Common Day is Surprisingly Uncommon

The first annual Chicago Music Summit started off slow with an introduction from a representative for the Department of Cultural Affairs, who declared September 20th to be Common Day on behalf of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The audience seemed less than shocked as they listened to the Common‘s speech, which was akin to Friday morning church. Common focused on the mistakes, failures, successes, and relationships that led him to greatness, encouraging the crowd to find their path to greatness, to believe in it, and to live it every day. Strong words coming from a man who founded Common Ground (a local non-profit,) wrote a children’s book called I Like You but I Love Me, and starred in a quality TV series called Hell on Wheels. Common is not only a Grammy award winning recording artist and a philanthropist; he is also gifted public speaker. We left the room feeling empowered and excited to see what the day would bring.

The maze-like layout of the Cultural Center was at first hard to navigate, so I went to the first panel discussion I could find called Auditioning with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I was one of four people talking to a panel of five. The intimate atmosphere was conducive to tailored responses and frequent daydreams. Next, I went to the Demolition Derby panel in the Claudia Cassidy Theater, where a panel of web designers and social media experts picked apart artists’ websites, giving them tips on how to improve their online presence and aesthetic. It was like a new age roast: quick, digital, and open-sourced.

Across the street ¬†was Gallery 37. We walked there to hear a discussion about non-traditional revenue streams. More often than not, the dreaded “day job” is a necessity for most independent musicians. Artists need to have day jobs because after paying their crew, funding their projects, and advertising their work, they only receive about two percent income from any new endeavor. The intersection between artistry and entrepreneurship is getting bigger; more and more creative types use business to fund their labors of love.

Then came an hour-long discussion from local business owners about the ins and outs of the music business. Joe Shanahan, owner of Metro/Smartbar, and others emphasized the lack of glamour and glitz in the industry. It’s really only two percent of the time that you’re partying and living it up. If you want your business to succeed, you better be putting in long hours to make your business run as efficiently as possible.

A couple hours later came the swanky reception underneath the fabled Tiffany & Co. glass dome. Catering came courtesy of Embaya and Untitled & Co. Whisky-infused salty whipped cream, beer brulade, banana flowers, and shallot-splattered squash were just some of the palate teasers available. Networking was tough because the music was too loud, and asking the sound engineer to turn it down didn’t do much. We took advantage of the open bar and handed out lots of business cards, hoping the music showcases would start soon.

The music was like the long-awaited marshmallow at the end of a torturous psychological experiment. Toronzo Cannon, Psalm One, Kembe X, Atmospheric Audio Chair, and others made every painstaking climb up the gilded staircase more than worth it. Each set was only 20 minutes long, giving us a taste of everything and anything we desired to hear, from hip hop to blues to jazz. I can’t wait for next year’s music summit. I don’t know how different it’ll be, but I do know one thing : if it doesn’t fall on Common day, then an unofficial Riotfest most certainly will.

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