It’s a well-known fact that music is the many universal languages that has the ability to unique bring people together. From classical to punk rock, to R&B soul, gospel and jazz, music can excite, relax and comfort us when we need it the most.
Music is woven into the fabric of The District’s existence. As home of the legendary of Howard Theatre, 9:30 Club and Black Cat; and to late music greats Chuck Brown and Marvin Gaye, Washington, D.C. has surely become one of the nation’s unique spaces for music lovers of all types. One thing I continue to admire about my generation is that if there’s a window of opportunity to create something great, you take it. Three years ago, today’s “Millennial on a Mission” saw that there was a lack of attention on the local music scene, and has since created what the Washington Post calls “the cheerleader for Washington’s music scene.”
I’d like for you to meet Stephanie Williams.
On a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon, I had the opportunity to sit down with Stephanie, the 27-year-old managing editor and founder of the online magazine DC Music Download. We met at Mockingbird Hill, a bar that’s just steps away from the venue of DCMD’s “An Autumn Spectacular!” taking place next month The event, co-sponsored with Raise Your City, will look to benefit local music education program Guitars Not Guns, and bring together four of Washington’s most talented bands.
Over two delicious sherry-infused cocktails, Stephanie and I chatted more about DCMD’s upcoming event, her passion for music, and why she felt it was necessary to give local talent the love that they deserved.
CC: How did DCMD come to fruition, and what made you want to specifically focus on local indie artists and bands?
SW: After graduating from Michigan State, I moved here in 2009 to start a job with Discovery Channel. The job I have isn’t creative — very analytical and numerical — so I wanted to get back into the swing of writing again. I studied broadcast journalism, and I wanted an outlet that allowed me to really fuel my passion, and eventually turn it into a career. It was actually seeing the band Drop Electric live in concert that inspired me to start DCMD. Something about their music was so atmospheric, and really created a memorable experience for me that I wanted to share with others.
When I initially started DCMD, I had no idea how to build a website or run a blog, so I had to teach myself how to design and code. So we launched in January 2012 with just the intention of sharing my pod casts. But the more live shows I attended, the more I noticed that there really wasn’t a place that showcased local bands with show reviews and interviews, so we changed the direction of the site. What started out as five posts a week quickly turned into about 20 posts a week. And surprisingly, it was really quick how the idea caught on, and I really think that local musicians were excited to finally have a place to showcase their talent. With the growth of the site also came the growth of the DCMD team from just myself and one other writer, to more writers, bloggers and photographers to go and cover different shows in the city.
CC: “An Autumn Spectacular!” is a benefit concert taking place at The Howard Theatre to next month in collaboration with Raise Your City. How did this partnership come about, and at what moment did you know it was time for DCMD to host more events?
SW: So this will actually be our second benefit concert working with Raise Your City, an organization (also ran by two millennials) that raises money for local nonprofits in the area. For our second year anniversary show, I thought it was time to celebrate someone other than ourselves, so we partnered with them to raise money for Girls Rock! DC, which was a HUGE success. Both of these organizations I’ve been following for quite sometime, and I really do love the awesome work that they do in the community. The event taking place in October will benefit “Guitars Not Guns“, a small non-profit that provides free guitar lessons and instruments for at-risk youth, which really struck a chord with me. Essentially, it’s one guy that’s doing all of this on a free time, and he finds the instruments (which the kids get to keep) and providing the music lessons as well. They’re kind of in a place where they really need funding and promotion, so I’m really excited to give them that. And not only will the proceeds from the concert go to the organization, but the money raised from our after party.
CC: Who are some of your inspirations when it comes to music journalism? What have you learned from them, and how do those lessons influence the work you do with DCMD?
SW: Bob Boilen, the creator of All Songs Considered on NPR would definitely say is one of my many inspirations. What I love about him is that he’s so humble and down to earth. When I interviewed him a couple months ago, I just felt so humbled by him, the work that he’s done and how he’s truly taken control of his career. Another teacher of mine, Geri Zeldes, is someone that I really look up to as well. She’s just very unapologetic with her reporting, and one thing that I learned from her is that you can’t be afraid to get what you need for a story. Coming up in school, I was very shy, and I have her to thank for really bringing me out of my shell. As a blogger, you’re connecting with people all the time, so it’s important to have the ability to break people out of their shells and get them excited to share their story. So yeah, those two people definitely.
CC: What are some challenges that you’ve faced in launching DCMD, and really remaining steadfast to bringing your dream to life?
SW: You know, it’s interesting. What I love about DC is that you can just show up and be whoever you want to be. It’s not like you have any barriers preventing you from doing what you want to do. People are very helpful too. When I first started DCMD, so many people were willing to help me. Unlike New York City or Los Angeles where you sort of have to arrive already established, in D.C. it’s really all about your content. With blogging, people aren’t going to judge you for who you are, which I think is great. As a young woman in a particularly male-dominated field, I’ve found that navigating the concert scene was a little difficult. Booking bands at first was pretty tough, but I really have Steve Lambert (owner of Rock ‘N Roll Hotel) to thank for helping me learn the ropes
To Stephanie, being a “Millennial on a Mission” means to take risks and live in the now. “The time is now,” she said. “Our generation can get so distracted by so many things, but we can’t wait to do it later.” Stephanie also believes you have to be dedicated and willing to put yourself out there. While it does get a little hectic working a full-time job and managing DCMD, she does appreciate that they are two completely different worlds. “I like how at the end of the day, I come home to DCMD and not worry about the all of the math related things of my job.” In the near future, Stephanie would love to expand Music Download to different cities like Chicago and Austin, where the indie artist scene is growing constantly. “I think we still have a lot of work to do here in D.C., but I’m so grateful that we came in at the right time.”