Katie Kailus was taking a Jazz Studies course at Elmhurst College five years ago when she learned that DownBeat magazine, one of the most storied publications in the jazz world, was headquartered in downtown Elmhurst, less than a mile from the College’s campus.
It wasn’t long before Kailus, an aspiring journalist, had contacted the magazine’s editors to ask about joining their staff. With help from the College’s Center for Professional Excellence, she won an editorial internship at DownBeat’s parent company, Maher Publications.
Today, Kailus is the top editor at Maher’s national music-industry magazine Music Inc., and her work is winning her industry-wide acclaim. In January, she accepted the She Rocks Award from the Women’s International Music Network in recognition of her accomplishments as the magazine’s editor.
Other winners of the She Rocks Award this year include singer Colbie Caillat and the hit-making pop quartet the Bangles. Kailus and the other awardees joined the group onstage in Anaheim, California, at the annual National Association of Music Merchants show, the industry’s biggest event, and struck Cleopatra-like poses as the Bangles played their ’80s hit, “Walk Like an Egyptian.”
“The whole thing was super exciting,” Kailus said. “To receive the same award as these women is just amazing to me.”
Kailus admits that when she was named editor of Music Inc. a little more than a year ago, the good news was tempered by a few brief moments of disbelief.
“I was 25 years old. I was the first female editor ever at the magazine,” she recalls. And just to make her new job seem a little more challenging, Kailus was given less than a week to get ready to represent the magazine at the NAMM show. “I thought, ‘I can’t really be editor of this magazine,’” she admits.
As it turns out, Kailus has proven more than up to the job. Kailus has reshaped the magazine, enhancing its online presence and giving its pages a fresher, more contemporary feel. She cites the award-winning technology journal Wired as a model for her magazine. And she has overcome any initial misgivings about her readiness for the job. “At some point it just kind of snapped into place and I understood that I really can do this. I have the chops,” she said. “It’s been a gradual process, and to have it topped off by this award is just so cool.”
She is grateful that as editor she has been able to continue doing the kind of writing that attracted her to the magazine in the first place. She has been crisscrossing the country over the last year to meet with and profile instrument makers, retailers and industry executives.
“I love meeting people and hearing their stories,” she said. “As a writer you get to turn that into something that other people can benefit from.”
Along the way she has come to know and admire other women in the business, including some that she credits as mentors. Kailus says that women remain a decided minority in the business; she recalls being amazed at how few she encountered at her first NAMM show as a rookie at the magazine. She points to women like Craigie Zildjian, the first female chief executive of a family-based cymbal manufacturer approaching its 500th year in business, as important role models. She and Zildjian shared the stage in Anaheim as She Rocks Award–winners this year.
Kailus understands that she too can serve as a role model for women rising in the business.
“It took me a while to get my footing, but I did it. I want other women to know that they can be leaders in their own right, too,” she said.
Kailus credits her experiences at Elmhurst with helping her establish herself. As a student, she took full advantage of the College’s internship program, working stints at the CPE and at the Arlington Heights school district in addition to her position at Maher Publishing. She also spent time shadowing on-air reporters at WGN-TV.
“All those experiences helped me figure out exactly what I wanted to do,” she said. “I would tell students to sample a little bit of everything and see what feels natural to you. You might as well enjoy what you do.”