Archive for 'spotlights'

March 11, 2016

As many of you may already know we have an outstanding team of photographers on our team at Cage and Aquarium. We wanted to take a moment to highlight their talent and showcase their work! First up is Hadassah Bullis, who is a valued assistant and lead wedding photographer with Cage and Aquarium. She has built quite a stunning portfolio with us over the years. Find some of her most impressive work below.

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To view all of Haddasah’s work visit her portfolio on our site.

March 7, 2014

We are excited to share some very important news! Cage and Aquarium entered a recent partnership with Scratch Events, a nationwide DJ company based in New York. Scratch Events was founded by two men: Rob Principe (the CEO presently) and late, great Jam Master Jay of RUN DMC, and we are beyond excited about the creative lineage of our new partners. Cage and Aquarium will continue under the direction of Tyler Huffman and Shelley Anderson, but we will have a much larger pool of resources, talent, event management tools and connections within the field.

We are still in charge of all things at C+A, so expect “business as usual” with some added benefits exclusive to our staff and clients. Some of the benefits include stronger event oversight, full access to the Scratch DJ Academy for new staff training and continuing education for veteran DJs, and additional planning resources for clients among other resources.

The photography division of Cage and Aquarium has grown tremendously over the last three years. Shelley is excited to continue to lead a team of photographers for weddings, events and other opportunities.

We are very excited to share this information with you! Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions. Shelley and Tyler can be reached by email at office (at) cageandaquarium (dot) com.

July 20, 2011

How did you get your start as a deejay? I guess I got my start as a dj the first time I got a cassette player as a child.  I loved making mixtapes for people and would meet with other friends dubbing songs from each other for as long as I could remember.  I didn’t start performing as a dj until 2007 when Cage and Aquarium started up, and didn’t start getting into the technique and art of djing until last year.

What genres do you consider to be your specialty and how has that evolved? I love soul music.  I feel like motown and stax stuff from the 1960s and 1970s capture so much.  Those songs are poppy and catchy, but not corrupted by corporate formula.  They’re sexual and political, but in an encoded and subtle way.  I just love that era of history and music.  I also have a huge soft spot for 80s rock and pop.

What/who are your musical inspirations? That’s hard to say.  I think I admire musicians who have something to say.  From Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye to Zach de La Rocha, John Legend, and The Roots, I always appreciate musicians who indulge in their philosophical self and allow their perspectives to come out in their music.

When deejaying an event, how do you prepare?  How do you choose your songs? At a bar or a private party I tend to be pretty loose.  I think of a concept for the night (retro night or soul night) and create a skeleton playlist.  For weddings I put a lot more time into preparation.  If I’m choosing songs in a genre that my background knowledge is less strong – say for instance contemporary top 40, I rely on Pandora and the Billboard charts a lot.
If you weren’t a deejay, what would you be doing instead? Well, I am an elementary school teacher, so if I wasn’t a dj in the off time, I’d probably just relax like a normal human being.  I don’t think just listening to music would suffice, though.  I like the performance aspect too much.

In your off time, what do you like to consume your time with? Reading, writing, walking, going to the beach, thinking about existence.
In ten years, where do you see yourself? In a post-apocalyptic zombie world fighting for survival, and then justice.
Where can we expect to see you next (any special events or performances)? Well you can always catch me on my mixcloud page (  I’m hoping to hitch on to a bar gig or two in Rogers Park this summer, but I’ll keep doing weddings until I build up some better skills to wow the club crowds.

June 10, 2011

The first time we heard of Lynn from Pollen, one of our brides exclaimed, “You have to meet my florist, Lynn!” She went on to brag about how friendly she was, how amazing her business was, and how incredibly cool her eco-friendly practices were. It was no surprise to us that Lynn lived up to the hype the first time we worked with her. Countless Cage and Aquarium bride and grooms have used Pollen since then. Here are a few photos we’ve captured of her work from Christina & Thomas’ 2010 wedding and Andrew & Angela’s recent wedding along with a little history about Lynn and her business.

Tell us about your background in the floral business and how you got involved in the industry. I started working at a flower shop when I was studying horticulture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and fell in love with designing. After graduation, I stayed with the same shop and continued to learn about the art and the business of floristry.

Cut flowers fascinated me, but so did plants in their native environment. I was particularly interested in how humans could reverse decades of ecological devastation and bring harmony back to the environment. This lead me to study Restoration Ecology. I was lucky that during these studies, I was able to keep one hand in floristry by working as a teaching assistant for the university’s floral design classes.

I spent three years at a Pennsylvania non-profit working on habitat restoration, and then felt the call back to Chicago and to floral design. A high-end downtown flower shop hired me as first a designer, then as store manager.

As I worked at the store, I started nurturing a vision of the venture I would like to create – a wedding/custom floral business that enabled couples to have a beautiful ceremony while honoring their commitment to environmental sustainability. This became Pollen, launched in the summer of 2009.

What inspires your creations? For any given event, a constellation of factors inspire me. Talking with my clients, I gain a feel for their vision of their wedding. Not only chosen colors, but also the feel of the event, whether it be formal or relatively informal, understated or bold, earthy or sophisticated.

Sometimes clients have personal interests that I can incorporate into my designs. For example, I had a few weddings last year in which the couples shared a love of cooking, so I mixed herbs, fruit, and vegetables in with their wedding flowers. Some clients come and are not sure exactly what they want, and I work with them to help them create a vision of their wedding.

Over the years, I have developed a bit of an internal, mental encyclopedia of flower color, texture and seasonality. Sometimes I know just what will work. Other times, I will visit local flower growers to gain inspiration from the flowers I see.

I love the colors and textures offered by flowers. I especially love combining them in unexpected ways. Often, mixing flowers creates synergy. The boldness of texture in one might highlight the delicacy of another, creating an arrangement that is even more beautiful than the sum of its parts. Sometimes the arrangements are serendipity. More often I find that I can successfully mix two or three types of flowers that I imagined might be perfect together.

Lately, I am moving toward a more naturalistic style.  I am using flowers in a loose yet lush style, rather than a contrived, overly stylized look.  The gardeny look of locally grown flowers lends itself to this more organic style quite naturally.

In what ways do you give back to the community? Having worked for a non-profit organization where I relied on the involvement of volunteers to accomplish the goals of the organization, I know first-hand how valuable community engagement is.

When I first moved back to Chicago, I became a docent for the Chicago Architecture Foundation. After months of intensive training, I lead architectural walking tours through downtown Chicago. I loved introducing visitors – and some Chicago natives – to the beautiful built environment of our city. It was so gratifying to see people’s faces light up as they began to see something new in the world they had taken for granted. As you might imagine, since starting Pollen, my weekends are pretty full, and I haven’t been able to lead as many tours as I have in the past.

I am also a member of the Society for Urban Nature (SUN). SUN is the auxiliary board of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and we raise awareness and funds to help the Lincoln Park museum educate visitors about local wildlife, ecology and the importance of sustainability. This year, our fundraising efforts will support the museum’s TEENS program, which provides science-related experience and job skills to its high school age participants.

Professionally, I’m working through the Chicago Green Wedding Alliance to bring together the local community of green wedding vendors. As a co-founder of the Alliance, it’s been very exciting to see the group develop. We recently held our first workshop, where we educated wedding planners about ways to create greener weddings.

What makes Pollen a “green” company? Pollen’s core value is respect.  Respect for the people who make Pollen possible: our clients, our employees, our fellow vendors, and our suppliers. Respect for the business itself.  And respect for nature.

We work with locally-grown flowers as much as possible, which reduces the carbon footprint of the product while supporting area farmers. Of course, being in the Midwest, we need to look to warmer climates for flowers for much of the year. In that case, we look for flowers grown by third-party certified sustainable growers, who grow their product in a way that is both environmentally and socially responsible.

In addition to our process for sourcing sustainable product, we are very mindful of waste in our operations. We reuse paper and packaging materials, and find creative re-uses for other items that come into our floral studio. If we have to use new paper or packaging, we choose post-consumer recycled materials. Floral waste such as leaves and green stems goes into our composter. And we avoid floral foam, a material widely used in the industry that is pretty noxious – a non-biodegradable, petroleum product that contains formaldehyde.

May 12, 2011

What is your music background/how did you get started as a deejay? I started with the drums at about 4th grade. Eventually I bought some turntables 6 years later and been learning ever since.  Never really went back to the drums.. Would like to one day soon.

Who are your musical influences and why? Some albums that really influenced me to want to be a DJ were Pharcyde – Labcabincalifornia, Gang Starr – Moment Of truth, Dr. Octagon – Dr. Octaganologist .. Now-a-days new music I find influences me every day.. There is so much music to discover (new and old) the influences just keep piling up.

Some Djs that influence(d) me are.. Rob Swift, Roc Raida, Mix Master Mike, Q Bert, DJ Spinna, Kenny Dope, Jazzy Jeff, D – Styles, Pumpin pete, Rude One, Raj Mahal, Shazam Bangles, RTST, Djinji Brown

How do you prepare for a show? I think it depends what kind of show it is.  Usually I prepare a set by creating a new (serato/vinyl) crate for that event, and practice on the turntables, the transitions, programming, and how songs flow from one to the next.

What are some of your favorite genres and what kind of crowd do those genres work with? My initial love is Hip Hop, So that is always going to be influencing my style… More recently I have been getting into Disco & House…  I think they work with any crowd, some people might not agree.  My ideal crowd is open to something new and exciting.

Tell us a little bit about Cutz on Cutz and your inspiration for it? Cutz On Cuts grew from some scratch sessions that happened with multiple DJS getting together practicing, creating new compositions..  My inspiration is to keep scratching and real Hip Hop DJing alive in this ever changing music scene.  The Chicago Local underground scene is another inspiration.. Every week we feature different guests that you might or might not have heard of.. All great talents.. We add scratches and samples over their mix.  Check it out! >

Can you also tell us about the site I used to work a 9-5 office IT job.. I could never find good mixes to fill my day at the computer.  Some friends and I would post mixes we really enjoyed on twitter.  I got the idea of putting all our tasteful mixes on a site and have it very select and eclectic.. The idea is 10 Mixes at a time.. With all previous posts in an Archive

What is one of your favorite performances as a DJ? Setting up, Planning, & performing with Rob Swift @ Dark Room would have to take the cake.. He is a true inspiration to me.. I saw his group for my first concert when I was in High School.. He is a legendary DJ and to have him on my side and be cool with him is like a dream come true.

Do you have any upcoming gigs to tell us about? I do every Third Saturdays (May 21st, June 18th, etc..) @ Simone’s . 960 w. 18th St. I play with live instrumentalists (keyboard, horns, bongos, guitar) its always fun and different.. i use the turntables kinda like my drums and let the other guys fill it in with their instruments..

4th Fridays @ Rodan (May 27th, June 24th, etc.. ) .. Soul Inspired Music.. Blaxploitation Movies .. With me,  Raj Mahal and special Guests every month..

Cutz On Cuts will be at Ultra Lounge May 13th and Sub T May 27th…

DJ Moppy is also performing at Futureshock on May 13 at O’Malley’s West – 2249 N Lincoln Ave. The event is Cage and Aquarium’s annual fundraiser for Chicago Public Schools.


April 14, 2011

We recently photographed Ryan Miller for his upcoming album release and thought it would be the perfect time to feature him on our staff spotlight section. Ryan is a talented DJ on Cage and Aquarium’s team, but he is also known as singer/songwriter, Manic Lane. With Manic Lane’s upcoming performance at our Futureshock fundraiser at O’Malley’s West on May 13, this is a great time to get to know Ryan!

What is your music background and how did you get started as a musician? I started playing piano at around age 5. My very first live performance was about that age when I got the chance to play a Christmas song for my church. I knew then that I loved playing music for people. Music wasn’t a part of my family life, but the generations before me were nothing but music. I wrote my first lyrical song when I was 8 years old. The real music didn’t start til I was around 18 and bought my first guitar. I am self taught and practiced close to eight hours a day. I wrote my first official song with music and words when I was 21 and this led me to the live circuit on the streets of Chicago, meeting many amazing musicians and challenging myself to keep getting better.

What instruments do you play, and how did you learn? I play guitar, piano, harmonica, and sing. I started playing piano when I was 5 with professional lessons. I self taught myself the guitar by spending many hours a day practicing. I just picked up singing and harmonica along the way and continually learn how to better them.

Do you write your own songs? (Discuss the songwriting process.) I am first and foremost a songwriter. I have just over 200 written and recorded songs. The songwriting process can vary from song to song. Some of my songs are drawn from memories and experiences in my life. Most of the songs start out with a random pattern of melodies played out on my guitar. It usually sparks a word or thought that I use to build on with real life phrases and lines. After I have played it a few times, I sit down to record it in my home studio.

Who are your musical influences and why? I have many, many influences in my music. As a child, my parents would listen to country music almost all the time. I grew up with many old greats like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, & George Strait. Then came the folk songs and my sister’s passion for 80’s hair bands which led me to steal her tapes and I started dreaming of being a musician. When I discovered Counting Crows, my passion in song writing and music with feeling really took its hold on me. My guitar style comes from playing a lot of classic rock and blues like Eric Clapton and B.B. King which developed into more of a folk style with a twist.

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing instead? When I was younger, I studied art and computer design. My other passions beside music are art and writing, so I would be doing something along those lines.

How do you describe your music to people? I get asked all the time what style of music I play. It’s always a hard question to answer. My usual response is a Pop/Folk/Rock style of singer/songwriter mix. With a name like Manic Lane, it’s easy to say that it’s a whole bunch of styles mixed together.

What are your hobbies? Most of my “hobbies” are just different things related to Music. I host weekly open mics in Chicago, which are a nice chance to play and listen to other amazing musicians live.

What inspires you the most? A great song. When a song just hits me with the total harmony of my feelings and emotions, I feel like I can move mountains.

In ten years, where do you see yourself? I could never have imagined my experiences in the past ten years. If I were to say what’s ahead in ten years, I hope it’s as adventurous. I know that I will still be writing songs and playing guitar and that’s good for me.

Do you have upcoming releases of new recordings, or special performances? I just released The 32 Project.  It is a project that took 32 days. On each day from Feb 28th – Mar 31st (my 33rd birthday) an unreleased song was released with a story behind the song. It can be listened to or downloaded on Manic Lane’s web site and Grooveshark.

Upcoming Manic Lane performances:

Futureshock – May 13, 7:00 pm, Cage and Aquarium’s 4th annual fundraiser for Chicago Public Schools through a Purchase tickets.

Chicago’s Green Festival at the McCormick Place Chicago – May 14th, 3:00 PM.

April 7, 2011

We met Jeff Hellenbrand a little over a year ago, not long after he brought the Traveling Photo Booth to Chicago. He is one of the friendliest guys you’ll meet in the event industry and their booths are fantastic. It seemed like the perfect company to feature on our new vendor spotlight section!

How long has Traveling Photo Booth been in Chicago? Where did you guys start? After spending two years with The Traveling Photo Booth in Minneapolis as the General Manager, I moved to Chicago in 2009 to bring photo booth joy to brides and wedding guests in Chicagoland.

Traveling Photo Booth is a very unique option. How did you all achieve this? Matt and Jacob, the founders, saw a need (way back in 2005) for beautiful, retro photo booths designed especially for weddings and other events. When they saw that no one else was doing this, they set out to create their own. With Matt’s architecture degree, Jacob’s experience as a professional photographer, a quirky sense of humor and a total obsession with creating a beautiful, authentic machine, they were perfectly suited to handcraft a photo booth built just for weddings. Half a decade later, the (all new) photo booths are still state-of-the-art and cutting edge, they’re manufactured locally and they still hold every bit of charm they always have.

So many of our clients love the guestbook feature of a photo booth. Can you explain? Our photo booth prints two photo strips at once so one goes home with guests as a party favor and the other is placed in a photo strip guest book where guests can write a message for the bride and groom. It’s the best part about having a photo booth (besides the intense quantities of fun and sheer joy at the reception). My wife and I love pulling out our photo strip guest book from our wedding. It’s amazing how much fun people had and the crazy shots the photo booth captured. The personal notes next to every picture are just as priceless.

Are the images you take during an event available for purchase afterwards? Our photo booth has an open-back design for those hilarious group shots. We offer unlimited reprints on-site, so if eight people cram in the photo booth, eight people can get copies right away. If they get a little drunk and lose their photo strip, guests can download them for free online or even order a print off the website for around three bucks.

What is your favorite part of working in the Chicago wedding industry? Chicago is an amazing city. I think my favorite part is that there are so many gorgeous and breathtaking places to get married in this city. Chicago is filled to the brim with super talented wedding professionals (*ahem* Cage and Aquarium *ahem*)  and I feel honored to get to work with so many of them.
We realize it is a bit cliché, but where do you see Traveling Photo Booth in 5 years? Every year is better than the last. Things in Chicago just keep getting better for us as more people learn about having a photo booth at their reception and decide that they want something that’s going to fit the aesthetic of their reception and also print stunning photo strips. In five years, we’re still going to be delivering fun and timeless entertainment for weddings and documenting every second of it with crisp, beautiful pictures that last forever.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about Traveling Photo Booth? We love Cage and Aquarium. When you request an instant quote from our website, enter “cage” as your referral code for an even better deal on the best photo booth in the galaxy.

What a sweet deal for you C&A fans! Now go book a Traveling Photo Booth for your next event!

All photos courtesy of The Traveling Photo Booth®

February 21, 2011

We are lucky enough to have her on our team as a DJ and as a live musician. We love her, you guys love her…here’s a one-on-one interview with the ever-amazing Stolie!

How did you get your start as a musician? When I was 6-years old, after church services, my parents would find me plunking on the piano at the front of the room, so they signed me up for piano lessons.  I’ve always loved singing, harmonizing, and learning any instrument I can get my hands on!  Eight years of piano lessons taught me the music theory and I have since taught myself to play acoustic guitar, bass guitar, ukulele, djembe, congas, bongos, tin whistle, harmonica… Now, if only someone would get me a banjo, already?!?!
What genres do you consider to be your specialty and how has that evolved? Generally I’ll say my style of original music is ‘pop-rock-acoustic,’ but I’ve learned over 300 cover songs that span from classic rock to adult alternative, country to crooner, 60s to 80s, oldies and even Gaga.  This giant repertoire has been built from requests by listeners over time.  Tapping into so many genres has since influenced my own writing and I realize there is no limit to what I may produce or evolve into.  I just read this quote from Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff:  “music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.”  Who knows where it’s going, but it’s going!!!   I’m currently involved in (February Album Writing Month) where the challenge is to write 14 songs in 28 days; hear some of what has recently come out of me here.
How do you prepare for a performance? Advance prep involves researching the songs for the setlist, finding the right key for my voice, arranging and memorizing.  Then, I practice songs both privately at home and live in front of people at the open mics I host (Thursdays at Murphy’s Bleachers and Sundays @ Hops and Barley’s) because I think “live practice is the best practice!”  There are nerves that invite themselves to live performances so being able to play a song several times in front of actual people beforehand helps knock ’em down the day of the big show!  And as for day-of-performance-prep, I like comfortable shoes so I can rock out while playing, new strings on the guitar, deep breaths, a good hair day, and knowing that this performance is as much for me as it is for the audience!  I love entertaining!
What is your most memorable performance? In March 2008, for the release of my third solo album, Between the Fake and Real, I rented a huge theater space and played all the songs on the album with a band 8-musicians wide.  There was some bleacher-style seating and about 150 listeners who SAT and LISTENED to the entire 90-minute show.  Their attentiveness and appreciation for this album that I had spent 3 years creating was so rewarding and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to play a show like that.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing instead? I still would like to be a personal trainer or graphic designer.
What kinds of community organizations do you take part in? I most often perform for children as a solo artist (Super Stolie) or with my children’s band, Super Stolie and The Rockstars and  I feel like every single show is a community service as I’m sharing the musical experience with the young and excitable generation that will be responsible for carrying it on!
What are your hobbies? I recently started a YouTube channel called “The Super Stolie Show” where I’m posting kid-friendly videos for my little fans.  It’s a very creative endeavor and so fun to fuse music, art, dance and videography!  I also play co-ed soccer, try to keep plants alive and recently learned how to crochet.
What is your life goal? I don’t have a life goal, but I try to remind myself to enjoy each day.  So maybe a lifetime of good days is my goal. 🙂
What inspires you the most? Health and relaxation.  I have a pretty stress-driven lifestyle, so the most rewarding feelings are post-workout, or if I’m taking in some delicious aromatherapy.  When I do good things for myself, things become clearer and I’m happier — that’s where inspiration meets me.
In ten years, where do you see yourself? I’ve always had visions of a cabin in the woods on a lake, with a rocking chair and a guitar on the front porch, a fire in the front yard and a setting sun.  I know that’s probably not what you were looking for, but that’s all I can see… 🙂

As long as that rocking chair can transport it’s way to a C&A wedding once in awhile, it sounds good to us!

February 3, 2011

How did you get your start as a deejay? I saw my older cousins DJ D-lux and DJ Izreal scratching at a family barbecue and it just made sense to me. I was always into making rhythms and noises out of random things and am a tech-geek so to see a community of folks combining both left a huge impression on my (then) young mind! This was in Chicago, summer of 1999, but I was living in Switzerland at the time, so once I got back to Geneva I started looking for videotapes and websites about DJing. I got Gemini XL-500 turntables, a Numark mixer, my parents old records and a DMC World Championship video. I broke one of the needles the second I opened them but it didn’t matter because I was all about scratching then and just needed one turntable. From then it was on!

In what ways do you give back to the community? I give back to the local community by hosting and participating in nightlife events that benefit local non-profits. Youth-mentoring groups, art advocates, medical service groups and many others in Chicago have raised funds from the events I’ve thrown and DJ’d at. I also promote the non-profit group, their cause and connect them up with others that fit with their mission.

I give back to the DJ community by pretty much showing anyone who asks how I do what I do. It might be helping someone make their first gear purchase, tackle a difficult scratch technique, build/organize their library or improve the flow of their sets. Whatever it is, I share what I’ve learned along the way and they usually have good knowledge to help me out too so it’s a great exchange. I always try to give constructive feedback when someone asks for it too.

What kinds of non-profit work do you do? I organize an event called Music is the Weapon that features non-profits in Chicago. It’s pretty much a party where the funds go to the groups. Each event is accompanied by a mix I make of socially conscious themed music and interviews from the featured groups.
I’m also part of “The People’s DJ Collective” which is an awesome group of DJs that do a lot of work in the social sector. All of the members donate their time and resources to support positive groups and causes. We’ve been a part of some great things including the US Social Forum, Teachers for Social Justice and are the resident DJs for a monthly event called Empact which also benefits a local non-profit organization.

Tell us about some shows you’ve done outside of Chicago. My first actual DJ performance was at my high school talent show in Switzerland. All I did was play Beastie Boys “Intergalactic” for some friends to lip sync to while I scratched the hook. It was pretty bad but the audience got into it and I felt really hype after that to practice harder!
Of my more recent out of town gigs, New York, Detroit and Brazil are my favorite ones.
NYC – I had the privilege to play in NYC thanks to Cage and Aquarium twice now and the gigs have been a blast both times! The most recent one was a halloween party at Stay. It was a hype dance party all night and every DJ brought their A game. It felt awesome to bring some Chicago Juke music to NYC and see people bug out to it.
Detroit – I went with the People’s DJ Collective to play the party after all the conferences for the US Social Forum. For the party, they held down a whole block of buildings, each with huge spaces and spaces within spaces with DJs, live musicians and dancers. There were thousands of people, everyone was very inspiring and into eclectic music. The People’s DJs held down a venue called Bert’s in the Eastern Market. Everyone rocked it hard, and I got to pass my single to Waajeed, one of my favorite producers right now.
Brazil – I played in Curitiba, Brazil, which is not as internationally known as Rio or Sao Paolo but is a major tastemaker in the national music scene there. The gig was really fun and after wards, some of the party people took me to a club further down the street that was open till 6. They said it was pretty normal to party that late and most times the after parties end at noon the next day. Insane!

Listen to Victor’s mix from C&A’s Skelectro show in NYC.

If you weren’t a DJ, what would you be doing instead? I’d probably be doing something related to software or game development. Maybe get into writing.

What are your hobbies? Making, discovering and DJing music is probably my main hobby. Glad I get to make money from it! Other than that, I like playing basketball, video games and writing every now and then. I also like travelling and trying new pizza spots.

What inspires you the most? The arts, live music, new places and self-actualizing people.

In ten years, where do you see yourself? Summers in Chicago, winters somewhere warm, an expert at something (maybe music production + DJing), doing what I love and making a living from it!

We also wanted to mention that last month Victor won the beat competition at the 3rd Annual Winter Block Party for Chicago’s Hip-hop Art. Listen to his mix that won first prize!

January 13, 2011

This month’s staff spotlight is Scott Schaefer, one half of the Acoustic Sideshow and a newly minted deejay in 2010 for Cage and Aquarium. Here’s a peek into his life:

Tell us about your background in the music industry / What made you gravitate towards a music career? I came in to the music biz primarily as a performer. As the singer in my band, the tragically named Avocado Jungle Fuzz, I grew in to the role of booking all of our gigs, and being the “organized” guy, (and I still am, in my current indie rock outfit, FETCH). Thus, by default, I developed the aptitude for music management, and it suited me. Upon graduating from Northwestern, I continued to work at a campus cafeteria as a supervisor, that I worked at all throughout college. This allowed plenty of time to do band stuff, and we were busy at the time. NOT a great career decision, but much like now, jobs were tough to find in 1991. So, I worked there for about four years, taking advantage of the minimal responsibility, and pursuing more rewarding and meaningful extra-curriculars. I cobbled several other jobs together, and actually kept pretty well afloat.

It was right around this time that a couple of friends (ironically one of them being one of founders of Bloodshot), began a record label called Checkered Past. As I had free time on my hands, and as I mentioned, some music biz aptitude, I offered to help out. Eventually, my efforts began to pay for themselves and I became a full time employee! Unfortunately CPR fell upon hard times, through no fault of our own. Our distributor went bankrupt, shuttering their doors with our records and money piles inside. Hard to keep working out of your dining room, at that rate. So, I tracked down some old pals at Bloodshot Records, and told them I’d help out. I was in the right place at the right time, and took over the Radio Promotions dept, as soon as it opened up. Then I went on to oversee the retail department, and soon became label manager, my current position of nearly 6 years. It’s a labor of love. You could say I’m the secretary of state to the co-owners’ presidency and vice-presidency, with my primary roles being a conduit of information between Bloodshot’s various departments, and as the main liaison with our physical and digital distributors.

What inspires you the most? I’d say of all things, (and perhaps it is already obvious), music moves and inspires me, the most. It is both my vocation, and avocation. It is how I spend the bulk of both my time and my money! In one manner or another, music pervades my thoughts and consciousness, nearly constantly. It has been the catalyst responsible for my most enduring friendships, and most meaningful relationships. It has been the soundtrack and time line marking my past, as well as the compass steering my future. I am myself, in a perfect present, when I’m performing, and am typically at my most content when I’m working on new opportunities to perform. Further, I listen to music nearly constantly, and am fortunate to have surrounded myself with like-minded individuals. More than anything, music transforms and transports me: back to that break-up or new relationship, for example, that was unfolding when I had just bought that new album. For me, it is the most powerful mnemonic device. Similarly, when a change of mood is desired, music never fails. A perfect and immediate example: I was just in Walgreen’s, moments before sitting down to pen my answers here, and was barely able to contain my disdain for the Susan Boyle CDs staring back at me, underneath the horrible third-grade classroom fluorescent lighting, when out of nowhere, Elvis Costello’s “Radio, Radio” came on overhead…SAVED!

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing instead? I’d be really, really bored! (Well, hopefully not!) I’d likely pursue a career in the not-for-profit world, specifically in the environmental field. I envision myself continuing the work I started with both the Chicago Recycling Coalition, and with Uptown Recycling. Otherwise, I’ve also often toyed with the idea of working at a university, as a coordinator for entertainment and student activities. I think I would like the academic environment and campus life, and continuing to work with artists. Whether it be a scrappy indie record label, or a non-profit environmental education and advocacy organization, I resonate with causes and prefer to dedicate my time and energies toward goals that I deem important, and with people who I like and respect. I am extremely fortunate to love what I do, by both day and night, and to love the people who I do it all with. A rare gift indeed! I’m ruined for the “straight world”, I fear, and so look forward to finding my way toward creative causes, and alongside creative people. To me, the intangible rewards from such endeavors far outweigh the more “responsible” rewards from other, more typical lines of work.

What are your hobbies? Singing. Record collecting. Singing. Writing music (lyrics). Singing. Hitting a bike trail, occasionally. Oh, and singing!  Again, I spend the bulk of my time and energy creating opportunities to perform live. If you like golf, make a tee time and play a round. If you like to ski, buy a lift ticket and hit the slopes. If you like to sing: play a show! That’s what I do.

In ten years, where do you see yourself? Next question….  Ahem. Well, this is a doozie. I’d like to say that I’d still be performing in some capacity, and singing. I’ve been lucky to do so for the past 20+ years, so why stop now!  Additionally, I’d like to think that I’d have secured a modicum of security with a more secure job, albeit still a fun and important one. If I’m still in the music biz, then perhaps I’d be in a management role with a larger organization (ie within music distribution, artist management, or venue management). If outside the music world, then perhaps working in marketing with some other creative folks, so long as I was marketing something that I believed in. Otherwise, as I mentioned above, potentially working for a non-profit organization, or within an academic setting. I’ll probably still be in Chicago, and…I’ll most assuredly be the father of a 10 year old! Zoinks!

When deejaying or performing at an event, how do you prepare?  How do you choose your songs? I’m still a novice at DJing, but thus far I’ve started the process by following the lead offered by the couples themselves. They have done a great job, so far, of providing me with lengthy lists of specific songs they’d like to be played, or have honed in on multiple, specific genres that offer rich opportunities for danceable tunes. From there, I fill in the gaps with the songs recommended by Cage and Aquarium, and with songs that I’ve observed work at previous weddings. I also line up tunes that resonate with the songs and genres suggested by the bride and groom. As I am still relatively new to all of this, I spend a great deal of time thinking and re-thinking the master play lists that I’ll pull from, during the event. I’m hopeful that over time, I’ll become more spontaneous during the event itself.  In addition to selecting the music itself, I spend time mentally playing through the event, from beginning to end, to ensure that I have accounted for as many details as possible, and to ensure that the event flows smoothly and seamlessly.

Tell us a little bit about your group, Acoustic Sideshow. The Acoustic Sideshow has been one of my most enjoyable musical endeavors to date. Originally founded with my pal Tom Horne, who I played with in two original indie rock bands, the Sideshow grew from a side project designed to earn us extra cash and free beer, into it’s own admirable entity. Compounded by our relatively heavy performance schedule (we were playing up to three times each week), Tom soon developed some hand ailments that prompted his premature retirement. There I was, stranded, until my boss Rob, on our annual drive down to South By Southwest suggested that I tap Bloodshot’s publicist Stolie to join the duo…easily one of THE BEST ideas he has ever had.

Stolie has proven to be a musical pillar unlike any other I’ve ever worked with, and has become one of my best friends. Together, and really through her direction, we took a scrappy bar circuit duo and elevated it to an accomplished, and happily sought after, musical combo. We have played around the country, and in some truly remarkable settings. Our show has evolved to include trivia, games, and plenty of humor. We laugh a lot together, and really there can be no greater reward or indication of a job well done. With Stolie, the Acoustic Sideshow has delivered the goods I always sought through my original projects in the first place: ADVENTURE. We’ve made a lot of people happy along the way, including ourselves. With a gig already booked in Philadelphia in February, I’m enthusiastically looking forward to new sights and sounds with our partnership in the new year! If you’ve read this far, then I look forward to seeing you there!