: What advice would you give to young musicians starting their career in Portland?
It depends on their goals. If they want their name on a marquee, a career as a singer-songwriter, they’ll need to be just as good at the politics of public relations, networking, and interpersonal skills as they are at their craft. Getting to the stage is 80% of the battle, and once you get there you’ve gotta wow them.
For the people who enjoy music but also have another line of work, it’s important to offer something different than what other people are doing.
For full time professional musicians, those who either support musicians and sit in for sessions or play in symphonies, staying here and working here for most of the time, I would give the advice to play nicely with others. Think of the big picture and don’t scrap for too much money from gigs. Your job is to make the best music you can here locally, so embrace that you’re able to do that and love that. Never look down nose at any opportunity, whether it’s a corporate gig or a film soundtrack.
MIP: What’s next on the horizon for you?
We just found out today that music from my duo Wonderly will be used for a project with Snapchat, which is exciting. The NY Times podcast also uses our music, which is great.