by Carly Schorman
It will be a year next month since The Listening Room first opened its door in Downtown Phoenix. The creators behind the boutique music venue sought to establish a pristine space focused on only one thing: music.
There’s no coffee, no liquor, no bags of chips clipped to a wall in the back. As the name implies, guests should arrive expecting to do one thing and that is listen.
The venue is equipped not only with a stellar sound system (compliments of Bose), but also high-tech video recording equipment set-up to capture live performances. And, did I mention that even the artwork in the building was added to reinforce the live sound? These folx thought of everything… even the heavy cobalt curtains at the back of the stage are the perfect finishing touch to the give the room an intimate feel.
I had the chance to check out the venue and talk with Jim Colletti who opened the space with his husband, Adam Smith, last November about the inspiration behind the creation of The Listening Room, Jim’s charming introduction to contemporary music.
YabYum: When did The Listening Room first open? And, what prompted you to make the decision to open The Listening Room in Phoenix?
Jim Colletti: We opened The Listening Room Phoenix in November 2016. Our vision was to create a performance and recording space that was void of any distractions so that performers could present their greatest talents to a listening audience.
I love that you describe the venue as a place for “purists”. Can you tell me a little bit about the sound set-up at The Listening Room Phoenix and what makes it special?
Our room was designed to be a recording studio with a live audience. A Bose L1 Model ll system is the heart of the professional sound at The Listening Room Phoenix and is supported by a professional staff of audio engineers. We have a fully digital system and can accommodate most small- to medium-sized performances. The environment is pure in the sense that we do not have the distractions found in most music venues, like a bar, TVs, loud squeaky doors and a disruptive audience.
When you set out to create the space were you looking for an intimate venue size or was that just a separate consideration (like cost, building, available real estate)? It seems like a lot of venue owners are looking for maximum capacity but The Listening Room seems to veer another direction entirely.
We did not have any specific size in mind but knew that we wanted something small and intimate. Because our approach was vastly different than that of other venues, we were not focused on maximizing profits, but rather creating something that was self-sustaining. We needed a space that would allow us to keep the focus on the performer and the performance experience.
One can only assume that you must be a life-long music-lover, correct? I’m curious what some of your early concert experiences might have given shape to The Listening Room Phoenix in concept before its physical creation. Grass seats at the arena shows? Or maybe you were a frequenter of tiny club shows?
I am actually a new music lover. Music only found me in 2009, when I met singer-songwriter Adam Smith. I grew up a closeted classic country music fan. I would spend the daytime with friends listening to the likes of Styx, The Ramones, and The Dead Kennedys (and not enjoying it) and then go home to my headphones and spin Waylon and Willie albums. John Denver has had the most profound effect on me (until meeting Adam.) My first concert experience was at a large arena in NY where I took my parents and siblings to see Kenny Rogers. Through my life, I have seen shows in living rooms, at clubs and at arenas. But, the true memorable experiences were the intimate interactions that I have been fortunate to have with many talented musicians, some of great popularity and some yet undiscovered.
In a sense, you serve as curator for the music that passes through The Listening Room Phoenix. What do you look (or listen) for in prospective acts that want to borrow your stage for an evening?
We know that consistency in quality is of utmost importance for our reputation, especially as we enter the Phoenix music scene. I approach all booking requests, without censorship, but with a sharp look and listen for professionalism, personality and likeability. I rarely listen to a performers professionally mixed audio and video recording and stay focused on their live performance media. I seek performers who can entertain, regardless of their genre. I look for performers that are confident and enjoy performing as much as they want their audiences to enjoy listening.
In addition to the venue’s musical offerings, I noticed that you also do a Songwriter’s Circle every month. Would you mind sharing a little bit about that event? Is it an open mic type deal or are songwriters invited down for the evening to perform?
We are not likely to ever host an open mic at The Listening Room Phoenix. Open mics are a very important part of the music scene, and for many performers act as their entrance into the industry. Open mics are unpredictable and we feel that we would rather focus on the quality of the performers we book than open our audiences up to the variety and risk of experiencing someone not yet at a level to carry the room. We do have a few showcase opportunities, all that require submission and acceptance. Our Third Thursday Songwriter Showcase is hosted by Nashville songwriter, Eddy Roswell. Eddy hand picks the performers that will share the stage each night.
Quarterly, we will host a Shakedown Showcase. This is a chance for us to bring four up-and-coming musicians to the stage for an opportunity to experience our room. In a way, this showcase is an audition, in front of a live audience. Often, I will invite performers that I feel have potential but may not have the live performance video that helps me book them for a full show.
In mid-October, we will launch Sessions from North 7th Street, hosted by award-winning blues performer, Eric Ramsey. This new showcase will feature performers that are vetted and selected by Eric.
We frequently host musician workshops. Although we don’t have any currently scheduled, we expect to host several throughout the year. In the past, in partnership with Bose, Guitar Center and BRAVO, we have presented a special workshop with Madonna’s guitarist, Monte Pittman, a touring workshop with award-winning performer Jeff Campbell and his band, Static and Surrender, and a booking and touring workshop with a panel of local music professionals.
I know it’s hard to play favorites, but there must have been some truly stellar performances you’ve seen since opening The Listening Room. Care to share a stand out moment or two?
Certainly. These are my favorites, but please know that all shows at The Listening Room Phoenix have exceeded expectations and are surely the favorite of others.
Okay, and now the big question. If you could have any musician perform at The Listening Room, who would you pick? Take your time… we’ll wait…
Great question! I don’t know their name, but I know who they are. They are youthful, and with a talent that will give our audience goose bumps. They are powerful, yet prolific and sensitive. Their voice is one for the world. They are the energy that lives in all performers. I am sure you will find them on our stage soon, maybe sooner than you think.
For more on The Listening Room Phoenix, including their Upcoming Performances, check out their website.