On Friday, September 20, Chicago shone a spotlight on the city’s music scene with its very first Chicago Music Summit at the Chicago Cultural Center. The free event offered a plethora of panels, concerts, and networking opportunities that provided professional development and exposure for Chicago’s music community. Here are some of the highlights from the summit.
Keynote Address by COMMON
The day kicked off with a keynote address by multi-Grammy® Award-winning musician and Chicago native, COMMON. “I have been and I will be just like you all. We all come from the same place,” COMMON said at the start of his speech. “There is greatness in this room.”
He went on to discuss his own career trajectory, and shared the three essential elements that will help musicians achieve success – find your own distinctive voice, believe in yourself, and turn all obstacles into positives in order to achieve greatness. He also described the importance of surrounding yourself with a team who shares your vision and supports you. Lastly, he encouraged the audience to have faith in God and family, because they will stay with you through even the darkest times.
Showcase of Local Music Tech Products & Innovations
This showcase, moderated by Mahrinah von Schlegel of Cibola Tech Incubator, featured entrepreneurs from several Chicago music tech startups. Inventors from each of the companies demonstrated how their products fulfill a need or solve a problem. Some of the products included:
- Eevzdrop – CEO Rommel Paraiso’s iPhone social media audio app combines elements of Instagram and Foursquare. Users can record audio clips, check in at a location, attach a photo, and then share with their friends. This is an ideal way for bands to share snippets of their music as they are in the recording studio, for fans to share audio clips of the concerts, and for bloggers to enhance their sites with an audio blog.
- Downwrite – Cofounders Mark Rose and Bob Nanna’s website allows music lovers to connect directly with songwriters. Users can commission a songwriter to write and record an original song, for which the user provides the idea and inspiration. For example, you can tell a songwriter the story of how you and your fiancé met, and he can turn it into a song for the first dance at your wedding. Or, you could commission a song about your grandmother’s calico cat and give it to your grandmother for her birthday. This is a great way for fans to connect with artists on a personal level. It also gives musicians a platform to generate a new fan base and earn extra income.
- Chicago Mixtape – Casey Meehan’s website allows fans to connect to the heart of Chicago’s music scene. Subscribers receive an e-mail every Monday morning that contains a free digital “mixtape” of music from bands who will be performing in Chicago the following weekend. This is a win-win for fans and musicians. Fans can get free music every week and will know all of the hottest shows to attend. Bands can reach a new fan base and easily drive audiences to their shows. Meehan also mentioned that current subscribers come not only from Chicago but also from all around the world.
- Tom Denison, Founder/CEO of Funl, spoke about the two essential components for a successful startup company -Build something that solves a real problem, and people will adapt your solution.
This fascinating session featured industry experts performing live critiques of band websites including Mucca Pazza, I Fight Dragons, and Sable Alexis. Moderated by Dave Dufresne of Bandzoogle, the panel consisted of Brian Schopfel, CEO of Eyes & Ears; Jamie Ludwig, Writer/Editor/Media Consultant, Rock Editor of ChicagoMusic.org; and Joe Delci, webmaster of CIMM Fest. Here are some of the valuable takeaways from the session:
- Embed a video of your band playing a show right on your home page. Don’t include a link to a video website such as YouTube because it sends the user away from your page and allows them to get distracted by other videos.
- Include all important information above the “fold” of the page. Users shouldn’t have to scroll down to look for your contact information, show dates, etc.
- Include favorable press quotes about your band on the homepage.
- Create an easily visible call to action. For example, offer to send people a free track if they give you their e-mail address. Having a list of fans’ e-mail addresses gives you an easy way to contact them about your upcoming shows and albums.
- Having music auto-play on your website is a huge no-no. First, people don’t like to have music “forced” upon them when they visit a page. Second, they might already be listening to music on their computer. Having two songs playing at once is an unpleasant experience. Third, someone might be visiting your website while they are at work, and they won’t want to disturb everybody else in the office. Finally, the user might have multiple tabs open in their browser, and there’s nothing worse than not being able to find where the music is playing.
Enhancing the Mobile Music Experience
This panel discussed how it is becoming increasingly important for artists to create effective experiences for fans via mobile devices. BandPage CEO J Sider moderated the panel, which also featured Ty Roberts, CTO and Co-Founder of Gracenote; Ted Suh, Director of Music Partnerships for SoundCloud; and Theda Sandiford, VP of Digital Marketing for Universal Republic. The speakers had some great advice:
- Don’t create your own mobile app. People have an average of 40 apps on their phone, but they only use about four of them – Twitter, Facebook, Google Maps, and YouTube. Your mobile app will more than likely not be one of the four. It’s a better idea to either integrate with an already existing app or build a website. Your website should s have parallax design so it will function on all devices.
- The band profile on your homepage should be 70 words or less so that it’s easy for fans to digest. You can have a longer version elsewhere on your website.
- Merchandising information about your band should include who you are, what you play, and why audiences should care. Purchasing music on your website should involve as few clicks as possible. If someone browses but doesn’t buy anything, “cookie” him so that when he returns to your website, a new message will convince him to make a purchase.
- It is important to integrate with streaming music services. Listeners have been consuming streaming music more than purchasing downloads. This is due to the rise of the millennial generation, who prefers to experience things rather than own them.
This session discussed what bands should know about using websites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo to produce an album or launch a tour. Moderated by Jaime Black of Dynasty Podcasts, the panelists included Benji Rogers, Founder/CEO of PledgeMusic; Kendel Ratly, Marketing Director of Kickstarter; Brian Mazzaferri, Band Leader of I Fight Dragons; and Dan Salganik, Co-Founder of FunderHut.
- With crowdfunding, bands are not limited to simply producing a CD as they would be with a traditional label. Bands can offer extras such as videos about the making of the album, an art show with creations related to the album, or a meet-and-greet with band members. This is more likely to engage the millennial generation, who prefers engaging with the band rather than simply purchasing a CD.
- Over 100 million people have funded projects. This is the equivalent of an album going platinum.
- Contact fans about funding your project through Facebook and Twitter. Also, reach out to music bloggers so they can spread the word about your album or tour.
Success, Authenticity, and the Chicago Music Industry
The panelists discussed the music scene in Chicago and shared stories about their own careers. Moderated by Gabe McDonough, VP Music Director at Leo Burnett, the participants included Joe Shanahan, Owner Metro/Double Door; Chris Kaskie, President/CEO of Pitchfork Media; David T. Aiecelli from The Billions Corporation; Nan Warshaw, Co-Owner and Co-Founder, Bloodshot Records; and Malik Yusef Jones “The Wordsmyth”, Grammy®-winning songwriter, spoken word artist, film producer, actor, and philanthropist. This session also featured opening remarks by Alderman Proco Joe Moreno of the 1st Ward.
- The consensus among all the panelists was that Chicago has a unique music scene with hard-working, talented, and modest musicians. In addition, Chicago venues treat musicians well.
- Joe Shanahan took the opportunity to speak directly to Alderman Moreno about how he feels Chicago’s 6% amusement tax hurts the artists.
- The panelists answered an audience member’s questions about current music trends and getting started on a career in music. They recommended that musicians become tech savvy and innovative. If you have a good idea, the money will follow. However, you should not expect instant gratification. The music business is a lot of hard work, and not necessarily glamorous.
- Malik Jones echoed a sentiment which Common had shared in the keynote address – you need to have a good team of people around you in order to succeed.
The first Chicago Music Summit was chock-full of information, and amazing that the city put this entire event on for free. Here’s hoping that it’ll become an annual event and draw an even bigger crowd next year.
- Common Calls For Peace In Chicago: Let’s See Action (wxrt.cbslocal.com)
- How Musicians Are Using Vine To Promote New Music (hypebot.com)
- Crowdfunding: When is it Appropriate? (ryanglaspell.wordpress.com)
- 101 Ways to Make Money as a Musician (simonverse.wordpress.com)