by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Yesterday the Omaha World-Herald got the exclusive interview with Kate Dussault about the mysterious Hi-Fi House on Farnam St. Columnist Mike Kelly wrote a lengthy piece that gave a broad overview of Hi-Fi and its services, though Kelly never really explained how it works — i.e., what exactly do members get for their membership fee, which runs from $300 per year for musicians to $1,000 per year for others —there was no breakdown of the different cost levels in the article. Many of the details — like how the house actually works — will likely come when their website gets updated (It’s live at www.hifi.house). and I’d love to get the answers via interview Kate as well.
The ultimate question that continues to bubble up after reading the column: Would you pay to be a member? What exactly do members receive? Time will tell, though I get the feeling that if Dussault pursues creating the country’s only vinyl archive (from the article: “There is no state-of-the-art, playable vinyl-record library anywhere,” she said, “and we have a chance to make Omaha home of the first.”), that 501(c)(3) status could be an eventuality, and that income would also come from sponsorships, grants and large donations. When asked how she’d fund the library in the article, “Kate Dussault smiles and says she has financial sources.” Mysterious!
Or maybe Hi-Fi won’t be a non-profit. What little is known about the model is similar to the Omaha Press Club (OPC), where working press paid one price for membership, “civilians” paid another, and so on. I remember when I was fresh out of UNO’s journalism school the OPC was considered a very exclusive thing. That’s where all the local reporters supposedly hung out. It felt elite. Of course I was never able to afford the membership fee, so I never felt comfortable going to events there, even when I was invited.
When I began freelance writing for downtown businesses — Union Pacific, ConAgra, Creighton, etc. — I learned that corporate memberships were what helped float OPC’s boat. Something changed with tax laws and membership fees no longer were considered business expenses (and tax deductible) and businesses quit paying their employees’ membership dues, and that impacted OPC.
Anyway…. OPC offered an exclusive place to meet for journalists (and corporate communicators); Hi-Fi House appears to offer a similar refuge for musicians? Though I wonder how many will be able to afford $300 a year when they no longer are making money from selling their recordings (Thanks, Internet) and are finding that rising costs are making touring difficult or impossible. Whenever I talk to bands they’re just trying to scratch together enough money for their next recording. I assume Hi-Fi will provide a lot of benefits for musicians that weren’t outlined in Kelly’s story.
To me, the concept of a national vinyl archive is interesting. While the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has extensive audio archives (check out the listing here), I’m not sure if it has a straight-forward vinyl collection. Hi-Fi could corner the market here, though they’d need more than a house, more like a massive Raiders of the Lost Ark-style warehouse to contain even a fraction of all the records that have been produced over the years, especially if their collection will be inclusive of all genres and not just rock. Very exciting.
To me, the performance and interview aspects of Hi Fi are the most enticing parts. I’ve heard nothing but accolades about the recent Tommy Stinson interview and performance. No doubt Hi-Fi could have easily sold high-dollar tickets to that Stinson program. But instead, well, membership has its privileges.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2016 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.