Bobby Dean Orcutt is a writer, producer and music industry professional from Tulsa, Oklahoma. His work in touring and film, with artists like John Moreland and Jason Isbell, has influenced his approach to managing Mercury Lounge, where he operates as General Manager and Co-Owner.
How did you get started?
I started playing guitar when I was a kid, maybe fifteen, and had this punk band. We weren’t very good and couldn’t get gigs, so I started booking shows for bands that people actually liked, then I’d put my band on as the opener. It worked and we started getting gigs. Whatever gets it done. When I was a little older, through dumb luck, I got the chance to travel the world as a tour manager for a few successful bands and artists. I’ve been lucky enough to visit so many incredible venues, learn from seasoned industry professionals. I’ve had access to knowledge from some of the most important players in the music industry and I’m pretty good at paying attention.
Did you always want a career in the music industry?
I have always loved music. It’s playing nearly every moment of my day, in the background at minimum. I always knew I wanted to be involved in music in some capacity, but I’ve never been good enough to want to try and be on stage. I know which side of the curtain I belong on.
What is your role in the music industry?
Currently I run a small cap, roots music focused music venue in Tulsa, Oklahoma, called Mercury Lounge as my primary focus. I’ve always had multiple projects going on at the same time but the ongoing pandemic and effects of COVID-19 on the live music industry have caused me to narrow my focus and priority on what is, I would argue, one of the most important venues in America. If you know how artists scale up, how routing and touring works, you know what a 100 cap room in the middle of America, adjacent to two interstates can do to help grow an emerging artist. One hundred cap rooms are the first responders to the next big thing, every time. They are crucial to the ecosystem of the entire industry. When I’m not entirely focused on Mercury Lounge, I produce music videos for my friends. It’s a really enjoyable outlet and a different way to be involved in music. I get to take a song, which is essentially just a story that rhymes, and I get to build and expand on that story. It’s a lot of fun. I write about music, whenever I can fool someone into giving me a gig I’m not qualified for, and have a small design and print shop for making bands and Mercury Lounge focused merch.
Most Recent Successes / Placements / Accomplishments / Projects? Career highlight?
Mercury Lounge was selected as a first round grant recipient from the Live Music Society. This put us in a league with legendary venues like Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock and SPACE in Evanston, Illinois. You might not know those venues, I guarantee your favorite songwriter does. We were chosen because of the work we have done to be proactive in support of a struggling industry. We were chosen because we put a value on the safety of our patrons, staff and the bands that play here over profit. I am really proud of the work the entire staff has put in and the commitment.
I have a ton of ongoing projects. Too many. I have more plans than brain cells or time, but I do my best. I’m attempting to combine my two worlds, the venue, the music and the media production and lean into what Mercury has always been, a dive bar with a finger on the pulse of roots music and the communities that form around it. We’ve done a run of really well done, multi-camera shows, we’re generating more and more music focused content through our online publication. We’re really focused on documenting everything that is happening in the world of the music we book.
I’d say the highlight of my career was getting to produce a documentary with Sterlin Harjo about the town of Terlton, Oklahoma. That has a really special place in my heart. The town suffered a pretty terrible tragedy, Oklahoma’s worst industrial accident, and the event had been largely forgotten by most folks that didn’t live through it. Helping capture that story was an experience that I’ll never forget.
What is your favorite Oklahoma music venue, music store, or recording studio?
Oklahoma is lucky to have several legendary venues and some of the best record stores in the country. My favorite venue is Mercury, I’ll admit I might be biased but I’ve been to countless shows at Cain’s Ballroom that I’ll always remember, same with the Tower Theater in Oklahoma City. I really love the Blue Door and can’t wait to get back to an intimate songwriter showcase there. The Deli in Norman hosts a lot of the same bookings we do at Mercury, so I’m always paying attention to who they are supporting as it’s usually good stuff. If you’re in Norman anyway, you probably need to hit up Guestroom Records, which has been a staple in that community for about 20 years. My favorite record store hands down is Starship Records & Tapes. My Dad used to take me there when I was a kid, I take my kiddo there, they have an incredible selection and variety and have been constant supporters of the local music scene. Starship forever.
Can you share which Oklahoma organizations (if any) have contributed to your success and are there Oklahoma organizations you would recommend to connect with? To help further their craft or promotion?
Without a doubt the support of the Oklahoma Film + Music Office (OF+MO) has been vital and has offered a connection to a greater network of folks in Oklahoma that care about and support the music and the industry focused businesses related to it. Oklahoma, and Tulsa in specific to my experience, has always been associated with music. From Woody Guthrie to Garth Brooks to David Teegarden, Oklahoma has altered the course of American popular culture. Entities like OF+MO and the Tulsa Office of Film, Music Arts and Culture help create the networking opportunities required to bring together different areas of knowledge and expertise as well as help bridge cultural divides through a shared love of music and all its different varieties. Oklahoma has everything from an incredible hip-hop presence to a nationally recognized Red Dirt scene and connecting those worlds through open communication and an even platform is an important part of what will shape the future of both the art and industry of our state. It is worth mentioning that were it not for the support of these organizations and the Play Tulsa Music program, I’m not sure Mercury would have made it through this pandemic.
How can we follow you/your venue?
I am pretty active on Instagram. I like being able to scroll through and look at what creators are making and selling. It’s incredible that someone can use that platform to monetize their art in a way that isn’t possible on Facebook. You can buy merch to support Mercury Lounge at MercuryLoungeTulsa.com. I really enjoy doing some of those designs and look forward to when the world calms down and I can spend my days making dumb shirts.
Advice for someone interested in working in the music industry.
It’s a cliché but if you are in it for the money, you are in it for the wrong reasons. Rock and roll don’t pay the bills. But if you want to work in music because you are passionate about it, start by paying attention and asking questions and assuming that you need to learn everything, because you do. Whether it’s designing your own logo to booking your own tour, you need to treat it like a business and know how to do it yourself. If you want to work in music offstage, make it a goal to be the most professional and knowledgeable individual in your field you can be. Learn everything you can, pay attention and set goals.
What are some of the benefits of having a music career in Oklahoma?
Oklahoma is centrally located, perfect for routing tours in and out of, two major crisscrossing interstates, low cost of living, supportive and artistic community and a growing network of industry focused professionals. If Oklahoma isn’t a hub for the touring industry in the next five to ten years, I’ll be shocked.
It’s a toss up between “It’s a folk singer’s job to comfort disturbed people and to disturb comfortable people.” and “Take it easy, but take it.”, both from Woody Guthrie.