Photo: Courtesy of Sounds of the City

Open Your Ears and Listen to the Sounds of the City

If you’re plugged into the local DC music scene, it’s likely you’re a frequent visitor of DC Music Download. The site is notable and reliable when it comes to tapping the pulse of the latest and greatest artists from the area.

Every year, the site celebrates its anniversary around this time, and 2017 is no different. However, instead of your typical party with pointed-cone hats and confetti, the site stretched its legs by organizing an all-encompassing music festival, set to benefit both industry folks and avid listeners.

Sounds of the City technically started last night with an industry panel, but the meat of the festival is still to come, including the kickoff showcase tonight at Tropicalia, the first-ever DC record label expo and more.

In the eye of the festival storm, On Tap caught up with DC Music Download founder Stephanie Williams on the struggles in organizing, her role in the industry and whether she saw all this coming.

On Tap: How did the idea to throw a festival come about? Why this time of year?
Stephanie Williams: So around this time last year, we started planning this festival. We usually [have] our biggest show of the year coincide with our anniversary. Before, we did one night only events that were self-contained. This is an opportunity for us to spread our wings out and showcase a different side of the local music scene that we haven’t before. This is a good time, because we’re ready to take on a big event like this, and put on a good show this weekend.

OT: How much of it was DC Music Download’s fifth birthday?
SW: This year, we felt it was a good opportunity to do something different, and it happens to coincide with the five-year anniversary. Obviously, it’s different than our typical birthday party.

OT: What was the first step in planning the events? What did you know you would have first? How long did it take you guys to plan it?
SW: It took at least six months for the planning process. The first thing we did was book the music showcases. There is a pop-up artist poster shop where we’ll showcase the local concert posters at the party. Around those shows, we put the panels, and luckily we had great relationships with the venues. Finally, the last part was that we always knew we wanted to do a DC record label expo, because there are so many doing awesome things. It sort of fit with the festival, covering the DC music landscape in a broad stroke. It’s a lot of work operating so many moving pieces and luckily, we’ve been able to get everyone on board.

OT: The idea of being a resource for local musicians, is that something you feel responsible for in a way?
SW: Yeah, absolutely. From the beginning when we started five years ago, we wanted to eventually get to a place where we’re not only providing the entertainment aspect, but also educational resources for the musicians, workshops and panels. It goes deeper than playing the music; we want to help the artists as well. We hope this is a launching pad for more panels, and we hope these become more frequent and raise awareness. We hope this festival serves as a launching pad for us to expand into more than just concerts.

OT: Was it difficult to put the expo together?
SW: Yes, so the thing with that is it’s really unprecedented. For us, we went in blind as far as what it would take to plan, because we’ve never done an expo of that caliber. We sort of knew from the get-go who we wanted to have, but the toughest thing was getting a space.Luckily, Songbyrd was gracious enough to host it in their basement.

OT: Did you reach out to local musicians and artists to gauge interests on some of the panel ideas?
SW: Yeah, those ideas came about through people reaching out to us. One question I constantly get from bands is, “What goes into the marketing aspect of being a musician? What do bloggers look for in curating music and who do they talk about?” That’s something I knew we’d want to talk about in an official way. For the open mic and the record label expo, it came about because there’s nothing like it. There’s so many labels that I’ve seen pop up and emerge, and it was one of those things that I wanted to put those things together in an official way, so people can be discovered and meet. It’s interesting to know how big the local indie record label business is. It’s way bigger than I thought it was.

OT: With this being more of a festival, rather than a party, was it a goal to be even more diverse in your artist selection?
SW: Yes, absolutely. With us, when we did our events in the past, we were only able to showcase maybe four bands at most. It didn’t give us a lot of leg room to expand and ask everyone we wanted to. This gave us an opportunity to reach out to those people. We wanted a chance to showcase these musicians despite their backgrounds or genre; the common thread is their forward thinking about their craft.

OT: What can attendees who aren’t musicians expect at the events other than the concerts?
SW: One thing about these panels is we don’t want to exclude anybody. Even people that aren’t in the panel can come and walk away having learned something. It feels like there’s something to take away, no matter what their background is. Deciphering ways we can rectify the DC music scene is the goal. This has to be an inclusive conversation, and we encourage the public, who might not know a lot about the scene, to come and be a part of it. Anyone from the public who loves music and local arts can come and learn about what’s going on.

OT: Are there tentative plans to do this again?
SW: Yeah. This was sort of an experiment for us to see how it would be; to see how we do in the festival space. In terms of having this happen next year, we want to see how it goes this weekend. I will say that some of the panels we have are definitely things we’ll do going forward. We have so many more labels we want to showcase as well, if not in a festival format, than in a standalone event. I do feel like, for some of these events, we definitely want to continue the momentum.

OT: Does any of this surprise you after five years of DC Music Download?
SW: It feels like it’s been longer than five years. I started it as my own project, something that I wanted to do as a podcast initially. I wanted people to literally download it. It’s crazy to think that it went from a side project to events and a festival. I would have never imagined it would grow into this. We didn’t have a concrete plan on how this would roll out, so it’s definitely surreal to be putting on something like this this weekend. It sounds cliche, but it doesn’t feel real; it seems like a dream. It couldn’t have happened without musicians supporting it.

The Sound of the City’s kickoff showcase is tonight at Tropicalia, and features Ace Cosgrove and BobKillMoe. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12. Learn more about the festival here.

Tropicalia: 2001 14th St. NW, DC; 202-629-4535; www.tropicaliadc.com