ISU alumnus leads entertainment career in ‘flyover land’


Courtesy Hillary Brown

Hillary Brown leads panel

Micaela Cashman

Hillary Brown graduated from Iowa State with a degree in advertising but recently learned how to start and maintain an entertainment career in areas of the country that are not “entertainment-saturated” from some of the industry’s top professionals.

Representing her passion-project-turned-business On Pitch, based out of Des Moines, Brown led a panel entitled “Landing a Music Career in Flyover Country” at South By Southwest, an annual music festival held in Austin, Texas.

Panelists included Sean Moeller, owner of Daytrotter in the Quad Cities; Scott Booker, manager and owner of Hellfire Enterprises in Oklahoma City representing the Flaming Lips, Devendra Banhart and El-P; Shawn Crahan, musician in Slipknot, Dirty Little Rabbits and The Black Dots of Death in Des Moines; and Amedeo Rossi, promoter of Greater Des Moines Music Coalition, 80/35 and the Simon Estes Concert Series and venue owner of Vaudeville Mews in Des Moines.

“Due to the panelists’ career paths being so diverse, we really got to hear a variety of perspectives regarding their thoughts on launching a music career in flyover country,” Brown said. “From their backgrounds that led them to their music careers, including first jobs and the impact of education and corporate careers on their journey, to the final determining factors that inspired them to launch their own careers, they really offered up a great deal of insight and advice on the topic.”

Discussions included whether people in the entertainment business needed to move to a big city or music mecca to see any success, what advice panelists have for musicians or industry professionals to be successful in a smaller city and what challenges the panelists faced in starting their careers in flyover land.

“All of our panelists exuded innovation, fearlessness and motivation — they have truly carved their own paths while creating their own unique and successful music careers right here in the Midwest,” Brown said.

Brown said about 70 people came to the panel. They took a poll during the discussion and found that 50 percent of the audience were musicians, while the other 50 percent were music professionals.

Brown added that her role as moderator was relatively easy.

“I knew going into the panel that I had the easy job,” she said. “The spotlight was really on our rock star lineup of experienced music veterans and professionals during the presentation, which I was thankful for. Jill Haverkamp [On Pitch co-owner] and I spent some time creating a panel outline prior to the presentation to determine the questions I would ask each panelist based on their unique experience and career paths, along with follow-up questions to help guide the discussion, so I felt very prepared.”

Brown and Haverkamp plan to use the information they got through the panel to encourage people to start music and entertainment careers in flyover land and not feel the need to move to Los Angeles or Nashville to find success.

Many students were in attendance at South By Southwest.

“I highly recommend that any students who are planning on working in the Interactive, Film or Music industries attend SXSW at some point,” Brown said. “The experience as whole and the connections you make with industry professionals and thought leaders at the conference are truly invaluable.”

The panelists had advice for those wanting to follow in their footsteps and start a music career in a smaller city.

“Set a plan, but know when to zig and zag. Know when to stick it out,” Rossi said.

“I highly recommend working in a record store if you want to get into the business,” Booker said.

Moeller added, “The biggest thing to remember is to just try. If there is something you want to do, go for it.”

Co-owner Jill Haverkamp added that she has had many more opportunities in Des Moines than she would have if she were in New York or Los Angeles.

“One of the biggest benefits of starting my music career in ‘flyover country’ was the ability to do more,” Havercamp said. “When I graduated college I got involved in the Greater Des Moines Music Coalition, the non-profit that organizes the 80/35 music festival. I was able to manage the communications for a 30,000 attendee event my first year out of college. If I were living in Los Angeles or New York, I most likely would’ve been stuffing press kits. It basically comes down to being a bigger fish — with more responsibility and opportunity — in a small pond.

For more information on On Pitch and Brown’s panel, visit