Dylan Rice stands on the steps at the Chicago Cultural Center with his Martin DC guitar, which he’s been playing for 13 years.
He may not be a Chicago native, but when it comes to music, Dylan Rice is the Windy City’s biggest cheerleader. “The level of diversity and innovation in the musical ecosystem is truly unique to Chicago,” enthuses Rice, who grew up in Salt Lake City and moved to the Midwest to attend Northwestern in the mid-’90s. “That’s good reason to put a national, and eventually international, spotlight [on Chicago].”
That’s exactly what Rice is doing as the city’s Director of Creative Industries-Music, which is a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. One of his first major initiatives comes to fruition this month with the inaugural Chicago Music Summit, an expo that Rice hopes will put Chicago’s music industry on the map the way South by Southwest has done for Austin. The one-day conference will feature more than 20 panel discussions for people working in music and a lineup of evening shows for the public.
It’s easy to see why Rice is so invested in the music industry. “I grew up playing piano and guitar and singing along to U2 records,” he says. “I was writing songs for the piano when I was 7 and entering them in contests.” After college he performed under various names and released two solo albums, eventually playing Chicago area venues and opening once for Paula Cole. And though it’s hard to imagine such a creative type behind a desk in the Loop office of DCASE, Rice feels otherwise. “I definitely get my creative ya-yas out with my band—that’s key,” he says, referring to local band Software Giant, for which he sings lead vocals (and which will soon be releasing its first album). “But I get to work and meet artists and creative people all the time [through my current job]. This is very fulfilling.”
Rice is the local point of contact for anyone with questions about or interests in Chicago’s music scene, and local emerging artists couldn’t have a better resource. “I’ve lived and breathed [this industry],” Rice says. “I’ve worn all the hats, I’ve made some mistakes, and I’ve learned the hard way. I empathize with a lot of artists who are trying to do it. So I’m hoping my experience as an artist is informing my experience in government.”
The Chicago Music Summit is just one small part of Rice’s plan for the Department of Music, and he sees no end to what can be done by Chicagoans in the industry. But the message he most wants to communicate is simple: “I just keep tooting the local horn,” he states. “Support your local musicians—they could use your help.” The Chicago Music Summit takes place on September 20