Columbus Music Commission making Columbus the next music city

Steve Wartenberg
For Columbus CEO
Bruce Garfield, executive director, Columbus Music Commission

When Bruce Garfield was selected as the first executive director of the Columbus Music Commission in August 2018, he took a “blank-canvas” approach to his new gig. “Did I have a three-year plan?” he says. “I’d be lying if I said yes; I listened to my gut.”

His gut told him to think big, collaborate, get instruments into the hands of students, create opportunities for musicians in every facet of the business and, maybe, create a recording label. “My mantra is to make Columbus a better place for musicians to make a living,” says the former senior vice president of A&R (artist and repertoire) at EMI Music, and the head of his own management agency. Over four-plus decades in the music industry, Garfield has worked with superstars such as David Bowie, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sinead O’Connor.

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Columbus and its ties to music

Columbus has had a lot of talented musicians, such as Twenty One Pilots, “but there’s no real music infrastructure here, no [major] recording label, no publishing companies,” Garfield says. “Artists have to go elsewhere for success.”

Donatos CEO Tom Krouse is also a musician, a member of the mountain-rock band Grassinine. Krouse and other local musicians gathered “to discuss in a grassroots way how we could help one another,” he says. More people began attending the meetings, which led to the creation of the commission in 2016.

Garfield, ready for a career change, moved to Columbus in late 2017 from New York City. He quickly fell in love with the city and began thinking about how to make a difference.

The commission opening seemed perfect. “Bruce has some level of relationship with almost everyone in the music business,” Krouse, a member of the commission’s board, says. “And he was already networking with people here before [the opening and interview].”

How Bruce Garfield found the Columbus Music Commission 

Garfield had 400 in-person meetings in his first 18 months on the job (before COVID). During meetings at schools, he noticed the need for instruments. This led to the creation of the commission’s Gift of Music program, which has collected and delivered more than 2,200 instruments to local schools, community centers and nonprofit groups.

“You’d be surprised how many people have instruments in their closets and basements,” Garfield says. One woman told him about her recently deceased husband, who was a music teacher. He had collected about 40 instruments over the years and the widow told Garfield “he’d be so happy to know they’re going to be used.”

Columbus Music Commission programs

Using Garfield’s connections, Music Mondays brings industry leaders to town to discuss career development, songwriting, marketing and promotion. Guests have included Peter Ganbarg, executive vice president of A&R of Atlantic Records, and Tyler Joseph of Twenty One Pilots. “We’ve had 6,000 people attend 55 events,” Garfield says, adding all the speakers appeared without compensation.

The Music Everywhere, Music Columbus program started as a collaboration with Experience Columbus during the American Society of Association Executives conference in 2019 held in the city. “We had 26 different ensembles, so that everywhere [ASAE participants] went they heard music,” Garfield says, adding he plans to expand the program.

The Unheard program provides the annual opportunity for four unknown local bands to perform in CD 92.9’s Big Room live-performance series.

Garfield is just getting started. He’s working on a music-trail map, similar to the ones in place for craft breweries. “Music tourism is huge,” he explains.

Unable to resist the urge to reconnect with his music-business roots, Garfield is determined to create a nonprofit recording label run by the commission.

Columbus as the next music city?

Nashville has the Grand Ole Opry, New Orleans has jazz. Columbus?

“I don’t think Columbus will ever be a Nashville or a New Orleans, but we don’t have to be,” Krouse says.

Garfield thinks Columbus is on the right track. “People tell me you’ll never make this a music city and I tell them we’re already a music city.”

Steve Wartenberg is a freelance writer.

Columbus Music Commission

277 W. Nationwide Blvd., Columbus 43215

Mission: To create richer, happier, more vibrant lives and economic growth for the Columbus region through the support of music.

Executive Director: Bruce Garfield

Employees: 3

Annual budget: $310,000

Funding: Greater Columbus Arts Council and individual and corporate donations