MediaTech Ventures’ Community Spotlight Ep.15 – Scott Fetters

Meet the hospitality master, musictech incubator originator, mastermind behind the largest creative hub in America, Scott Fetters, founder/CEO of 2112 inc. Scott’s story is a perfect example of what happens when entrepreneurs focus more on solving a problem, rather than their solution.

Scott had an affinity towards music at a young age, learning how to play piano first before teaching himself how to play multiple other instruments soon after. It was this love for music that took him to from the midwest to Tulane University in New Orleans graduating with a degree in business management. Post graduation, he realized opportunities for him to have in impact was bigger back in Chicago, so he came back to his roots with a plan to pull up his sleeves and get to work.

After years of working with the Chicago Music Commission, local artists, venues, and industry execs, Scott finally found the best way to drive impact and real change in an industry slow to adapt, and 2112 was born. 2112 inc. now sits within a 160,000 sq ft facility located in downtown Chicago, nestled perfectly between Chicago’s busiest airport O’Hare, and the magnificent mile. With over 160 companies, 92 rehearsal studios, 4 major recording studios, 2 podcast studios, live room with full streaming capabilities, private offices, conference rooms, 2 of the largest event production companies in Chicago, 7,000 sq ft. hangar, an incubator, and co-working space, 2112 is helping define new standards on how real estate with a purpose, and industry focus, is the future.

Find out why it’s so important to constantly figure out, and not let your ego get in the way of progress. For more info check out 2112inc.

Can you explain how you ended up in the hospitality industry? And how do you gravitate towards that? And what that transition was like, in working with the music sector in Chicago?

Scott: I think that answer is twofold. One, as far as initially getting into hospitality, I was in school in New Orleans. And it was the best opportunity to make decent money while I was down there just graduated from school, and I was looking at bars, restaurants, hotels, as kind of the go-to for immediate job opportunities in school and out of school. I had a great time. I always felt like I learned more in the bars and the restaurants, at the hotel and the interacting with people going in my first job was in sales, and then graduated with a business degree and still think there was so much more opportunity to learn so many more skills learned in that bar scene bartending and working the front desk. I think the second piece, it was a great opportunity with the way that I built kind of everything, there was really no plan. No vision, I know, it’s not a good thing to say. But this was five years in the making. We were working with the Chicago music commission, Chicagomusic.org. those organizations were not funded. They were volunteer-based. So I was working. Really, I mean, nine to five volunteering. And I saw the best opportunities to sustain myself when I moved to Chicago was getting back involved there. Working in hospitality, bartending, bartending again, working nine to five with CMC, leaving the office, and go on to make my money. I think, taking money out of the equation, in order to build relationships, the way that we’ve brought together Chicago’s creative community, going and offering to help approaching everybody with that mentality of I legitimately want to help. I want to make things better for your company, I want to make things better for the industry. And I don’t want anything in return, my success is your success.

How did you gravitate towards the music in particular?

Scott: I guess I gravitate towards music my whole life. So I grew up playing piano, I actually took piano lessons for a few years, bought every instrument I could find, and tried to teach myself. And I learned pretty much everything but I think saxophone and violin were the two that I said is just too difficult not worth it. But everything else I did it in, in my choice of schools, too. I was living in Indiana, and I knew I wanted to go south, but I knew that I wanted the music to be part of my life. And so I looked at Tulane and USC, which were my top two choices. I visited New Orleans fell in love with it never even made it to the site visit at USC was under the impression that, if being a music town, there would be a lot more music education at the school. I should have done a little more research there.  I went and I was playing jazz and blues. In high school, and I figured I’m gonna go and learn unbelievable jazz music in New Orleans and went to their program it was a business major, but the music classes that I took were performance classes, it was all classical music. But then Eric Cager, who you know as well now, came to one of my classes one day in the music business and talked about the work he was doing at the Music Business Institute, and cutting edge music business conference in New Orleans. And I went and interned with him and ended up spending three years working directly with him, booking showcases for the conference, helping support the initiatives of MBI. 

And that’s really what led to everything that we built here as well, I was actually in the process of replicating the model, I moved up to Chicago, saw a lot of similar issues, saw a lot of resources that artists needed that the industry needed in Chicago, and went to Eric and said, what do you think about creating a Music Business Institute of Chicago, was in the process of working on that and building it and I that was when I met Paul Matken who was the founder of the Chicago music commission, and he said, we don’t need another competing organization just join forces with me. So join his board. And I was doing all of that on the side. So I was working for, for W hotels, doing sales, the same kind of thing it was, that was the reverse, where that was my full nine to five. And then I spent all my time outside of that on the side building and working with Paul. And then it got to a certain point and after five years of the W, I saw there was enough momentum, it was an opportunity kind of took that leap of faith and flipped it where I was working nine to five without a plan and volunteering and then configuring everything else at night.

What brought you back to Chicago was it family?

Scott: So I grew up about 90 miles out in northern Indiana. I was ready to get out.  I saw in New Orleans again, there was it was an amazing city. I think it’s a difficult place to stay and build a career right out of college. And especially in certain industries. So I was looking to get out in general talk to my brother, who was living in Chicago who just graduated from law school. He was living in Chicago from the University of Chicago. And I was trying to figure out where to move and he said, listen, I’ll fly down, I’ll help you move in. I have an extra room for you to stay in. And a job. He’s the one who lined up the job, but the W two. So it made the decision very easy. It was close to family. It was a good job, right out of school. And didn’t look anywhere else.

What were those needs? And how did you land on the idea that it needs to be a space?

Scott: Similar but definitely different needs. We were addressing New Orleans, for the most part, was the unbelievable talent, you walk in every street corner. Every bar that you walk by, you’re going to hear some of the best music you hear anywhere in the world. And those artists,  they’re playing in the street, they have no sense of business, no, no skills to go out and opportunity to go out and monetize. That was what we were addressing there, trying to show that there are other opportunities to make a living and sustain a sustained career without performing live. And so that was our, you know, our first thought in Chicago too. And we did see some of that, just the need for business skill set building. There was a much bigger issue, though. And then when I joined Paul, he had before I had started working with him, he had an economic impact study commissioned. And what jumped out at me there was, at the time, Chicago was number three in almost every category that we looked at, and this was probably 15 plus years ago now. But in looking at the music industry, just the sheer size of the music industry, it was New York, LA Chicago, and almost every category you looked at, we were number one in musical diversity, number two, or three in almost everything else. And I was trying to figure out why is nobody talking about Chicago? And why are people talking about? I understood, obviously, New York and LA, but why are people talking about Nashville Austin, and Atlanta, all these much smaller markets, when on paper, they’re significantly more in Chicago. That was the second piece of kind of defining. At first, we thought it was a marketing issue. 

We took that that data to the city and state government, said here it is on paper, we need to start telling the world about this and realized, working a year or two on some initiatives with them, it was a much bigger problem. And the problem in Chicago for it was primarily fragmentation in the market, that everything was so spread out throughout the neighborhoods, nobody knew each other, nobody was working together, there was no connectivity between industry alone, and then and then the much bigger picture, from the music industry to other industries that could also support them. So our goal became, we need to bring the industry together. And it took a long time to figure out that needed to be in a physical space. So that’s really what we started with monthly educational programming networking events. shifted then to the launch of Chicago Music.org, we got a grant from Boeing, to really create an online hub in a portal where people can come together and you have all of Chicago’s industry on one online hub realized both of those weren’t really the answer, getting people together for drinks once a month. Networking isn’t going to fix anything, anytime soon. Same thing the internet just wasn’t the answer. There’s so much to be said for physical connection and community. And so I was working on both of those projects, out of Fort Knox’s Studios, and it just kind of clicked one day as they were expanding that we have this amazing opportunity with a 160,000 square foot facility to really change to really bring together Chicago’s initially music community and then expanding into more general creative sectors.

What is this hundred 60,000 square foot behemoth? What is the largest creative hub in America? And what’s under the roof? And how does it function?

Scott: That’s something that we always say, there’s no way and we’ve tried, even video walkthroughs there’s no way to really comprehend everything that we’re doing without just coming and being a part of it and seeing it. But what started as, initially, about 10 years ago band rehearsal facility has grown into this, what we call now comprehensive ecosystem where we say, any level of artists, any level of creative aligned business, there’s a home for you somewhere in the building and the resources to help get you to the next level. And to visualize that’s 92 band rehearsal rooms. There are six independently owned and operated recording studios 30, plus, music recording studios, some larger live event production companies. There’s a 30 seat theater, we have the hangar, which launched just after 2112, which is 7000 square foot film and video production facility where we’ve housed everything from small independent projects to major TV, commercial, and film projects, and then 2112 being kind of the last and really the heart of the building home for small businesses we have currently 120 companies working out of offices, private desks coworking. And that community, importantly, is not just about the physical space, it’s about an intentional community about resources, education, mentorship, and access to our outside network and capital to really help support the ecosystem and help our artists and creative businesses grow.

And a live event stage!

Scott I mean, just yeah, just this year alone, huge shift. And you guys have been a great part of that towards shifting focus towards media technology and being patient content creation. So we have in 2012 alone, we have our main stage where typically we do about 100 educational workshops a year that are now set up also for live streaming, recording, archiving everything we do. 

We set a great partnership, we announced with Comcast to build out a content studio to support small businesses throughout the city. We have our own podcast booth, we have Norm Winer and Rob Tovar coming together and they’re in beta testing right now they’re about to launch a channel digital streaming platform focused on emerging artists and emerging business. So yeah, we’re about in 2112, about half of our spaces set up for content creation now as well.

I think what’s most fascinating, is, in spite of what’s going on in the world, with the pandemic, you continue to flourish, and prosper, where the majority of corporate real estate is dying on the vine. And as we watch the Weworks of the world, crumble under the weight of their own ignorance, and bad business development and strategy. Why do you think that is?

Scott: It’s a number of things. I mean, it’s, it’s definitely the intentionality of the community. It’s a space where people need to be together need to be connected. And that’s not just in our physical space it’s a community that supports each other. So through  COVID the, the companies that were hit the hardest and live entertainment, the ones that weren’t, some and that was our first month or so within in March was, let’s, let’s sit down with every member, make sure everyone has a game plan and is set up to succeed, there are some that we ultimately decided, it doesn’t make sense to even try to pivot and you’re going to take a break for a year and a half and get into real estate or some other opportunity, and then come back to it when it makes sense. But everyone else, everyone else who had a viable opportunity to stay in business has and has to support each other. It has kind of come together virtually, I mean, there’s been no mention of not being able to access the space the physical spaces is the least important part of what we do. It’s a great opportunity. It fosters that community and connectivity. But it really is the community, ultimately, the people involved that make it so supportive and special.

Talk a little bit about the evolution of 2112 and what the next three years maybe look like?

Scott: Again, constantly evolving, evolving in response to the needs of the way that the building grew in general, was 100% organic, 100% responsive, to what the community asked for and what we heard from the community. And we developed 30 to 50,000, square-foot, as small as like 10, to 20, even looking at the last little piece of raw space that we have, in 2112 we developed it piece by piece, without a master plan, and, and waited for feedback and community to build. So we’ve continued with that model, where it’s going to go, but it can change drastically, as we continue to get feedback. But the vision that we realized really, is, is one, there is this need, really everywhere. This is not unique to Chicago, there are different aspects of it, and it’ll manifest differently in different markets. But the basis of what we’re doing, and we had come and again space, the physical space is never about our brand or our space, it was about economic development was about bringing the industry together, it was about developing industry, and we saw this, the build-out of the physical space is one opportunity to do that. But the vision remains much larger than our physical space. So we’re looking at economic development, workforce development, business attraction, so we want to, really the vision that we’re shifting to is creating the global model on how to develop a creative sector. 

And that’s everything from supporting and growing, developing talent pipelines, supporting existing business, driving new business to the region, and tying all those initiatives together. And ultimately, for us leveraging the physical space to do that.

And then how did you end up receiving a sizable grant from the Coleman Foundation to launch the Center for Creative entrepreneurship? How did that come about? And how does that fit into the ecosystem?

Scott: So that came from an important to note too 2112 is a for-profit, but intentionally a low profit, business. And we went back and forth on different business models and looked at nonprofits, looked at L3C, mystery LLC, and ultimately decided the best model for us that we had a sustainable model, and we would form as a for-profit business. We had in the development of 2112, we had a relationship with, with Coleman Foundation again, our vision in what we were doing was working towards growing the industry, and in serving the community. And they saw that, and we never took any as 2112 never took any outside funding, no, any public sector funding, it was 100% organic growth.

When we talk to Coleman, and we did I think, with a team of three, what a lot of people do with a team of 10 20 plus, and it was a lot of work I think there’s a lot of upsides to going in the for-profit having the flexibility. The one downside is you got to find a way to pay for everything. And you got to grow much, much smaller, you have to grow organically. And so we built everything any second we were awake we were working on building this concept and in building our community. I think that was recognized by Coleman. We were talking to them for a few years, and they kind of watched the evolution of space. And they came to us and said, what do you need we love what you’re doing and what do you need to help grow? I said, honestly programmatically, we could use a lot of help with expanding there’s a lot of things that we have proven to be impactful. There’s a huge opportunity to since we have a proven model to grow and expand, this isn’t a test we want to test out this idea for a nonprofit and give us money. It was, we’ve done it. And we need more people, we need more resources to help grow. And really, ultimately, and most importantly, to expand the resources that we provide to 2112 members outside of our community, and to communities that need to help and to the world. And so they were very generous in supporting three years of staff. And then the goal for the center for creative entrepreneurship, ultimately, is also to become a self-sustaining nonprofit that partners in a way become the educational arm of 2112.

If I want to build 2112 in my city, what do those steps look like? And what advice you would give somebody that wanted to pursue what you’ve done so well.

Scott: Definitely 100% the first step is identifying the need I think people have come to us replicating 2112 also in other industries, saying how did you build what you built, I have a similar idea that I want to do. And my first question always is why are you doing it? And a lot of times, I think, too many times the answer is well it worked for this industry in this industry. So I’m going to build it for this industry, or it worked in this city in this city. So I’m going to build it from my city, without really spending the time. We spent, again, five years I think, the opposite of model and in the public sector funding model is, we have an idea, give us the money, we build it, you build this big, beautiful, shiny facility, and then you try to figure out how to fill it. And our focus was let’s build community and wait for how does that manifests. 

And ultimately, we had enough people that said that they needed physical space, we built the physical space around the community that we had developed. 

And I think that’s, that’s first and foremost, the most important and I think, the other thing is as far as if you do identify the need, there are opportunities that we can come in, we can support. If we’re not involved, we’re also 100% supportive. Again, it’s not about our brand, our vision, if we go to Austin or Seattle, and somebody is building space, and we see a similar need in there. Step one is is anyone else doing it, and if somebody is doing it, let’s work together then rather than trying to come in and compete.

What were some good resources for you throughout your career so far? Whether it was booked, whether it’s podcasts, whether it’s people that you follow, that you admire, what does that makeup look like for Scott?

Scott: Primarily people, and I think more recently it’s booked, as well, and podcasts, and there’s a lot of great resources out there. But I think building the vision, building the career-building me to where I am now has been the right people in one people that I guess that you look up to this is something that we always tell students that we work with our interns, it’s amazing how most people want to help, and very few people make the ask and, and to go out and, and it’s not just hey, can you help me with this? Because that’s not the right way to approach it either. But understanding finding those people that you admire, going to them and saying, hey, how can I help? How can I be a part of what you’re doing? Same thing I was mentioning with volunteering with CMC it’s, how we built that network. And really everybody that I looked up to everybody that had a successful business, went to them and said, how can I help you? How can I support what you’re doing? Or just I want to learn more about what you’re doing. And almost everybody in that scenario is willing to, if you’re not pitching, if you’re not asking them for something, for money for a job, if you just say, if you’re genuinely interested in what they’re doing, almost anybody in the world will make time to meet with you and talk to you.

Is there any book or any podcasts in particular that come to mind for you? Or is it just topic related? Or what does that look like?

Scott: I think topic related. I mean going back, to the heart of everything that we built, it was into people I looked up to it was in college, I read every one of Muhammad Yunus books on the social enterprise on how to build a business. I’m looking up to and listening to how Sal Khan built Khan Academy. I love the story envisioned there. I think beyond that, there’s a lot of great podcasts out there and actively listen to music tectonics. And, Sherry with everything that she’s covering and writing. GG Johnson, as well. I think the pandemic has helped with it significantly to bring us all together. I think that that community is getting smaller and smaller of the people that are really doing work in creative industries and wanting to support each other. And those lists that are definitely at the top of that list.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Scott: To be able to freeze time that is the one thing that I have the hardest time with is there’s just so much that I want to do. And time flies by and all of a sudden, it’s here five years, and there are so many things that I know I can do and I want to do.

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MediaTech Ventures’ Community Spotlight Ep.15 – Scott Fetters

by John Zozzaro time to read: 17 min
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