OU's Music Industry Summit features Killer Mike, Phoebe Bridgers, St. Vincent and more

On Thursday, Ohio University will host a free, all-day virtual event with speakers from all facets of the music industry and artist performances from DJ Kelly Lee Owens and Haley Heynderickx

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Run the Jewels' Killer Mike, shown here performing at the 2019 Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati, will be a keynote speaker at Ohio University's Music Industry Summit on Thursday, March 25.

Ohio University’s unexpected run in the NCAA men's basketball tournament might be over, but the school’s time in the national spotlight will continue this week with the free, virtual, all-day Music Industry Summit on Thursday, March 25, featuring keynotes from artists such as Phoebe Bridgers, St. Vincent, Finneas and Killer Mike of hip-hop duo Run the Jewels, plus performances by DJ Kelly Lee Owens and indie-folk songwriter Haley Heynderickx

The summit’s beginnings were far humbler in 2017, which featured a panel discussion with regional artists and music industry professionals. But to the surprise of Josh Antonuccio, director of the Music Industry Summit and also the School of Media Arts and Studies at OU, the event was well-received and well-attended, so he looked to expand it to a full-day affair in 2019. That year the bookings got bigger, too, with a keynote from Public Enemy’s Chuck D. 

The 2020 version of the summit looked to be the biggest yet, with splashy indie-rocker St. Vincent and a performance from Finneas, a musician and Grammy-winning producer known for his work with pop phenom (and younger sister) Billie Eilish. Then COVID hit, and the 2020 Music Industry Summit was scrapped.

From there, it was hard to know the way forward. “It’s one thing to have the disruption, but you also don't know how to make anything work, because you're like, ‘Can this even run? Can anything happen?’” Antonuccio said recently by phone. Then, last summer, Antonuccio helped Tim Peacock and the Nelsonville Music Festival create its first-ever virtual festival, and the experience pointed the way forward. “I learned a lot, because we were shooting when there was a surge [in COVID-19 cases], so I got a sense of what the risk levels are, what's acceptable risk and how to mitigate the risk,” he said. 

Antonuccio grew confident that he and his team could put together a virtual version of the Music Industry Summit’s third iteration, linking up with Nashville company Redstory and booking a star-studded lineup of speakers and panelists, kicking off with the Kelly Lee Owens DJ set at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday and wrapping up with a 7:50 p.m. discussion with Killer Mike and Run the Jewels managers Amaechi Uzoigwe and Will Bronson (moderated by Antonuccio), followed by a closing set from Haley Heynderickx. NPR’s Bob Boilen will also interview Phoebe Bridgers at 5:45 p.m., and Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich will speak with St. Vincent at 6:45 p.m. (See the full schedule here.) 

Going virtual not only expanded the reach of the summit, which is free for anyone across the globe who registers. It also opened up and streamlined the booking process. “Usually, with any conference, you've got to think about people's schedules about a year in advance: their tour schedule, prior commitments,” Antonuccio said. “There's so many different things you have to navigate, whereas [with a virtual event], you just need to get somebody to commit to a 60- to 90-minute window, and they can come in from anywhere.” 

While in-person aspects of the summit will likely return in the future, the online pivot could lead to more virtual opportunities, too. “There's going to be many things that happen through the pandemic where we're not just going to go back to how things were,” he said. “There have been so many things we've understood as a society that can now be done on an online platform, and it adds a whole other dimension of how we think about interaction.” 

In planning this year’s summit, and in thinking about the music industry throughout the pandemic, Antonuccio kept coming back to advice that Bob Boilen delivered to OU students during the virtual commencement for the School of Media Arts & Studies.

“[Boilen] used Tiny Desk as a metaphor, saying that when you introduce limitation, it provides an avenue for creativity,” he said. “This has been a really hard period for everyone; it hit some people in much more devastating ways, but it has affected everyone. But that doesn't mean there's a punctuation mark here. We're going to move past it. People are finding ways to create and to engage with audiences.” 

Through the summit, Antonuccio hopes those interested in the music business will also get a better idea of the breadth of the industry. While the marquee names get top billing, this year’s event also features presentations with music supervisors, mixing engineers (Top Dawg Entertainment’s Derek "MixedbyAli" Ali), an NFT explainer, live event professionals and more.  

In such a disruptive, disconnected year, Antonuccio sees the Music Industry Summit as a way for people from all facets of the music business to come together, even if it’s mediated by a screen. “Everyone’s been starving for connection,” he said. “There’s a hunger to engage.”