FROM TODAY'S SHOW
Washington City Paper’s “Best of DC” poll close this week! Go vote for your favorite local original band.
Funk Parade Kick Off Party! 3/16, Tropicalia Lounge on U St, 7-10pm
- On and On - Run Come See (Folk/Americana)
- Ctrl - My French Roommate (Indie/Dance-Punk)
- Untitled - Julie Outrage (Rock/Psychedelic Soul)
- Batonebo - Odetta Hartman (Indie/Folk)
- DC Touring Company - Turtle Recall (Rock)
- I See You - Aaron Abernathy (R&B/Soul)
- Intro/Outro music by Fellowcraft (Hard Rock/Blues)
Video - Bio - Photos - Links
Chris Naoum is the Founder of Listen Local First. Listen Local First DC (LLF) is a local music initiative devoted to building awareness and creating opportunities for local musicians to raise the profile of DC’s local music scene. LLF was born out of a collaboration with Think Local First DC and seeks to partner with local musicians, arts organizations, venues, businesses and local government to create new avenues for local music exploration. LLF co organizes two of the district’s largest all local music festivals, Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival and Funk Parade. LLF plans to launch the Fair Trade Music DC initiative in 2017 and has been working with a number of local government agencies and officials to establish a permanent DC Local Music Taskforce to advocate for musician specific interests within the broader Creative Economy.
Chris Naoum is a telecom attorney with background in copyright and media law and policy. Chris has advocated on behalf of the independent music community for the past 7 years focusing on artist development and policy reform that benefits the local creative economy.
Listen Local First
Official Website: https://www.funkparade.com/
Brian: Chris Naoum is the founder of Listen Local First, it's a local music initiative devoted to building awareness and creating opportunities for local musicians to raise the profile of D.C.'s local music scene. I agree with this motivation so much. Apparently, Listen Local First was born out of a collaboration with Think Local First D.C., and it seeks to partner with local musicians, art organizations, venues, businesses, and local government to create new avenues for local music exploration. Listen Local First, it co-organizes to of the district's largest all music, all local music festivals, which you heard about both of these in the intro.
We've got Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival and the Funk Parade, which, by the way, if you're in D.C., I hope you've attended both of these, and if you haven't, put it on your bucket list, your D.C. bucket list. Incredible examples of awesome D.C. music. Listen Local First has been working with a number of local government agencies and officials to establish a permanent D.C. local music taskforce to advocate for musicians' specific interests within the broader creative economy. Chris Naoum, himself, is a telecom attorney with a background in copyright and media law and policy. He's advocated on behalf of the independent music community for the past seven years, focusing on artist development and policy reform that benefits the local creative economy. Having said all that, Chris, it's such a treat having you here, man. Thanks for being here.
Chris: Thank you. I should've given you a shorter blurb.
Brian: Why? It was such a good blurb, I didn't want to leave anything out. It's so good. Tell us about Listen Local First. How did this come about? What's that story?
Chris: I was actually thinking about this on the way over here and it's something I rarely say is Listen Local First came out of the fact that I was new to D.C., nine years ago, and I loved sharing new experiences, sharing new music with people, with friends, and sort of, I guess, it really comes out of my need and interest to share. I had been working for an organization called the Future of Music Coalition, doing a lot of music policy work, a lot of advocacy on behalf of the independent music community and got to know so many D.C. artists and I knew about all their shows, I know about when they were playing, where they were playing, all sorts of genres of musicians.
I thought that if there's a way I can help get that word out or help create the connections that can help these artists make new fans, then I can do something to help out the local music community. I had all these young professionals and people in the city I knew at the time that were all potential fans that I felt that needed to know about these bands. Really, it was just the simple wanting to share, and then it's grown over the past five years.
Brian: Wow, and I love what it's grown into, because I first heard about you, it was back in, I think, 2014, somebody was saying, "I became a part of the local music scene as a musician" and they were saying, "God, Listen Local First, this is where you find it all." Your name's definitely gotten out there in the community and it's a treat to have you here, especially with all the stuff you've been doing for the scene. Now, tell us about how did you ... Have you just always been a music fan? Are you a musician as well? What's your music connection in your life?
Chris: Yeah, I've been a music fan. I love music. I had a brief stint one year when I sang acapella in high school, but don't hold that against me.
Brian: An acapella? You heard it here first, guys. Acapella singer, I love it.
Chris: That's the only musical thing I've ever done. I think I took piano lessons, I did take piano lessons as a little kid, but I wasn't very good. This was, it was my finding out ... It's really the joy that music brings to me, and love music was something that was so great and it's something that I feel you have all these amazing local artists here and I just wanted to get to know them, I wanted to know about their work, I wanted to know their story, I wanted to see their music, I wanted to see like the journey they took on their musical career. It's all this interesting story and I love hearing and learning stories and every band has their story and it's a business and it's just ...
Brian: In the intro I talked about how you were getting into policy and stuff now, where did it go from really loving local music and connecting people to local music, where did it turn into the policy and working with the government, all that stuff? How did that happen?
Chris: Right, so at the beginning what we were doing with Listen Local First, we were creating playlists, featuring artists each month or every two months, eight to 10 artists and new bands, new albums that were being released, and we were partnering with local businesses and creating playlists and signing waivers and having the business pay fees and we were basically operating as our own performance rights organization and sort of paying out artists from what these local businesses that were playing the music streams. We were doing something called Local Music Wednesdays, where all those businesses would stream those albums on those days and so we were doing that and having showcases every month and it was very, very time consuming. That lasted for about, at that pace, for about a year and a half and then I started working on larger festivals and larger events, because as a time commitment that was something that I can put more time in, I work after work, I can do that and I can do at night or on the weekends.
Then when festival season was off, I felt that the way, the right thing to fill the time was working on ways to help the local music community. What are the issues? I understand policy, I understand the different parts of the local government, how can I take that knowledge and help connect artists with the people that can make a change, that can make a difference? I met so many people that have done great work here in D.C. and across the country advocating for their local music community that I felt that this was something that if I can help and if I can give information and get people together to give them this information so they can make changes for themselves, that's something I wanted to do, when I had the free time.
Brian: It's incredible what you've been able to accomplish in what seems like such a short time too. Now, when you think of accomplishments then, like the biggest success moment, what comes to mind?
Chris: There are a lot of accomplishments that we still need to take, especially in the policy world. I'd say, personally, for me it's pulling off a funk parade.
Brian: Talk about that actually. Pulling off a funk parade, say more on that.
Chris: I worked for a couple large events and festivals and I started working with the Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival and helping book the bands, reach out to sponsors, bring in vendors, sort of working on the production side. I was approached by my co-founder, Justin Rood, and he said, "Hey, I have this dream, U Street is such a historic corridor, there's so much music, there's so much history, there's so much sound. I love to dance. I love all these bands, these local bands. I had this vision of this parade, with horns and George Clinton in front roaring down U Street. Then I woke up and I decided why is there not a funk parade?" Of course, he somehow got in touch with me and I said, "Oh yeah. Yeah, we can do a festival. Let's do a funk parade," and no one had any clue what a funk parade, and this is Justin's story too, the best thing about funk parade-
Brian: I love that this came out of a dream, really?
Chris: It totally came out of a dream.
Brian: Oh man, I love it.
Chris: No one had any clue and Justin says this all the time, the best thing about funk parade is no one knew what funk parade was, so we could've done anything.
Brian: This sounds like something out of the Fight Club. The only rule about fight club is you don't talk about fight club. Well, the only thing about funk parade is that nobody knows what funk parade is.
Chris: No one knew what a funk parade was. I think that's the best line that Justin shares, and that's kind of what we need to keep on doing every year is as it, we're now in our fourth year and so people expect certain things, but kind of our goal is to just mix everything up, mess it all up, throw it up and try to do something that where they show up the day of it'll be different. I don't want them to expect this is going to happen here, this going to be here. Even though there's something to that when you do it over and over again, but how can we add more spectacle? What can we add that's new that people don't expect this year?
Brian: The only thing that's in common is the funk? Everything else [crosstalk 00:09:24].
Chris: It now has a structure, but, yes, there's new music, new activations, new themes every year, so, yeah.
Brian: Well, now what about you outside of this stuff? We've got funk parade and you've got this Listen Local First Thing, so when you're not doing that stuff who's Chris? What does he do?
Chris: I think it's all the same now. I don't know if there is a me outside of that. No, I have a day job. I work as a telecom attorney for a small telecom company. I do FCC regulatory work and spectrum management, which, is really, I mean to most of you that's extremely boring, but this is I've just been lucky and I've been blessed with the work that I do with my business and they allow me to work on these projects. I have flexible schedule. I mean I can work, take the evenings and thanks to my wife, too, obviously, she is the-
Brian: All right, shout out to the amazing woman in your life by the way. To your wife, thank you for letting him come on the show and let me borrow him for about an hour or two, this is-
Chris: And letting me work very late nights a couple of times a week to work on sending out emails and making sure lineups are set. Yeah, so this time of a year my life is the festivals, really, and specifically funk parade. I like to take long trips and travel and just, I don't know, relax, play tennis, who knows outside of that?
Brian: Relax and play ... I love that. I love that collection: travel, relax, and play tennis. That's a great [crosstalk 00:10:56], it goes together.
Chris: That makes me sound way too D.C. I haven't actually played tennis in two years, so if anyone out there wants to play.
Brian: Traveling, are you like foreign travel, domestic travel? What does travel mean?
Chris: Yeah, we took an awesome trip this past year. My whole family, I'm Romanian, and so we went with my brother and his wife and my wife and my parents and we took a trip to the motherland. Took a two week trip.
Brian: That's amazing.
Chris: It was our one year wedding anniversary. I slammed my wife in a van with her whole family and said, "Here you go, here's your anniversary. It's our one year wedding anniversary, let's go spend two weeks in a van with your in-laws."
Brian: Is that what they do with the Romania heritage? Is that what it is? On your anniversary you get to lock her in the van with everybody.
Brian: Oh my God, Chris, I love it. That's amazing. I realize with all the music you do, what's something in your music collection that might surprise us?
Chris: To my closest friends it's not a surprise, but I'm a kid that grew up on The Beatles and my parents' Beatles records, and I have all of their original records at my place. Obviously, I went through the period where I listened to all of the pop music growing up and it was the Nirvana and the Green Day at the time, which was what everyone was listening to throughout middle school, but then I had this realization about the Grateful Dead and the Grateful Dead was my gateway into music.
Brian: Wow, the Grateful Dead.
Brian: All right.
Chris: What they had done, and I'd listened to some from dad and through friends and so that was really such a big moment for me in getting into music and what they were able to do with their music. I hadn't heard anything like it at the time.
Brian: Wow. All right. Well, I got two more for you, two more questions I'm curious about. One is you'd mentioned like music policy and the D.C. cultural plan, can you talk a little bit about that?
Chris: Sure. What's going on right now is the city has been in the process of collecting data from the music community on how they're going to spend money and how they're going to direct policies over the next couple of year toward growing the cultural community. What we did, we had a conference back in October, and you were at that conference, the whole idea was to bring people from the music community together to talk in a one day panel or a one day conference focused on different aspects of music policy, everything from housing to media outlets and issues with different genres of music being lost and jazz and go-go and sort of how the city is addressing these different genres. The cultural plan is happening now. It's still happening, they're still collecting data.
My biggest interest, and what Listen Local First is trying to do, is find a way to sort of communicate to these different agencies. We want to put together this taskforce, like you mentioned before, it's a way for artists to go to get centralized information about the government to address concerns with different aspects of the government and how we can get all these different facets of the government communicating about music the correct way. The other day someone from some organization made some comment and it was published where it said D.C. used to be a sleepy music town and now we've got these amazing acts performing, these big headline festivals or headline these big festivals, and D.C. was never a sleepy music town.
Brian: Thank you for correcting that.
Chris: Yeah, and it's just communicating that to people within the different agencies. Let's say the Office of Planning, obviously, Arts and Humanities, getting the mayor's office onboard, talking to everyone from police to traffic, when they're working, when they're giving out permits for events, like how are we thinking about our music scene, because how we think about it is sort of what we project upon it. That's really a big part of the work I'm doing right now that's outside of the festival planning.
Brian: Wow, and it's so good. It's encouraging for me, as a musician, to hear that there's folks in their advocating for this, because often times when you think about the government meetings there's a total void from actually listening to the community, even though I know that's not true and they allow comment and stuff, but it's reassuring to me that you're there, so thanks for doing what you're doing on that front.
Chris: Well and it's not even me, it's you. It's bringing together the people that want to have a voice and that have a strong voice to give, to explain to these people. I had a number of events this summer where I brought people over to my house, from now on you're going on that list, you're going to be invited to all those.
Brian: We'll keep in touch. Thank you, sir.
Chris: It's really getting the musicians themselves and organizing them to sort of meet with the correct people, so if I'm that middleman then I'll take that.
Brian: That's awesome. All right. If folks are interested in finding out more about you and Listen Local First, what are the resources, where do they go to find out what you're doing and what's going on with Listen Local First?
Chris: You can think of Listen Local First as an umbrella. I mean I like to share stuff that's going on. On our Facebook page you can check out Listen Local First, on Facebook. You can check out Listen Local D.C. on Twitter, Listen Local D.C. on Instagram. Really, we're not doing regular shows as Listen Local First, we're not doing regular events or playlists, but we are posting about advocacy, we have a list there, we're trying to send information and distribute information to people. You can find out about the festivals by going to, you can go to funkparade.com, Funk Parade on Facebook, Funk Parade on Twitter, and I think it's D.C. Funk Parade on Instagram. That's really the main festival I work on now. I was working on the bluegrass festival, I'm not currently with them, though I did help book that festival and I think the festival's going to be awesome, so you guys should check it out. It's kingmanislandbluegrass.com, I think that's the website. Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival, you can Google that.