Organizers of the new Upstream Music Fest + Summit are pulling together an education series called “Mastering the Hustle,” for emerging artists. Upstream is the vision of philanthropist and music nerd Paul Allen.

Share story

Kurt Cobain was so desperate for airplay in 1988 that he knocked on the door of Seattle’s KCMU radio station (now KEXP) and handed someone a copy of Nirvana’s first single, “Love Buzz.”

Cobain listened to the station all day, expecting to hear the song, but it didn’t happen, according to Charles R. Cross’ 2002 book, “Heavier than Heaven.” As a dejected Cobain and his girlfriend drove home from Seattle to Olympia, he had her pull over at a gas station, then used a pay phone to call the station and request his own song. It worked. Lucky for us.

“If there was a Rock Star 101 course,” Cobain told Rolling Stone magazine in 1994, “I would have liked to take it. It might have helped me.”

Organizers of the new Upstream Music Fest + Summit — to be held around Pioneer Square on May 11-13 — are doing just that, with an education series called “Mastering the Hustle,” aimed at giving emerging artists the skills to succeed. The events are being put on in collaboration with KEXP and MoPOP.

They’re kicking things off this weekend with a free session called “Building Your Music Brand,” from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 4) at the KEXP Gathering Space at Seattle Center.

Megan Jasper of Sub Pop Records; Bree McKenna of Tacocat; Megan Tweed of Assembly and all four members of Thunderpussy will talk about their experience in branding and promotion.

“We want artists that are relatable,” said Jeff Vetting, executive director of Upstream and the former events manager at KEXP. Upstream is the vision of philanthropist and music nerd Paul Allen, and is aimed at nurturing Northwest artists and maintaining the area’s music muscle.

Artists may know what it takes to play and write music, and to perform — but getting their work out there, and noticed, is often a struggle. And if Seattle’s hallowed and historic music scene is going to continue, there’s some job training involved.

“The thinking was, ‘What else didn’t musicians know what to do?’ ” Vetting said. “We wanted speakers who had a certain level of authenticity to teach others. That’s the main thing: authenticity.

“We can learn from their missteps as much as their successes.”

Thunderpussy has at least one good war story: In August, the band was denied a trademark application by the federal Patent and Trademark Office for language. The decision was based on a 1946 law that prohibits trademarks that are “immoral,” “scandalous” or “disparage” individuals or groups. The band is appealing.

The workshops were inspired, in part, by a page on KEXP’s website titled “How to Get Airplay.” It’s one of the most visited pages on the site.

Future workshops will focus on the mechanics behind live shows and making money in today’s music economy.

“It’s the Wild West now,” Vetting said of the music industry, adding that the Grammy Awards have had to add new categories to keep up.

Chance the Rapper released his latest album, “Coloring Book,” solely on streaming. (He once handed out his CDs on the streets of Chicago.) Beyonce’s “Lemonade” was first released as a “video album.” Others are simply releasing music for free and recouping with tour revenue.

“Music is complicated to monetize,” Vetting said, “but there’s so much opportunity for the creative thinker.”

The workshops are free, all-ages and open to the public. RSVPs are required, but do not guarantee entry.

As soon as the Upstream Music Fest + Summit was announced last August, artists started sending music, videos, bios and photographs to organizers, vying for space on one of the stages. In total, they looked at some 1,200 applications, which are being whittled down by those curating the three-day event.

The full lineup for the festival will be announced in mid-February.

“We were really surprised by the quality of the submissions,” Vetting said, adding that despite the stipulation that artists have a Northwest connection, Upstream received submissions from Russia, Romania, Nova Scotia, Suriname and Indonesia.

“It was way more than we expected and could have dreamed of,” Vetting added. “People are hungry for new music opportunities.”

Ultimately, Kurt Cobain didn’t need that class. But his success helped fill Seattle with musicians, and in today’s climate, they need all the nurturing they can get.