The Making of A Music City

Written By: Jason Turner
Photos By: Dan Mitchell

Increasingly, Columbus, Ohio, is finding itself at or near the top of the list in terms of national rankings. Be it shopping (No. 4), sexual satisfaction (No. 3), or intelligence (No. 1), Columbus is consistently being recognized as a national leader. But where does it rank as a music city?

Chances are, if you’re not from here you’re probably not aware of the talent-rich music scene in Columbus, but there is a growing number of artists, musicians and entrepreneurs who are intent on changing that.

On June 25, more than 150 Columbus artists and city leaders gathered at the Garden Theater in the Short North for the second annual “How To Build A Music City” event, hosted by the Columbus Songwriters Association (CSA). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss local music and explore new ways to grow and support it.

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Experts from around the country and within the community spoke to a room full of students, creatives and Columbus advocates, on topics ranging from music licensing to best practices, networking and the impact of local music on the city.

Many of the panelists, including SESAC NY Vice President Linda Lorence-Critelli and Nashville producer Brady Barnett, spoke about how Columbus already has the tools, talent and infrastructure to become an elite music city.

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Local leaders, such as Jami Goldstein of the Greater Columbus Arts Council and Mike Brown of Experience Columbus, shared similar sentiments, and encouraged those in attendance to work together.

“Columbus is in a period of unprecedented collaboration right now,” said Brown. “We need to bring that same philosophy, attitude and organization to the arts and live music because we can. The talent is here.”

Brian Lucey, a Columbus native and Grammy-winning producer who now resides in L.A., shared a pre-recorded message, commending Columbus artists on their talent and uniqueness and imploring them to keep going.

“The narrow framework in America is one city, one style [of music], and we’re better than that,” he said. “We’re too talent-rich to be trapped by that kind of singularity. We’re diverse in riches, as you all well know. Columbus simply needs to come together with pride and belief, in that diverse wealth, and tonight is another step toward doing just that.”

Several of Columbus’ most celebrated artists were also in attendance to show their support for the community and talk about their experience as full-time musicians.

“I just think there’s a hunger and there’s a drive here,” said singer-songwriter Joey Hebdo. “It’s about the art, it’s about music, and it’s about creating. I kind of like that ‘no matter what’ passion that exists here. It keeps me going. It’s very inspiring.”

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“Columbus is home,” said Nick D’Andrea of Nick D’ & The Believers. “When I was 18 I wanted nothing more than to leave because I grew up here, but I went to N.Y. and traveled around and I always end up back here because there’s such a momentum to this city and what’s going on. It’s growing so rapidly and it just becomes cooler by the day.

“I remember looking around a few years ago and thinking this place is amazing. I’m excited to be here and to live here and be a part of it.”

One of the central ideas discussed was the formation of a music commission, which would work alongside local government and local businesses on behalf of the music community, for the overall betterment of the city.

Similar, successful commissions have been formed in cities like Nashville, New York City and Austin, and many believe it is an essential next step for Columbus.

“We have seen through efforts like the film commission that when there’s a focused, directed, energized effort to build up an industry within a specific discipline it works,” said Goldstein. “We can build the music economy here. We can get more of a living wage for our musicians. We can tell our story nationally and internationally about the vibrant culture here in Columbus. And having a music commission that is dedicated to that is going to be critical in making that happen.

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“I think there is something already here,” said Tom Krouse, CEO of Donatos Pizza and frontman for the band Grassinine. “Bringing a lot of musicians together, with diverse genres and talents, I think we pull that together in some sort of construct and that’s when we’re going to move forward.”

CSA co-founder and How To Build A Music City organizer Joey Hendrickson said he is committed, along with help of community organizers, to making Columbus a top destination for musicians, and his vision for what that could look like was met with the evening’s loudest applause.

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“Columbus will be known as a hub of music innovation, collaboration and artistry, and its music will be an important cultural and economic asset. The Columbus music commission connects music makers, music commerce and community to engage in creating, performing and promoting great music.

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