Arts & Entertainment: How One Organization Has Created a Close-knit Community for Local Performers and Songwriters

Dean Marchiony addresses the crowd at a local songwriters event. (Courtesy of The Philadelphia Songwriters Project)

With more than a passion for the arts, Dena Marchiony is creating the perfect playground to support artists and carry on the tradition of songwriting with the Philadelphia Songwriters Project

Marchiony understands the trials and tribulations each songwriter faces because she’s been in their shoes before, which is the reason she and co-founder Stu Shames started the project. 

Marchiony expressed the importance of the nonprofit and why it’s their mission is to give the community a place to perform for a wider audience and compete in contests showing off the ability to create art for the ear.

How does one apply to this organization? Are there any limitations to enter?

To become a member, folks simply pay a membership fee. But I assume you’re talking about our yearly contest. When we run a contest (which we started to do in 2020, but it was shut down by the pandemic), announcements will be made on social media and other partner outlets, we usually have a theme, a deadline to submit, all of those details are given in our announcements. There is an entry fee and once people submit their songs, they are vetted by several panels of judges. There have been 12 finalists who get to play a live show where the audience and another panel of judges decides on the four winners.

When and where did you start this organization? 

Started in Philadelphia with my co-founder Stu Shames in November of 2002. 

Why did you want to create this project? 

We were both songwriters who had many talented friends and saw that it was very difficult to get gigs or recognition. There were only a handful of venues at the time and no help from social media. Therefore, we were trying to answer a need in our community. 

Because you and Stu were songwriters, can you recall any memory or frustrations you guys faced trying to write songs and realizing the community needed a project like this urgently?

Stu and I both knew many talented songwriters/ performers who could not break through to a larger community. The landscape of music in Philly at that time was rather limited. With only a very few venues featuring songwriters … and those people were “featured/ touring” performers … there was no place to break in. We sought to rectify that situation.    

What motivates you to keep up and continue to better the project?

Love of the art, the players, and the expression.

How is this nonprofit funded? 

At the beginning we wrote grants and received some. In 2008 the market crashed and only jazz or classical organizations were getting any money, so we changed our business model to be self-sufficient. We created the concept of memberships, contests to support our efforts. Mainly this has been a labor of love. Not one of financial gains. 

Does this organization have any local partners? 

Partnerships have made PSP what it is: Radio, venues, artists, studios, music stores, and other nonprofit organizations have all been part of raising up our mission. 

Philly-based talent performing at the Kimmel Center’s annual Citibank Summer Solstice Celebration in 2010. (Courtesy The Philadelphia Songwriters Project)

What events or contests are the center of this project? 

We used to have monthly educational events for members that were fantastic. We broke down the music business, so the pieces were transparent. Several years after colleges started building their curriculums for “the Business of Music.” Our Contests have always been exciting. The winners would get to play very high profile gigs and have the opportunity to be exposed to next level venues and the people they bring.

What are some highlights from the project in past or recent years that you’re proud of? 

Our five-year partnership with Firefly Music Festival was epic. All of our shows have been pretty awesome. Our second month doing shows called “Songs In The Minor Key” for songwriters 18 and under, at that show we had a young man named Benj Passek play. You may have heard of him. Benj was like so many other artists just looking for an opportunity to play and hone their craft. Obviously, Benj was destined to be the superstar that he is but all these opportunities helped along the way, I’m sure.

How has social media helped this project grow? What advantages do you have now than you did when just starting out?

Social media has changed the landscape of all things music. Artists no longer have to wait for someone else to “give them an opportunity” to develop their craft or express their music. Social Media — for those who know how to use it has been a game changer. We used to print posters, and fliers and bring them to coffee shops … life’s different now and yes, much easier.

What’s something that separates this project from others?

I think that is something for others to talk about. I think we were early in this area, and have offered some really top shelf opportunities.

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