Owner, Electrical Audio Studios
According to Steve Albini, “I spend most of my time either playing cards or trying to end capitalism now. I guess I ride my bike more now that I own a bike. That and whatever Heather wants. Seriously though, I make records every day, that’s my gig. Once in a while the band I’m in, Shellac, does something, touring or making a record or whatever. We put out a record in 2014 [“Dude Incredible,’ Touch & Go Records]. Occasionally I’m asked to speak at a conference or school. That shit usually ends up on Twitter, and from there the nightly news. I don’t know what else to tell you. I just cured my first ham. Pretty excited about the ham.” The highly sought-after recording engineer also enjoyed a few moments in the spotlight recently: his 1992 “Letter to Nirvana”—four pages of idiosyncratic ideas for producing the band’s “In Utero”—was reprinted in the “Super Deluxe” reissue of that album; and he very publicly took on Jay Z’s digital streaming service, Tidal.
Owner, Soma Studios
John McEntire’s beloved Soma Studios has hosted the work of many notable bands, including Wilco, Bright Eyes, Broken Social Scene, and of course McEntire’s own terrific outfits: The Sea and Cake and Tortoise. His engineering touch is much like his work on the drum set, which he plays in both bands: clean, intuitive, reliable. Soma’s reputation extends beyond the city limits, and if an acclaimed rock group is rolling through the Midwest to work on something new, it’s often because of McEntire’s space—which is currently moving from the Wicker Park confines it’s called home since the 1990s.
Founder, Fake Shore Drive
The city’s most influential hip-hop blogger became the subject of journalistic attention himself, with profiles in the Tribune, the Sun-Times, The New York Times and The Washington Post; he was also a character in the 2014 CNN documentary series, “Chicagoland.” Andrew Barber’s newfound celebrity enabled a sideline career as a brand ambassador, event curator and rep for companies like Beats by Dre, Red Bull, Ciroc, Hennessy, Heineken and Adidas. He even crashed the establishment by being elected Secretary for the Midwest Chapter of The Recording Academy.
President, Chicago Federation of Musicians
It’s never been easy to make a living as a musician, but in recent years the difficulty has become exponentially greater. All the more reason to celebrate the CFM, which for more than a century has been working “to achieve dignity and just wages for our art.” The union comprises nearly three-thousand members, all professional musicians, including instrumentalists with the CSO and Lyric Opera and the pit orchestra from the Loop’s live theater shows. They represent musicians from every conceivable genre and every possible sphere, from bar bands to commercial session players. Beyond creating a much-needed community for such disparate individuals, CFM is proactive on its members’ behalf, helping them navigate Obamacare and advocating for them in disputes—as Matts did in June 2014, when he took on the International Beethoven Festival, which had failed to pay wages to the musicians who participated in the Festival the summer before.
Ken Shipley and Rob Sevier
Founders, Numero Group
With dogged determination, Numero’s musical detectives dig through piles of old records that disappeared almost as soon as they came out. When they find gems, they track down the forgotten artists who made these rarities. “When you come to somebody out of the blue and say, ‘I’m interested in doing something with your music,’ that’s a call that they never expected to have,” says Ken Shipley, whose label has a reputation for treating musicians right. As Rob Sevier tells it: “I take a pretty no-bullshit approach.” Numero, which is moving into a bigger space this summer in Little Village, packages old tunes with meticulous and loving care, bringing new fans to artists like the Universal Togetherness Band, a genre-jumping collective that jammed in obscurity at Columbia College from 1979 to 1982. “They never had so much as a single released during their existence, so to see how much love they’ve gotten this year is particularly powerful,” Sevier says.
Owner, The Shrine
The Shrine that celebrated its sixth anniversary this year is subtly different from the one Russo opened in 2009. While still specializing in Afrocentric music, reggae has taken over the top spot in the club’s bookings. Additionally, the venue’s lounge space, Coup d’État, has been renovated into its own dedicated entertainment space, driven largely by DJs, as opposed to the live shows in the main room. Russo maintains his sharp eye for talent; The Shrine the first venue in Chicago to book both Avery Sunshine and Kendrick Lamar (“We only drew eighty people and lost money that day,” he laughingly says of the latter), and helped launch L’Renee, who was at the time a backup singer for Kem. Right now, he’s got good feelings about BJ the Chicago Kid, who he describes as “a 2015 version of Curtis Mayfield.”
South Loop-based Reggies, a combination bar/record store/music venue, stays true to its record-store roots. After a long stint in Hoffman Estates as the owner of beloved rock-music shop Record Breakers, Robby Glick moved the store to Chicago and reimagined it as a multipurpose space. Riffing on Record Breakers’ history of in-store concerts, Glick opened Reggies Rock Club/Music Joint, the former boasting a solid commitment to booking punk/metal bands, both locally and nationally. In the past two years Reggies has hosted such mini-festivals as Ragnarôkkr Metal Apocalypse and MoonRunners (once affectionately described as “crusty country punk”), with more certain to follow.
Founder and GM, CHIRP Radio
The Chicago Independent Radio Project celebrates its fifth anniversary this year, and is doing it in a big way. After years as a web-only broadcast entity, the project—brainchild of Shawn Campbell (a former program director at Loyola University’s WLUW)—debuts on 107.1 FM later this summer. The station’s signal has little over a three-mile radius, and CHIRP is introducing new apps at the Pitchfork Festival to bring their programming to people beyond their broadcast range. The new station has also established itself as a mainstay of Chicago’s creative scene in other ways, such as the CHIRP record fair, an eagerly anticipated annual event.
Executive Director, University of Chicago Presents
Although the Chicago Chamber Musicians had been a stalwart of the area chamber music scene since 1986, it wasn’t until Amy Iwano came aboard as executive director in 1993 that contemporary music became as important to CCM as music of previous centuries, with such groundbreaking series as “Music At the Millennium” and “Composer Perspectives.” In 2012, Iwano became the executive director of the venerable University of Chicago Presents, where she has been no less innovative, conceiving and producing a Britten Centennial festival and (with the Pacifica Quartet) a World War I centennial festival, as well as overseeing the fiftieth-anniversary celebration season of Contempo, which included no less than three major world premieres. Next season Iwano has convinced University of Chicago alumnus Philip Glass to accept a three-day campus residency. In addition she oversees the offerings of the Howard Mayer Brown International Early Music Series, and launched the “Jazz at the Logan” series which just ended its second year.