Concert at Red Rocks

Denver at the center of global music cities

Updated on:
December 18, 2019

Storm Gloor, MBA, remembers the exact spot where the idea for hosting the Music Cities Convention in Denver was born.

In 2017, the associate professor of Music and Entertainment Industry Studies was at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre at a music event he’d helped plan. He found himself backstage with industry colleague and friend Shain Shapiro, founder of Sound Diplomacy, which produces the convention.

“It’d be great if we had a Music Cities Convention here,” Shapiro said. He didn’t have to tell Gloor twice.

Working with the university and the College of Arts & Media (CAM), Gloor helped coordinate partnerships with Denver Arts & Venues, Colorado Creative Industries (CCI) and the Music District in Fort Collins, and together, they’re making it happen. In September 2020, the largest global gathering on the topic of music cities will come to Denver.

Over 40 international speakers will lead presentations and panel discussions on how music informs policy, planning, community development, tourism and branding. The organization expects more than 300 attendees – from musicians and record execs to mayors and professors – to come from all over the world for two days exploring the relationship between music and the built environment.

“I think the attendees are going to be really blown away by what we have going on here in Denver and Colorado,” Gloor said.

College of Arts & Media faculty member Storm Gloor

At the intersection of higher ed and the music biz

Gloor is not a musician. But his love of music and fascination with the business of music started when he was a kid.

“I’ve always been interested in how songs become hits and how artists became popular,” said Gloor, who worked for Hastings Entertainment, managing stores and liaising with record labels, before becoming a CU Denver faculty member in 2006. “I’ve gained a variety of perspectives on both the consumer and supplier sides.”

Gloor has developed a CU Denver class called Music Cities, which explores how municipalities build, grow and sustain music economies. He was invited to share a project from the class at the 2018 Music Cities Convention in Louisiana.

“People were so excited when they heard that I had this class,” Gloor said. “After our presentation, folks smothered us with interest and questions, and I heard from quite a few post-conference wanting to learn more and start similar classes themselves.”

What makes a music city

In Gloor’s class, students learn about the key ingredients that make a municipality a “music city.” And they learn which ones exist here in Denver.

Of course, you’ve got to have good music venues. Denver has large venues, such as Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre and Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre, as well as smaller venues like the Fillmore Auditorium and Bluebird Theater.

It also has several community-focused venues, including Levitt Pavilion Denver and Mission Ballroom. And DIY venues are able to exist throughout the city due to music-friendly noise ordinances and zoning policies.

Also essential is a creative office or group of people who represent and work for the improvement of the music economy. The Mile High City has at least two.

“Arts & Venues and CCI are awesome,” Gloor said. “There’s a lot of synergy between their offices and the community.”

Another key component is an infrastructure that supports musicians with professional development and networking opportunities. Denver is one of just a few cities to have a published, widely distributed music strategy.

And it helps to have enthusiastic community leaders. He cites former Governor John Hickenlooper and Mayor Michael Hancock as consistent supporters of arts and music in the city.

“We have a thriving live music economy that I think is going to continue to grow,” he said.

When students drive the music economy

Gloor credits the university for its role in fueling the city’s music economy with human capital. He can quickly name nearly a dozen CAM alumni who went on to have a significant impact on music in Denver: singer/songwriter Sydney Clapp (BS ‘16), who worked for CCI; Chase Wessel (BA ‘08), who’s now production director and talent buyer for Levitt Pavilion Denver; Kenzi Everitt (BA ‘17) who booked bands for the Underground Music Showcase (UMS) and helped develop Girls Rock Denver … the list goes on.

“I walk down the streets of the UMS, and it seems like I can’t go more than 20 yards without seeing one of our students, managing a band, performing on stage or working the sound,” he said.

“Our students are going into this marketplace with more knowledge than many other students and finding their spots to help the Denver music economy.” 

On top of that, more people are moving to Denver every day with backgrounds in technology and entrepreneurship, which Gloor said bodes well for the music economy.

“If you build a music scene, you bring more creative people into your community,” he said. “Through advances we’ve made in the entertainment industry, we’ve brought a lot of people here who, five years from now, are going to be contributing to the music industry, getting involved and starting businesses.”

Bringing a music convention home to Denver

The first Music Cities Convention was in England in 2015, and there have been eight so far. Gloor has been at three of them – and he’ll definitely be at the ninth. It takes place Sept. 23-26, 2020, bringing sessions to various Denver-area locations and the Fort Collins Music District.

“CU Denver students will get to network with attendees, meet people involved with music in Denver and support the operation of the event,” he said. “They’ll get educated in something cutting-edge, and they’ll be the only people with this on their resume.”

Gloor worked hard – with colleagues, students, administrators and community leaders – to help submit a formal proposal and solidify organizational supporters. Now, that work is paying off.

“It’s a big win hosting this event in Denver and the delegates seeing what we’re doing and taking ideas from our city and many others back to their communities,” Gloor said.