By Daniel Warren Hill
One side effect of listening to the music of Dior Ashley Brown is, at least in part, a better understanding of the contagious energy behind the DC Music Summit, the event and organization she founded. Celebrating its fifth year, DCMS (for short) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that supports local musicians and the DC music industry by fostering inclusion, community engagement, professional development, and networking. Both DCMS and Brown’s music command the presence of something altogether powerful, uplifting, and convicting.
Dubbed the “Hip-Hop Polymath” by the Washington Post, Dior Ashley Brown defines art through a wide lens of intersections and correlations, enabling her to balance the roles of musician, actor, poet, playwright, activist, Emcee, business owner, and more. She has performed solo and as part of all-female powerhouse groups F.L.O.T.U.S. (First Ladies of the Urban Scene) and IZA FLO at notable venues, including the Kennedy Center, WUSA9 DMV Soundcheck, 9:30 Club, and Apple Carnegie Library.
Held annually in Washington D.C., DC Music Summit combines all the various aspects of the music business or music industry that Dior Ashley Brown has educated herself on throughout her career. Perhaps one of the biggest transitions is from Eaton Hotel, where the event is normally held, to Brown’s alma mater, Duke Ellington School of the Arts. This year’s theme, ‘Foundation,’ is a topic broad enough to guide us every which direction between concept and literalism. While Brown’s musical foundations extend farther back than Duke Ellington School of the Arts, there’s no denying the impact that her time there had on its students since it was established in 1974. Alumni and comedian Dave Chapelle has been outspoken about his ties to Duke Ellington, and, as was reported in The Washington Post, recently unveiled the Theatre for Artistic Freedom & Expression, declining the honor of having the student theater named after himself.
Empowerment is perhaps one of the greatest resources the DC Music Summit has provided since 2016. That comparison could be made to Duke Ellington School of the Arts, which serves to combine academia and the arts into an integrated curriculum. Dior Ashley Brown says that particular foundation isn’t going anywhere. “It still has a similar model, which is to inspire and empower musicians and industry professionals. The awesome part of it is it’s at a space I always wanted it to be at, my alma mater. I feel like, in the past, art schools didn’t really have that business component. There were aspects of the business component, like teaching you how to get the audition, or how to present yourself in front of the camera to get the gig, or things like that, but for me, it wasn’t really about the business. Artists are businesses, industry professionals are businesses; they are small businesses…There is a benefit in understanding the business so it doesn’t seem so scary. Once I started getting more informed, I was like, ‘Oh, I want my people to be more informed,’ and that’s creatives, BIPOC, and women.”
All backgrounds and genres are welcome to attend, volunteer, present, or perform at DC Music Summit, but the Summit’s heart and focus on representing underrepresented communities is seen and felt. The diverse and inclusive community within the greater metropolitan Washington D.C. shows up. They share openly, and folks who are otherwise actively pursuing their own individual careers throughout the year are all congregated together to give what they can and take what they will. Rubbing elbows with artists and industry professionals throughout the event that are equally as dialed in as you are is itself a motivation. The desire to return next year to share new developments and share in the growth of other professionals in the region is strong.
“DC Music Summit was a fantastic event with a mix of educational sessions, discussion panels, and artist performances,” says musician and podcaster, Arvind Venugopal. The Summit pulls no punches, tapping into its extensive network from within and without the region to bring Grammy-nominated artists, producers, and educators into an intimate setting with attendees. That includes Kokayi, Christylez Bacon, and Carolyn Malachi, just to name a few. Singer-songwriter and educator Emma G notes, “On a selfish level, being able to sort of take a stance for the first time and step into my own power…I’ve been a professional in the industry for almost 15 years, and that’s a beautiful thing, and I’ve got knowledge and I deserve to be respected and acknowledged as such. That’s what something like the DC Music Summit gives because it is such a highly revered DC area event and to have other people recognize my intellect and my experience was powerful and impactful on my own career and mindset.” Emma G. has since gone on to speak at TEDx events, host her own Youth Empowerment Through Songwriting coaching program, and is presently MC of "Voices for Choice": a musical showcase series in support of women's reproductive rights held at Songbyrd Music House, one of DCMS’ consistent partners and sponsors, along with fellow local venues Pie Shop and The Pocket.
Accelerate with Google sponsored the first ever DC Music Summit in DC. Organized by Aerica Banks of Google, Dior Ashley Brown, and Jonna Humphries of Moog Music. “Having Google as a sponsor had everybody’s eyes, like, ‘Oh, I need to go to that.’” Brown also acknowledges the city of D.C.’s Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment (OCTFME) and Creative Affairs Office “Wanted to dig a bit deeper, and had been consistent in supporting our movement and pushing us forward.” Alchemical Records and DC Strings are among the new local sponsors this year. Local recording studios Machine Room Studio and Innovation Station Music are among returning sponsors this year. Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center are among returning sponsors this year and who have stayed involved year-round. “Anytime I need sound equipment for a DC Music Summit Event, they are wow. I just love Chuck Levin’s. I love Adam Levin. I am just in awe of their support, back and forth support that he gives me every year.” Additional sponsors this year include Porchfest DC, Born Brown, TTJ Productions, Church of the Holy City, Songpoll, Catharsis On The Mall, Just Rock Enterprises, Emergent Seed, and We Act Radio. “We have been blessed with some awesome sponsors who really make sure we have what we need,” says Brown.
Volunteers and the volunteer mindset are crucial for any non-profit. Simply being willing, and showing up is an accomplishment in itself. On the day of the event DC Music Summit will need help on many levels from greeting to ushering, photography and video recording, to communications and coordination. Between now and then there is also the opportunity to like, share, and comment on the promotional content you discover on DCMS social media or its website. Part of our mission at Alchemical Records has been to give where we can when we can, but our desire is to keep an event like the DC Music Summit on the minds of our readers throughout the year because the effects from last year are still blossoming into something we can’t quite describe yet. To be a witness to the impact the event has had and is continuing to have is humbling and we can only imagine what the future may hold. Suffice it to say that if you are an individual who is a perpetual learner or has a heart willing to contribute, there is a place for you at DC Music Summit.
“A lot of people say, even people who I want to lead sessions or represent the industry, ‘Oh, Dior, I’m not for Amazon or Sony,’ and I say, ‘But we are the DMV though. DC has really been, like, uniquely and independently making our programming. We make what we want it to be.We say we want an awards ceremony. Boom! We’ve got The Wammies, you know what I’m saying? We say we want a funk festival. Boom! We’ve got DC Funk Parade. We say we want to educate and have music business, we’ve got Made In DC and DC Music Summit. Boom!” Whatever we want to make happen, we make it happen. That is DC.”
Learn more about DCMS 2022 at https://www.dcmusicsummit.org/faqs.html. Register today to volunteer, attend, present, or perform. Make it happen.