Our Interview with Compass Rose Founder Brett Johnston

May 9, 2018 | Kyle Drenon

There are few people, maybe none, that are more entrenched in the Springfield music scene than Brett Johnston. If you’re into music and live in town, you probably know Brett personally already. He’s been a longtime advocate for Springfield area musicians and is first and foremost, a fan.

Brett also performs in a band called Fire in the Hole, for which he supplies the leading vocals and lyrics. His songs touch on a wide range of topics including political justice and simply being a dad in the world today. Johnston’s passion for music is palpable in his performances.

Johnston, along with former News-Leader reporter Allen Vaughan and 417 Magazine editor Heather Kane owned and operated TAG magazine in the late aughts. The magazine covered far more than just local songwriters, and it gave Johnston a start in the industry of musical journalism.

Earlier this year, he launched Compass Rose Online, a platform dedicated to promoting & providing support for Springfield artist. A print edition is planned for the future as well. Johnston derived the name from the new Springfield Flag Movement as the central icon on the flag has been referred to by its creators as the compass rose. The magazine is not only intended to inform the public about talented performers in the area, but also to advocate for fair wages for those performers. The project has many layers and has already started to garner interest from people in the scene.

We sat down with Johnston recently to get more details on the Compass Rose.

Why did you decide to start Compass Rose Online?

I see Springfield becoming a bonafide “music city” with live music at all times of day in all types of venues. I’ve been passionate about live music in Springfield for as long as I can remember and have promoted, booked, and/or written about local music for going on two decades. The last few years, since the closure of TAG Media, I have helped venues and individuals privately book music for special events and recurring dates. Compass Rose is putting a name and branding around these efforts, as well as multi-platform marketing to support these venues.

What exactly will Compass Rose be and how can people get your content?

Compass Rose is a combination of booking agent/promoter and a traditional media company the content of which, will be available online (compassrose.online) and in print (coming this summer). That content includes interviews, music reviews, live performance videos, and even a few podcasts. We really hope to introduce potential show goers to the musicians, their stories, and what’s behind the songs.

Could you tell us a little more about your role in booking shows?

The mission of Compass Rose is to create opportunities for professional musicians with fair pay while making it as simple as possible for venues, of all types, to create engaged spaces with live music. A venue tells us when, where, and what style of music they’d like, then we arrange the performance, which includes sound and lighting, set up and tear down, and marketing support (digital, social, and—coming in June—print); all for one fee. Many venues we speak to would like live music and don’t know where to begin. Additionally, we’re looking to bring in special touring acts with the notion that these performances elevate Springfield’s already robust scene.

How can musicians get involved and what do they need to do to submit music?

In addition to bookings, musicians and bands who submit music online or by email will be subject to potential album/single/video reviews and interviews both online and in print. There is a subscription service which is yet to roll out which includes a profit share with featured artists. Talent retention to this market is among our chief priorities and I think part of that will come through educational content and creative revenue generation. We have a pretty hearty stable of incredible musicians we already work with, and would like to have the most robust booking Rolodex possible.

How has your experience with TAG influenced your process with this project so far?

That entire experience, including the sting of its closing, provided a wealth of education in all avenues for this venture. From essential financial lessons like, ‘don’t bite off too much overhead’ and ‘diversify revenue’ to remembering that quality content will lead the way.  

What makes Springfield’s music scene unique?

As Springfield Little Theatre’s director Beth Domann once said, we’ve got a “freaky vortex of talent” across entertainment industries. We also have an incredibly supportive music scene, where promoters by-and-large work together to get the right acts in the right rooms, and the bands themselves are out supporting others and spreading the word. Go to any show across town and you’re likely to find a number of talented musicians in the audience supporting those on stage.

What’s one thing about the Springfield music scene people should know that they probably don’t already?

It may sound obvious, but a lot of people don’t realize how important it is to simply show up. Going to a concert and paying that $5 cover is pivotal to the success of these artists and venues.

Give us a handful of up and coming artists who could be the next SSLYBY.

It’s hard to give a handful, and I will no doubt be leaving the actual next big name off. Here’s the first few that come to mind with big potential.

  • Mood Ring Circus
  • D. Clea
  • Izabel Crane
  • Dream Ritual
  • Jonathan Joseph
  • Molly Healey
  • Patrick Mureithi
  • Abbey Waterworth
  • Funk Tank

Visit the Compass Rose on Facebook or online at compassrose.online.

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