Music events seeking rhythm: Midwest Music Summit picks up the beat for industry convention expected to draw 23,000

The Midwest Music Summit is approaching its fifth year bigger than ever as organizers fine-tune an event they hope will find harmony with a massive convention planned for the same weekend.

More than 400 artists are slated to perform at 35 venues throughout the city during the July 21-23 summit-scheduled this year to coincide with International Music Products Association’s NAMM Summer Session, an annual gathering expected to draw 23,000 music aficionados for its first stop in Indianapolis.

The timing is indeed fortuitous.

After four years as a sideline for a nowstalled independent record label, the summit is on its own this time around. Organizers registered MMS as a not-for-profit corporation in October, and they’re awaiting word from the IRS on their request for tax-exempt status.

Leaders think the shift will make it easier to find funding, since donations will be taxdeductible, and they hope the event will earn some staying power by becoming more involved in the community. “This is not a moneymaking venture, whether we are for-profit or not-for-profit,”said Executive Director Josh Baker, the 29-year-old leading the charge. “This isn’t about money. It’s about music and education.”

This year’s summit incorporates an educational component beyond the professionaldevelopment seminars offered in the past-two days of free kid-centered programs dubbed “Music is Instrumental.”

Activities range from hands-on workshops and a parent resource fair to a youth music showcase and roundtable discussion about music in the schools. In the week leading up to the summit, several artists will visit Indy Parks day camps for live performances.

“They’ve really added a lot more community elements this year,” said Steve Hayes, editor of, a not-for-profit that operates a Web site for local bands, venues and fans. “For better or worse, Midwest Music Summit has kind of been … I don’t want to say underground, but something a lot of folks in Indianapolis didn’t necessarily feel a relationship with or an affinity toward. This will reach people who don’t necessarily have a natural interest in it.”

Baker intends to use any proceeds from this year’s summit to support local musiceducation efforts and lay the groundwork for similar events next year.

“This all exists to create opportunities for kids,” he said. “That’s what we’re interested in doing.”

He offered an example of how MMS could help: Indianapolis-based Bands of America is sending some children to band camp, paying for buses to get them there. But they need money for gas.

At this month’s summit, Music is Instrumental participants will get a 12-page resource guide for Marion County, listing places to go for music lessons, instrument repair and the like.

What happens next depends on attendance at the paid Summit events, including educational workshops for professionals and aspiring pros. But the heart and soul of the three-day festival is the music.

Local artists and performers from as far away as Australia will take to the stage-make that stages-all over town. Only about a dozen of the 35 venues usually feature live music, Baker said, and the infusion should go a long way to opening residents’ eyes to the possibilities.

“We want to show people that it’s cool to have music in the pub on the corner,” he said. “This is a street-level experience; it’s intimate. This isn’t like going to Verizon [Wireless Music Center] and sitting 300 yards away.”

That’s just the kind of music scene convention-goers are looking for as they converge on Indianapolis after 12 years in Nashville, Tenn. NAMM officials asked Baker to move the August music festival up a month to accommodate attendees used to the offerings in Music City, USA.

“There were lots of business reasons Indianapolis is a good fit for us,” said association CEO Joe Lamond. “By filling in this part of it, we answer any questions we could get from members who want to get out and see good music.”

NAMM estimates its 23,000 summer trade show attendees will inject $23 million into the Indianapolis economy; it plans to return in 2007 and possibly 2009, alternating between the Circle City and Austin, Texas.

Hopes for the summit are running high.

“This is going to create an incredibly festive atmosphere in the city during a period when we know we’re going to be wall-to-wall with music lovers,” said Keira Amstutz, director of cultural development for Mayor Bart Peterson. “It also gives the community a way to participate in the excitement of having this major convention here.”

“We’re going to have live music ringing out from every corner,” Baker promised. “It forced us to step up, but that was a good thing.”

Expanding the summit from the 250 bands featured last year meant cranking up the organizational machine last fall.

Jacobs and Baker-the summit’s only full-time employee-attended regional showcases in Cincinnati, Minneapolis, St. Louis and Grand Rapids, Mich., to scout talent. They spent weeks listening to more than 1,600 submissions from bands.

And Baker beat the bushes for sponsors and other funders, eventually scaling back the original $400,000 budget to a more manageable “bare-bones” $250,000. He needs to sell about 2,000 all-access wristbands at $25-$30 each to break even and have money left over for programs.

“We’re still scrambling,” he said last week.

Music fans who don’t want to spring for the wristband can pay cover charges at individual venues. A full schedule is available at

What the summit will look like next year-or during NAMM’s next visit in 2007-remains to be seen. But Baker is confident it will be around in some form.

“We want to grow organically, keep our grass-roots origins,” he said. “We don’t want to get too big too fast.”

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