Colorado Music Collective Forges Connections and Faces the Challenges of Denver's 'Cultural Renaissance'
By Katie Moulton, Westword
On Monday, October 3, a motley crew gathered at Syntax Physic Opera for happy-hour drinks and industry talk. But this wasn’t your typical after-work wind-down: It was the ninth installment of the Colorado Music Collective. The room was filled with members of Denver’s independent music community, including bookers, publicists, festival organizers, sound technicians, writers, musicians and, on this night, several students from the Music & Entertainment Industry Studies department at the University of Colorado Denver.
In addition to the opportunity to meet other Denverites in the music industry, each monthly meetup puts a guest speaker in the hot seat. This time it was Chase Wessel, talent booker and production manager for Levitt Pavilion Denver, and he tailored his talk mostly to the student audience, describing his circuitous route through various music jobs, including working on Conan O’Brien’s show. Wessel’s advice was to say yes to everything at first and to collect varied hands-on experience, because you never know where it might lead.
That same principle of putting yourself out there and meeting people with similar concerns — even without a clear directive — is at work within the CMC. Westword spoke with two community members with extensive résumés: Chris Zacher, CMC founder and executive director of Levitt Pavilion, and Kyle James Hauser, prolific musician and steering committee member. We talked about the group’s goals and Denver’s “cultural renaissance.”
Westword: How did CMC get started?
Chris Zacher: The Colorado Music Collective was an idea that came to me after an event that we held in November 2014 to engage the local music community in the design of Levitt Pavilion Denver. We invited the community to the Oriental Theater, and it was the first time that I can remember just about everybody from the music community being in the same room at the same time. That wasn’t the first CMC meeting, but it sparked the idea. As founder of the CMC, I’ve worked to engage the music community aroundimportant topics that involve artists and industry professionals.
How long have you been involved with the CMC?
Kyle James Hauser: I joined the steering committee for the CMC in May 2016. Since then, I strive to attend any meetings I’m in town for.
How do you pick people/projects to spotlight for the monthly meetups?
Zacher: We pick topics that are pertinent to the music community and how they affect musicians and industry professionals. For example, in the spring of 2016 we invited Kendall Smith from the UMS and Scott LaBarbera from the Sunnyside Music Fest to talk about the challenges of producing both large- and small-scale outdoor music events in Denver.
Each month, immediately following the CMC meeting, there will be a musicians’ open mic. Integrating the meeting with this open-mic session is going to be fun and hopefully help to create a larger audience.
What did you get professionally/personally out of going to CMC meetups?
Hauser: It’s always valuable for me to have an opportunity to connect with old friends and new acquaintances in the Colorado music community. Oftentimes when I’m on tour or working at home, my interactions with colleagues are brief and business-oriented. I find it really rewarding to get to spend some social time touching base, checking in and learning more about active members of our scene. The primary focus of my career is building relationships and friendships with like-minded professionals in our community. I feel like it’s the personal connections to one another that create an environment where great things can happen. Taking the time to just “hang” at events like the CMC meetups are a wonderful way to feel more connected to our city and scene.
What do you hope a group like CMC can accomplish, on small and large scales?
Zacher: It’s no secret we are in the midst of a cultural renaissance in Denver. It’s been amazing to watch this unfold in less than a decade. We have grown at an unimaginable rate. With this growth, our music community has changed. Our entire arts community has grown. The Colorado Music Collective is part of this growth; it’s a component of the maturation of a music community. We hope to accomplish a few things. First and foremost, provide a learning and networking place where the music community can gather in a non-competitive environment. Second, we are working to advocate for issues that affect the music community, like the City of Denver’s outdoor-sound ordinance.
Hauser: I’m very focused on education at the moment and working toward creating multiple platforms and opportunities for musicians of all levels to learn the ins and outs of having a career in music. I believe the CMC, along with many other great statewide programs — including the Music District in Fort Collins and my newest project, Detour — can provide resources to our community and create safe spaces to ask tough questions. I believe if our music community as a whole becomes more savvy to the business side of professional music on a national scale, then we’ll all step up together and build a stronger “middle class” of professional musicians.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the Denver music community?
Zacher: I would say one of the biggest challenges we face as a music community is in how little we pay artists. If we want to be recognized internationally as a music city, we have to rethink how this industry compensates its talent. The artist is the one who drives business, and if we want to grow this industry, we have to understand this. Right now, our artists cannot afford to live in Denver without having multiple jobs. Until we address how we pay them, it is not going to change. If artists cannot afford to hone their craft in Denver, they’ll move on.
The Colorado Music Collective's next meeting and musicians' open mic is Tuesday, November 1, at 6 p.m. at Syntax Physic Opera.