INTERVIEW + PLAYLIST: DC Music Download Celebrates 6 Years at US this Weekend

This Saturday, January 27th, DC Music Download is hosting their 6th Anniversary Showcase and Party at Union Stage. We caught up with Stephanie Williams, founder and editor-in-chief of DC Music Download, and spoke about the history of DCMD, thecurrent state of DC’s music scene, and what she’s been listening to lately. Check out their Soundcloud playlist at the bottom of the page, and scoop your tickets to this Saturday’s show right now!

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By Eric Zidar

Union Stage: You’re coming up on the 6 year anniversary of DCMD, congratulations! How did DCMD get started and what sparked the idea for its creation?

Stephanie Williams: Back in 2011, I was in the midst of trying to figure out something I could do creatively as a side project to what I was doing full time. My full time job was very much the opposite of DCMD, it was very data heavy, I guess what you might call a typical corporate 9-to-5 job, so I really wanted something new where I could channel my creative energy. I studied broadcast journalism in college, and was very much involved with music and loved writing about it, so I tried to figure out a way I could incorporate that into the new project.

I started experimenting with ideas, and one of them was to create a podcast where I could share artists and releases that I was really into. Simultaneously, I was exploring the different venues both big and small here in DC, and noticed that there were a lot of great artists here doing great things. I noticed there was no way to really get to know these artists without going to a show, so I decided to shift my focus from doing the podcast and featuring random artists that I liked, to focusing more narrowly on the music scene here. At the end of 2011, I started building the website, and eventually it grew from just the podcast to being a fully fledged website that is updated daily.

We aim to go really into depth on not only the music, but the people behind the music. When I first launched it, it was just myself and a few random people who were super passionate about the idea. I didn’t know them personally I just found them on Craigslist, and we kind of just went in blind to see what would happen. We wrote about anything we thought was cool coming out of the community – like new releases, or interviews with artists we liked who had a show coming up. It was all very barebones at the start but we kept growing mostly through word of mouth, and eventually people took notice. So yeah, at the very start it was partly fate and partly that I just wanted people to know about all the cool things happening right here in DC.

I think now more than ever it’s super important to have a local outlet covering what’s happening especially with a number of publications closing and others scaling back on local music coverage.

US: How has the scene is DC changed since you got started, and what are your thoughts on it’s current state?

SW: When I first started covering music here, the scene was still coming into fruition in terms of all the different types of music in DC learning to co-exist, which is still happening today. If you were to go back 20 years or so, I think you’d find the scene to be skewed a bit towards rock with the whole Dischord era at its peak, but now with the internet and a lot more music discovery happening, I think there’s definitely been a shift and many different types of genres and music can now co-exist on the same platform.

When I first started, the biggest challenge was to try and cover everything because there was so much stuff. DC has a pretty big hip-hop scene, we have a very thriving electronic scene, a great samba scene, hispanic rock, I mean there are just so many different styles of music here. I think one big way it has evolved now is due to all the different venues that exist, more so than the music, that are dedicated to showcasing all these different types of music. So it’s really great to see not only all the diversity in the scene, but also that there are spaces that are covering the music. So I would say that’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve noticed. I feel like people who aren’t from here don’t quite understand the broadness of the scope or how diverse it really is. I think in the past 6 years I’ve learned that just when you think you’ve covered all there is to cover there’s constantly new music, new bands and new projects coming into fruition and I think it’s really great.

US: How does DCMD manage to stay so plugged in DC’s underground?

SW: I think first and foremost DC Music Download is not by any means a one-woman effort. Really the diversity and depth of our coverage is credited towards the people who are currently a part of our site and our team. We have a really diverse team of people who come from all different backgrounds and have different tastes in music which gives us a level of depth one person cannot possibly do. I think that’s a big reason.

Another reason we’ve been able to sustain for as long as we have is because the people who contribute to DCMD are the most talented, dedicated, and passionate people that I know in town that cover music. Just to be able to work with them everyday is very motivating for me. There are days where it can get overwhelming, and it’s nice to have a group of solid team members who can say “Hey I’m really passionate about this, and this is what I want to write about”, and I feel like we all kind of feed off each other’s energy which I think is really important. So to answer you question, the main thing is having a really diverse staff who don’t all share the same tastes, and are all really in tune with what’s happening in the city.

US: What is the ultimate mission of DCMD, and what’s next?

SW: Some people might think it’s super exhausting to have this point of view, but to be quite honest I never really see DCMD as having an end, more so just always evolving. For me personally, I have always seen DCMD as a work in progress. There’s always something that we can do even bigger and better than we have in the past. After 6 years I still think there are things we haven’t even scratched the surface of yet in terms of ideas, ways we can grow more, and better ways we can cover the music scene. For me I always see it as a “to be determined thing” and I think many people, when they have a project like this, have a very firm structure like how they see themselves in a year or in five years, like whats the business plan?

Honestly I think that part of the reason we’ve been able to sustain ourselves is because we really didn’t have a succinct business plan. I don’t have a blueprint and I’ve never thought of it that way at all. I like to think in the here and now and say, “Ok, where are we now and what can we do better, and how we can not lose sight of what we do.” I think we’ve grown a lot in the past few years and really extended our coverage, but one thing that will always be constant despite that change, is that we exist because we are dedicated to covering local musicians who we feel are doing amazing things, and that is first and foremost our mission. In terms of where we see ourselves, I don’t think that will ever change. In terms of where we are headed, one of our immediate goals is to do more of events like the one this Saturday where we can showcase local artists and people we feel are doing awesome things in DC. Also just doing more in general to engage the community outside of the day to day stuff we post on the website. I think it’s very important to not only uphold the structure of the site but also to talk to the people that read us in person, and to connect these people to the bands and artists that we talk about each day on DC Music Download.

US: What have you been jamming to lately?

SW: OG Lullabies who are performing Saturday at our show have an EP coming out, and I took a listen to it over the weekend and it sounds awesome! She’s got this really distinct vision that is just so feature forward and inventive, and it’s completely different than anything else anyone is doing here in DC right now. I think it’s so cool that she’s forged her own path, so when that comes out I think whoever is reading this should definitely check it out.

Johnny Grave is a wonderful americana artist in DC. He’s putting out a new album soon and just released a song called “Fever” and it sounds really great. It’s just like this really southern rock and gritty song that is super awesome, and I think it really captures what he’s like onstage. He’s a very energetic, spirited performer and I really did dig that song a lot because it represents him so well, and he’s just such a great songwriter and visionary.

Another great one is Nag Champa, who is also performing on Saturday, and they’re about to release some new music as well. They’re one of those artists that every time I see them live it just never gets old. I could see them a million times and they will never get old to me. Every time I see them live it’s a super interactive experience and such a free spirited show that is just as visually stimulating as it is an auditory experience. It’s just so immersive which I love, and they do such a great job of bringing an experience to their performance rather than a performance where it’s just them reciting their songs. It’s definitely a lot more in depth than that.

Also Shaed obviously is fantastic. They are just one of the best groups that have come out of DC in a long time. They have a very good sense of who they are from a marketing perspective and a from a music perspective. I mean they look and sound great so I’m super excited to see them on Saturday.

So yeah those are definitely some of the people at the top of my list, although I’m sure I’m missing a ton of people. But yeah, I am super stoked about the show and getting all those people in the same room is really great.