White Paper: Celebrating Chicago's Indie Music Assets
Celebrating Chicago’s Indie Music Assets
Chicago is a global city. It must continue to enhance its position both in the global economy and in the minds of Chicagoans and those around the world who want to pursue their dreams on a world stage. The growing body of theory on urban success and the political leadership of Chicago recognize that cities succeed only when they are attractive places to live and work and when they have a pool of talented and well-educated young people to contribute to their businesses, industries, and social life.
The attractiveness of any city—and its ability to hold its young people and to draw others from outside—depends greatly on its arts. Chicago is well known for its architecture, for its art museums, for its theater, and for being an attractive place to make a movie. Blues and jazz dominate its reputation as a center of musical creativity as well.
Chicago, however, has another asset that is far less visible: its community of “Indie” musicians—musicians who work seriously at their music, record and perform regularly, but who do not (yet) enjoy national or international audiences, usually developed in the past by major record labels. It is important for Chicago to nurture its musicians and to make them more visible for many reasons.To remain a global city, Chicago needs its musical talent to want to stay in Chicago, and it needs musicians from elsewhere to want to come to Chicago rather than viewing New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville as the only places of opportunity.Chicago also needs its citizens and visitors to think of the city as a place where music of all genres is a valuable part of its social fabric.
Chicago has hundreds of venues in which Indie musicians perform every night, but they are little known outside the community of devoted fans. Their draw could be much greater if the music scene of which they are a part were more visible.
Moreover, the music industry is in the midst of a technological revolution, with market share shifting from physical formats marketed, distributed, and controlled by major record labels, to downloadable digital formats distributed over the internet, by enterprises like iTunes, Rhapsody, and social networks such as MySpace. This revolution opens up new opportunities for Indie musicians and challenges them to discover new ways to keep in touch with their audiences. Chicago is in a unique position to take advantage of this technological revolution because it is not burdened by vested interests tied to old ways of developing and promoting music.
A group of Chicago Indie musicians want to develop this opportunity.They intend to create an open space where musicians of all ages, levels of experience, and genres can get to know each other, teach each other, rehearse, and perform. Their vision is a venue that is physically welcoming to all age groups, one that is not predominantly a drinking establishment, and one that schedules performances to accommodate both listeners who do not want to be out late at night as well as those who do. The project will welcome visual artists as well as musicians, and it will nurture performers who combine music with other forms of expression. It likely will be virtual in its early stages and thereafter, but a physical venue also may be appropriate to occupy a niche not presently served by places that are museum-like, too purist, too swanky, or limited to the over-21 population because they serve alcohol. The goal is to focus on a neglected demographic category: performers and audiences ranging in age roughly from 16 to 29.
One of the objectives of this initiative is to educate a broader audience on the diversity found within the Indie music. Many casual listeners of popular music assume that “Indie” means high-school garage bands playing in the “punk” tradition. In fact, the category encompasses ballads and folk songs with sweet melodies; avant-garde instrumental arrangements combining jazz, rock, and twentieth-century influences; a wide variety of musical instruments; and the more standard distorted electric guitar-based heavy metal. While some Indie musicians are still in their teens, others are in their twenties and thirties—and a few are in their sixties. All of these performers—and more—will be showcased.