CUSP Magazine is a firm believer in the power of collaboration.
Embedded in our mission is the mentality that lifting up fellow creatives in the city creates a cohesive community that allows everyone involved to thrive. It is only natural then that we are connected to local organizations and companies that wholeheartedly share this sentiment.
CUSP Magazine is a firm believer in the power of collaboration.
ChicagoMusic.org (CMO) is one such company. The former music blog-turned digital industry hub prides itself on bringing musicians, managers, agents and booking companies from all genres and neighborhoods in Chicago together to turn the city into a leading national powerhouse. According to Amor Montes de Oca, the new director at CMO, this task will not be for the faint of heart. Speaking to her and others in the Chicago music scene has been an eye-opener in terms of learning just how things work for entities trying to make a name for themselves in the music industry and, by extension, other creative sectors in the city.
The consensus is this: in the “age of information,” repping your hood and only your hood until the day you die is counterproductive to your success. It’s no secret that Chicago is one of the most detrimentally segregated places in the U.S., where the only mingling of worlds seems to occur when the underserved are pushed out of their homes as a result of gentrification. ChicagoMusic.org does not claim to be a solution to this problem, but it recognizes that the status quo needs to be turned on its head. Under Montes’ direction, the website is undergoing a radical change from a niche publication that recycles old ideas into a digital collective that connects entities, musicians and venues from all parts of the city and all walks of life.
Montes sat down with CUSP Magazine to talk about ChicagoMusic.org’s mission and future, as well as the current state of Chicago’s music industry.
CUSP Magazine & Chicago Music.org
CUSP Magazine: How was ChicagoMusic.org started?
Amor Montes de Oca: A lot of planets had to align for all of this to come to where it is right now. ChicagoMusic.org is nearly three years old. It came about from a proposal to put together a publication that would advocate for local jazz musicians. It was just so niche and focused. That expanded and Elastic Arts Foundation got the grant to put together this publication, in order to make this publication come to life. The foundation of CMO, at the beginning, was to create a portal to support local underexposed musicians. The premise was to focus on Chicago-based musicians who would normally not get into mainstream because of the kind of music they were doing, and their experimental genre wouldn’t be in the veins of normal publications. They wanted to be that voice.
AM: I became involved with CMO two and a half years later, because I publish arteyvidachicago.com. I have quite a bit of years in publishing stuff in a niche focus. [ChicagoMusic.org.org] wasn’t doing very well, so I said, “Let me have a go. Let me see what I can try to rescue from this.” After many, many hours of thinking about it, many meetings and many tapping into people that I love and respect, what we needed was not a music magazine that wrote reviews or previews or wrap-ups of artists, what we needed was to bring the industry together. There are many publications out there that can adequately tell you what you should be looking at for the weekend, who you should follow, breaking artists. They do it so well, and they have such respectable reputations that that void is full. The void that wasn’t — one that I thought would be meaningful for us to try to fulfill — was let’s bring everybody together. Let’s work with this and that, and that, and that. Let us be the neutral glue to support everybody in the industry. We want to be the support system underneath it.
CM: How has that been working for you so far?
AM: We’re small, and it’s a mammoth undertaking, but no one else is doing it. We are putting all our resources to redirect our work, our dedication and our vision. We are going to do it cautiously and slowly. We’re not going to come out and be like, “We got it. We glued everybody together.” We’re going to be a lot more modest. We’re going to grow with it. We’re very small with a mammoth task, but we have the right partners, and we have the right people around us. It will be done, and it will be done well.
CM: This reminds me a lot of 2112, one of your biggest partners, in that it is a very unique concept that focuses on collaboration.
AM: It is quite literally the digital version of 2112. I think that … we are doing the legwork for you so that you don’t have to, and we’re providing the information that you are looking for. We already found it. We’re sharing it with you. It’s very much as if anyone comes to you and says, “I need to do this and that.” We’ve already done that. You’re helping that person get to their goal a little bit faster. It seems like an unfair trade, but in the long run it will pay off for everybody. That’s the premise that I’m betting on.
AM: Absolutely. I’ve collected our resources and condensed them, and we’re coming out with four tools. We’re going to have a comprehensive calendar of live music in Chicago. Not Chicago music, but just live music. We want to support our guests who are travelling and performing here. We want to support the venues who are taking a chance on supporting travelling artists. The second is that we have a comprehensive calendar of professional development series, which you’ve covered a few. We have workshops, seminars and presentations. We are making a network available to anyone who is eager enough to tap into it. We have leaders in the industry as well as educators committed to providing insight into how you can improve your career and make inroads, giving you tips that would take you a lot of fails before you get it right. We will have a searchable directory of everybody involved in the music industry, anything from record stores in the city to intellectual property attorneys that are working in these areas. We’re trying to put everybody into a “yellow pages,” so that if you’re looking for somebody, you don’t have to spend however long it would take you or tap into your network. We want to expand that window and say, “Look how vast that industry is … look at how many people are involved.”
CM: Let’s say I’m a musician or a band in Chicago. I’ve put this band together and we like making music. Now what?
AM: We will collect information — if you tap into us — that will at least guide you into what’s next. Here are some ways that you can make money, here is a way that you can send emails to Bruce at Martyrs. If this is the one email you send, and if it’s in the right format with the right information that he’s looking for, you’re going to get a response. Versus, emailing him all you want, but if it doesn’t have the right information, you’re just not going to get anywhere. So we’re talking to all these people and gathering all this information to help people get there quicker. Nobody’s saying that you will be an amazing musician, but you have to get through the emails or calls, or you have to know how to put together a good press release.
CM: So it’s basically getting rid of the what-ifs?
AM: It’s basically all down to just do it! We’re providing you with the tools, now it’s up to you. Now you have zero excuses. We’re giving you a map to follow. Here’s some recording studios, here’s some rehearsal spaces, here’s some labels you can tap into. You want to be an intern? These guys have internships available. We just want to connect the dots. We’re neutral, but we want to make it easier for everyone to have a fruitful and productive career in Chicago.
AM: The biggest payoff is artists and industries do not leave Chicago to go record in New York, or go to LA, or go to Nashville. They stay here and make Chicago their home base and stop pursuing these other careers in New York. And for us to stop thinking, “Oh, this artist went to New York and he’s back. The return of the prodigal son.” It’s more like you don’t have to go. It’s all here. You can make it happen here. We want to raise our reputation, our profile, our level. We are at par with New York, with Nashville and with LA. You don’t have to go anywhere. That recognition would be gold for us.
“I think all the pieces are here for Chicago. We are hard working, we are passionate. I think that we sometimes are so focused on our own work that we don’t realize what’s going on around us. The vision that I have for us is to help you realize that there are other people around you and that if we collaborate, we can lift up the whole thing. There are many, many, many people in Chicago doing really amazing things, really remarkable and unique things. And I think people need to be more aware of what’s in our backyard.”
CM: What do you think CMO provides for Chicago?
AM: I think all the pieces are here for Chicago. We are hard working, we are passionate. I think that we sometimes are so focused on our own work that we don’t realize what’s going on around us. The vision that I have for us is to help you realize that there are other people around you and that if we collaborate, we can lift up the whole thing. There are many, many, many people in Chicago doing really amazing things, really remarkable and unique things. And I think people need to be more aware of what’s in our backyard.
AM: We wouldn’t be anything without 2112, honestly. Scott Fetters is brilliant, and the work they’re cutting out for themselves is groundbreaking. [The partnership came about] when Scott was involved with CMO before me. When I took it over, we met for many hours. I tried to dig into what had happened, what didn’t work, how come this didn’t happen, and just get the whole history behind it. It was not possible for CMO to do what we’re doing now. After a long time of thinking and brainstorming about what we could do and what’s our purpose … we came up with this plan, and it just so happened that 2112 was just shaping up and CMO’s new thing was also shaping up. It was a very organic and natural progression. We’ve been on parallel tracks the entire time, but fortunately we believe in each other’s mission because they’re quite close and they complement each other a lot. 2112 is the physical support and CMO is the digital support, and we can connect them both. That’s quite special and unique for organizations.
CM: What does ChicagoMusic.org have planned for the forseeable future?
AM: We have nothing but dazzling things! In addition to our core publication, which will start small and lean, we are lucky enough to have very brilliant interns who want to help us build this thing. We have educational opportunities and hands-on opportunities. In additional to our professional development, we have a comprehensive series of showcases throughout the year. Next year, we’ll have more tools to promote our series and break artists. We’ll have more opportunities to bring people together and network and meet each other. I can only speculate how magical that’s going to be.
AM: Because it’s a tall order. We can’t pinpoint the reason why this has panned out the way it has. Our city is spread out and a bit segregated. We’ve become used to living in those pockets. Audiences will not go from the North side to the South side to see a show because it’s a pain and vice versa. We need to start to break those things down, because we all need each other. It’s time for us to break that pattern. Here’s the thing, [CMO] is lucky that the industry as a whole is changing. It isn’t the big label: “We’re going to tour you, we’re going to record you, we’re going to play you on the radio nonstop,” which was every musician’s aspiration. That whole pattern is morphing into something else. We’re kind of just at the right time, because we don’t have this industry to reshape, we have an industry to shape. I think that’s easier than morphing something that’s already existing.
CM: Is there anyone you think CUSP should reach out to next?
AM: There are many people that are doing great things. Sharing Notes brought tears to my eyes! KOVAL is a partner. Everyone that we have performing at our showcases, Kirk Luye, Keith Jones, Ayanna Woods.
AM: We are making a network available for anyone who is eager enough to tap into it. We’re going to get those tools working perfectly, and then we’re going to add on some more. If you’re a band and you’re listening, we want to wish you the best luck on your record release, we want you to keep us in mind. If we have the opportunity, we will blast it. We want nothing more than for everyone to have a great show. If we can help with a retweet, you got it.