Does Chicago finally have a Music Office?

Maybe, though most people don’t know about it yet

March 1, 2013

Does Chicago finally have an office of the sort that champions local sounds and facilitates the music community’s interactions with city government in lesser burgs such as Austin, Memphis, Nashville, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland?

Maybe, though the folks staffing it aren’t calling it that yet, and they’ve done very little so far to make anyone aware of it. They are, however, planning a big coming-out party—a Chicago Music Summit—in September, according to a story by my Sound Opinions colleague Greg Kot in today’s Chicago Tribune that marks the first public announcement about the office or the event.

This blog was harshly critical of the lack of specifics regarding the vibrant but always challenged local music scene in the expensive and much-ballyhooed Chicago Cultural Plan.

The most concrete suggestion to improve relations with a city bureaucracy that often seems determined to make things as difficult as possible for the local music industry—small clubs and promoters, independent labels and record stores and of course the musicians themselves—long has been a musical equivalent to the Chicago Film Office.

Segments of the music community have been calling for such an office for decades. These calls grew louder and more desperate after the city’s tone-deaf crackdown on local venues following the E2 disaster in 2003.

The financial justification for such an office was provided in a 2007 study by the University of Chicago that called our town “a music city in hiding,” dealing with a government that generally ignored an industry generating $84 million annually and employing 13,000 people. Still, the Chicago Cultural Plan never mentioned a Music Office once.

 “We’re not calling ourselves the ‘music office’ just yet,” musician-turned-city employee Dylan Rice told Kot. “Right now it’s just me and David Chavez—we’re an army of two.” (Rice’s official title is director of creative industries-music; while his boss he oversees Chavez, a.k.a. the new Michael Orlove, program coordinator of creative industries. CORRECTED: A spokesperson for the Department of Culture Affairs and Special Events emailed to noted that “David reports to Dylan, and David is not the new Mike Orlove. They do not program the DCASE music events for Performing Arts.”)

Call them what you will. Rice, a Utah native who’s been kicking around the Chicago music scene since the late ’90s, and Chavez, a well-respected DJ, former talent booker at the HotHouse and the force behind Sound Culture Center for Global Arts, say they will bring 500 musicians and industry types together for a day of educational panels and showcases at the Cultural Center on Sept. 20 as a first step toward building bridges and creating something like South by Southwest in Austin.

“Our main job is to create policy and programs that support the growth of the music industry, and also to provide assistance with city processes—a customer service function,” Rice tells Kot. “We don’t issue permits and licenses, but we can help venue owners and concert promoters get them.”

Noble as that is, Kot goes on to note that it’s news to many people. Several key players in the local music industry weren’t even aware that the city had at long last decided to put someone in such a position.

Here’s hoping that Rice and Chavez actually will be able to create a functioning Chicago Music Office, making real all that optimistic but nebulous consultant-speak in the Cultural Plan, as well as fulfilling Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s so-far empty rhetoric about loving Chicago music.

Earlier reports in this blog about these issues

July 16, 2012: The Cultural Plan on music: Specifics nonexistent

March 27, 2012: Chicago’s indie festivals face increased challenges

Jan. 26, 2012: Cultural Affairs update: Music out in the cold (for now)