I am thrilled to be nominated as a top radio personality for the third year in a row in the NUVO Best of Indy awards. That said, as your duly awarded “Cultural Visionary Trailblazer,” (AKA: “The Crystal Hockey Puck for Effort” … also courtesy of NUVO) I am hereby calling for local music fans to unite and urging everyone to throw their votes to my esteemed colleagues/amicable competitors at The DoitIndy Radio Hour to get them a piece of THEIR long-overdue recognition, but most-of-all to get an Internet station ON THE MAP and above the suits in the board room crowd.
Category Archives: Indy In-Tune
So the next phase in my 12-step plan for world domination commences. On to phase six … wait … Let me think … Start podcast … Get Pluto reclassified as dwarf planetoid… Obtain mannequin … Gain notoriety as a cultural visionary … yeah, phase six …
Okay, so it was an honor, and very cool that they thought of me, and I did apologize in advance for having what was sure to be the rowdiest entourage of any award recipient of the evening. If nothing else, we assured that we would probably never get invited to another NUVO event again, and reinforced their decade-long boycott of us. Picture THIS cocktail reception:
“So, what did you do?”
“Well, I gave my entire crop from the family farm to a homeless shelter and went broke …”
“I turned my home into a shelter for battered Syrian refugee women …”
“I’ve been telling dick and fart jokes in my basement for a decade now!”
As long as I’ve been on the subject of unexpected downsides to be being me, here’s another one:
“Hey, can you listen to this track and let me know what you think?”
The problem isn’t so much coming up with something to say, that part is easy. The problem is I have probably 20 or 30 of these tracks stacked up in my inbox. See, I have a 60-second rule – I forget where I learned it, maybe a book on how to give yourself ADD or something — if I don’t think can read, act on, and reply to your email within 60 seconds, then I skip it until my designated Indy In-Tune work time. This time used to be early Saturday mornings over coffee before the family wakes up, but anyone who has been waiting for six months for me to edit their podcast will tell you that a freak quantum singularity opens up in my loft every Saturday morning around 7:00 AM and sucks in all of space and time such that all of the clocks skip from 6:59 AM to 11:38 AM, which as any good suburbanite knows, is when you are required to load Nickelback on to your iPod and begin mowing your lawn. Seriously, our HOA has inspectors that come around and enforce this.
That said, I did recently have time to go through my pile of submitted tracks, and I have chosen the best three of those to share with you here as “the bands you need to be watching, and CD’s you need to watch out for right now.” Also note the shameless use of my soon-to-be-patented “Darrin’s Power of Positive Listening” technique, that I introduced in a previous blog post. Ready? Here goes.
Ryan Brewer – (Forthcoming August 1 release)
Ryan is one of those prolific guys that I’m certain never has an “off mode” when it comes to songwriting. Not only that, but his stuff is good, and it’s diverse. While he occasionally delves into the eclectic, he doesn’t polarize to the point where someone says, “Ugh, can’t stand Ryan Brewer’s music.” Basically everyone loves something of his. Personally, I like his electric rock work with the Fallow, but I also love how he delved into spoken word on his last EP. At least three others (all female) have listed the acoustic/falsetto “Strings” as their favorite track from him. A few days ago, he sent me a new track called “What Do You Think?” The first three bars storm in screaming “Mainstream Alt Country!” like Kenney Chesney line dancing into 8-Seconds Saloon and ordering a Budweiser. Great if that’s your thing, it’s really not mine. The whole first listen I’m thinking: Can he sell this to his fans? Is this too far off what people expect from him? He’s an artsy writer, how is he going to dumb himself down to do lowest-common-denominator music? Answers: Yes, No, He doesn’t, that’s why it’s good. This song is what it is, and the music is what it had to be to make the song work. As Ryan explained, for this project, he is playing all of the instruments himself, and is chosing ten of what he considers to be the best songs he’s written, regardless of age, complexity, or genre. Now, for a guy who pretty much speaks in potential song lyrics, and steals the show no matter what bands he’s on a bill with, that little tease makes this an album to watch for.
SHED — Synergy
I first met Bobby Ingals and Tony Johnson of Shed a couple of weeks ago at the Battle of Birdy’s registration. Technically it was in the parking lot, where they were the first in line. I think they may have camped out the night before like a hyperactive mom propped up at the door to Toy’s R Us ready to shank someone for the last Shoot Me Up Elmo doll when the doors open on Black Friday. Very nice guys; very enthusiastic about their art and the scene in general. We did a quick on-air spot to introduce them and play one of their tracks, which turned out to be the last track on the album. Okay, gotta admit, at the time I rolled my eyes a bit … another hardcore metal band, nice, but it’s been done … to death in this town. Wanting to be fair, and I guess because I was in the mood for some hardcore metal, I put the CD in at work three days later. Okay, that was a nice opener. Well, that third one was good solid hard rock, and not at all hardcore. Oh, hang on, that fifth one was a great song. Oh, I am liking this band. By the end of the CD, I had already emailed Mighty Mia and told her she needed to find something for us to do with these guys. Definitely my favorite find of the last few months.
Half-Life – (Album in Progress)
I hate it when my children fight. Yes, the band that was spawned from a couple of Indy In-Tune listeners, Black Market Binary, is no more. Pity too, I was really enjoying the direction they were taking … or at least the one I thought they were taking. The first output, post-BMB comes from Ryan Gibbons’ new band, Half-Life. At first listen to the track “Lights Life,” I was tempted to go along with Ryan Gibbons pitch that this is the same band with a different singer … though I now disagree with him, at least based on this track. Certainly Cassandra Wood is an entirely different flavor of singer from Angela Jackson, the former being stronger in capturing the feel and timbre of a song; the later centering on an incredible control and flawless presentation of the voice itself. By just shifting that focus, Half-Life comes off as a laid back, more rough-edged, less-sanitary rock and roll machine. “Lights Life” owes more to the catchy hook-driven crunch of Better Than Ezra’s “Good” than the more synthetic, industrial experimentation of Black Market Binary. Of course, BMB never finished their last project, and this is only the first taste of I’ve had of Half-Life, so who knows if the disconnect between the two is merely my perception, or is covered in the material that I’m missing. Then again, that’s why you need to join me in watching for this release and this band.
So remember a few months back when I was touting the wonders of Spotify, voyeuristic consumption, and how cool it was that we’re finding ways to make music a social experience again? Yeah, I take it all back. I think I’ve already mentioned the fatal flaw in the logic of having a reputation as the “devoted champion of the local music scene” is that people tend to make a lot of assumptions about your musical tastes based on who you associate with on the weekends. Now, apparently based on that post, people have started to scrutinize what I listen to. Well, okay, and I guess the Spanish Inquisition was a social experience too. Look, there are a couple of things you need to know: my on-line listening is almost exclusively dedicated to streaming radio stations (which I often choose more because I like the presenters than I do the music) and random shuffles (because, like Shatner, I like to explore strange new worlds … and sleep with green-painted chicks, but that’s for my other blog). What I’m saying is that you can’t infer anything about my tastes based on my listening habits. Anybody who has talked music with me for more than half an hour, however, knows that my two favorite types of music are prog and jazz – neither of which features very prominently on Indy In-Tune Radio because 1) like pepperoni curry, pretention only appeals to a small group of misguided fanatics with strong constitutions, 2) indie rockers are much more fun to hang out with socially, and 3) Indianapolis seems to be devoid of original prog bands, and most jazz players won’t return my phone calls because of my involvement in the “Chatterbox incident of 1995.”
This new socialization, however, gave rise to an interesting observation. It has been my experience, that if someone is going to comment on my playlist or choice of music, it’s most-likely to be negative over the Internet, but positive if we’re hanging out in person. This is also evident in feedback received about the programming on Indy In-Tune Radio. Looking at on-line comments, there’s about a 5:1 ratio of “You play too much hip hop!” or “I really hate the hardcore metal stuff you have on!” compared to “Holy cow, I’d never heard [insert band here] before, what a great find!” and “I am now completely obsessed with this song, thanks for playing it!” That ratio is reversed if the person leaving the comment is standing right in front of me. It’s almost as if any time I’m not keeping an eye on people, they are kidnapped and secretly replaced with Gordon Ramsay. I try not to take any of this personally, but as I also mentioned in a previous rant, it’s unfortunate that when left to our own true nature (instead of the niceties we throw up during personal interactions) we’re more apt to come out bashing something we don’t like instead of enforcing something we do like. Not to mention, my all-time biggest pet peeve is someone who claims they hate an entire genre of music, when in reality they’ve probably listened to very little of it and their disdain is most-likely based on preconception … or worse, misconception.
I fully accept that some music just doesn’t speak to certain demographics of people, and some people have very specific tastes in what they want to hear. Certainly I’m not a huge fan of some of the music Indy In-Tune plays on a daily basis, but I absolutely respect and support those who wrote and perform it (and don’t try to guess, you’d be very surprised to learn what I do and do not like in the playlist). On the other hand, I can’t write off an entire genre or even the totality of an artist’s work, because there’s almost always something in there I can latch on to. Songs that I truly “hate,” I can only think of six – none of which are from local artists, by the way. I mean, to truly “hate” a song it would have to have no redeeming social or entertainment value – like an Adam Sandler movie. I would (despite reasonable effort) be completely unable to find anything complimentary to say it or the person who wrote it at all — like a Saturday night live sketch after 12:30. Simply hearing the song in the background would completely ruin my mood and my day, and if I thought it were feasible, I would cancel all my remaining plans and join a crusade to have it removed from the space-time continuum completely (like my ex-girlfriend). I am talking serious hate here, bile that would make a Fox News commentator say, “Whoa, dude, calm down, don’t you think you’re getting a little obsessed with your self-righteousness?”
By that definition, I could only find six songs that I hate. Just six. Care to guess? (None of them are by local artists.)
There are hundreds of songs I just don’t like, but each of them has at least one redeeming element that saves it from the “hate” moniker. Yes, I loathe Brown-Eyed Girl, but that moving guitar part in the verses is really well done (you know, the guitar part most cover bands leave out). I jab forks into my leg whenever someone plays “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” but the guitar bends in the lead are pure rock and roll (you know, the bends most cover band players can’t quite get on pitch). Bobby McGee has been covered to death by every wannabe female singer because Janis impresses, and it happens to be the easiest of her songs. (I defy any of you to cover “Cry Baby.” Just once.) Still, there is one perfect mesh of poetry and passion in the “called him my lover, called him my friend” section (you know, the phrase that no bottle-blonde karaoke pop-tartlet has ever hit – and the only thing we remember about your performance later is how they screwed up the best part of the song). If I can find something I like about these songs, I can’t hate them. Now, granted, I don’t want to hear them … ever … again.
So, here’s a little positive thinking challenge for you: Step outside of your normal listening habits, either by browsing through unexplored genres with TuneIn, seeding an off-the-wall song in Pandora to see what comes up, or just stalking your more-eclectic friends’ playlists in Spotify (stay away from mine though, chaos and madness await thee there). Challenge yourself to find one element you like about each song that comes up. It may be small. It may not be enough to make you want to listen on a regular basis. It may be a single clever line in a rap song, a cool chord progression in a dubstep song, a cool keyboard sound in a pop song, and hey, did I catch you tapping your foot to that twangy country tune? Heck, I recently became a Daft Punk fan mostly because I admired their marketing technique, and I listen to desi electronica and Chinese folk music when I write simply because it’s non-invasive. The point of the exercise is to train yourself to identify the positive before the negative, and to find beauty in unlikely places. I’m sure this would come in handy in other aspects of your life, but they’re probably not nearly as important as music.
I’m not one for whiny, preachy, or even overly-serious blog posts. Self-indulgent, yes, but I generally try to shy away from negativity (except in a few well-deserved cases, and almost always when I’m defending my opinion against someone who I fully believe is completely
stupid … er wrong … in theirs). I read far too much crap designed to stir up readership through controversy to participate in such childish poo-flinging. That said, it’s been an interesting morning of seemingly unrelated reads and events that somehow, while woofing down a tasty burrito at lunch, I suddenly realized were complete related … and then I decided to rant on it … in a constructive way.
First was a conversation I had with member of a band that I admire and enjoy, and whom I have been dying to get on the podcast for over a year now since they became one of the first bands to graciously donate their music to the cause that is Indy In-Tune Radio. I mentioned that I was very excited about the possibility, but obviously we are getting ready to enter into a four-month commitment as a sponsor of the Battle of Birdy’s that is going to keep me extremely busy with those fifty or 60 bands. When asked if they might be interested in signing up for the battle, they politely replied that because it had been on a bit of a decline in recent years, they were steering clear of joining. Obviously, I can understand this sentiment, and their reasoning. Though I don’t believe we’ve met in person, our mutual friends have nothing but nice things to say about this person, so by proxy I respect his opinion – and should he be reading this tirade, I hope he doesn’t take it as an attack on or criticism of his position, when merely this is my way of elucidating my own in something more than the 140 character format I was confined to at the time.
Second was an article this morning in the Chicago Tribune wherein they laude themselves (go figure) for greatly expanding their broadcast empire by buying up operational rights to a large number of local television stations. Now, the amateur day-trader in me says, yes, this is a smart business move. It made ClearChannel a great deal of money and completely changed the way radio stations all over the country operate, after all. Sure, it means that local TV stations will soon be watered-down least-common-denominator commodities that are stamped and mass-produced to be exactly what Tribune thinks we want from a TV station — instead of entities with personality, individuality, and a genuine stake in the concept of “local.” It is, however, a sound business move that will no doubt keep the dying Tribune rolling long for another five or six years at least.
It certainly seems at times that local is dying. One need only pull off I-74 in Brownsburg, I-65 in Greenwood, I-465 in Castleton, or I-69 in Noblesville and see how once distinct neighborhoods are now carbon copies of sim-city-esque templates with the same franchise restaurants, architecture, billboards, filling stations, etc. Wal-Mart has long ago replaced the corner dime-store. Barnes and Noble and Best Buy have killed off mom-and-pop specialty book and record stores. Broad Ripple is now anchored by Starbucks and Firehouse Subs where local institutions like Broad Ripple Deli and Paco’s Cantina reigned uncontested. Our radio stations feature pre-canned into four convenient flavors and playing the exact same playlist as their clones in every other major market in the country; our local TV channels feature less than 10% “local programming;” and this week we mourn the passing of Sammy Terry — one of the last of a breed of local broadcasting icons that has never been, and likely never will be, replicated. (Seriously, when was the last time you stood in line to get a local TV star’s autograph?) Each year, there is less and less to distinguish Indianapolis from St. Louis, or Cleveland, or Louisville. It’s all gone bland.
In many ways, our attitudes are exacerbating the problem. I can think of very few people who actually want to see local businesses fail or for Wal-Mart reign supreme — which is good. Yet, still, I see huge lines to get into Applebee’s every Friday night while I’m driving to Shapiro’s, or Dooley O’Tooles, or some other locally owned establishment for dinner, where I get immediate seating. I hear a lot of car stereos playing Nickelback while I’m on my way to catch Minute Details or No Pit Cherries play a show. Okay, I’ll admit that, as a matter of budget, I buy groceries from Kroger instead of Good Earth (but many of you do support local grocery — hats off to you), and the number of charges on my card to Amazon.com every month probably overshadow my purchases at Indy CD and Vinyl, Luna, or Vibes (though the former does employ a lot of people around town, and I do try to stop visit the later every couple of weeks at least). Just promise me, if you ever see me having a beer at Brothers, you will drag me outside and kick my ass.
Purchasing power aside, saving “local” requires a fundamental shift in attitudes. Local music scene, in particular, still wastes considerable energy bashing this company, or this venue, or that event, when we should be singing the praises of the ones that are doing a great job. Case in point: the night Locals Only closed last year, you couldn’t park within a mile of the place. If we had all come out to celebrate its life the way we celebrated its death, it would probably still be there – as would half a dozen other venues in the last couple of years. Though there are some great musical cliques in this city that regularly support each other, we are still essentially divided into “this camp” or “that camp” or “Rock House bands” or “west side bands” or “coffee shop artists” when in reality it would be to our advantage to break out of those mindsets. The one that gets me every time, though: If local radio would just play more local music, then the scene would really take off – as if the aforementioned ClearChannel (which knows about as much about the “local” scene as I know about running a major multi-national corporation) is the only reason we’re not all famous and drawing huge crowds. Look, if you are waiting for this to happen, then you are dreaming. And even if it did, I seriously doubt it would make the difference everyone things it will. We as a scene need to be supporting each other, not waiting for corporate America to grow a heart … because it won’t … ever. Corporate America doesn’t hear us. It doesn’t care what we think. And it certainly is not going to make us all famous unless its cold calculating formulas show it a way it can make fast money off of us in return – and the fact that you can, at will, bring 50 people to your local bar four or five times a year does not even register on their radar. Do you know who does care about that? A local bar owner who can sell a few extra beers; the local restaurant owner next door that might serve them a dinner before the show; oh and the guy running a local radio station in his basement that can always use one more listener, and will happily share five of his for just one of yours. And you know what? We spend almost all that money here in town. It doesn’t go back to a CEO in upstate New York to pay for the mortgage on his condo in Florida. It gets spent here — usually in other locally-run establishments.
So what do we do, o preachy one? (Yes, sorry, I’m getting all soap-boxy.) For every artist that laments that the local music scene needs to unite, I ask: What have you done to make that happen? Do I see you attending other bands’ shows even if you’ve never heard them or been in that venue before? Are you regularly telling the rest of us about these experiences on your Facebook page or Twitter? Are you dragging bands of completely different genres outside of their clique and onto your bills in order to cross-pollinate disparate fan bases? Are you organizing “event shows” or festivals in exciting new locations that bring together hard rock acts with hip hop artists, jam bands, or singer/songwriters? Do you ever do anything to stir things up, even if there’s a good chance it will fail? Or are you booking the same show with the same two friend bands of yours at the same venue … and drawing the same 25 people you draw every time, then blaming the venue for not supplying you with an audience? Every time you lament that a venue or event has gone downhill, do you take it upon yourself to help find a way to help revitalize it with a new crowd? Or do you see this as the owner’s problem, and just leave it to rot in order to validate your point, as if a venue that has supported you is suddenly some graffiti-ridden abandoned building at the end of the block? I’m not trying to shame anybody here, honestly, and I fully admit that some buildings should be condemned in order to make way for something new. I just think we need to pick our battles a little more carefully when deciding what can be saved, and what should be let go. We need to start thinking of local as a “neighborhood watch” instead of a “death watch.” We need to be a scene, not a style. Most of all, we all need to spend more time supporting what we believe in, instead of bashing what we don’t like.
I consider myself a content creator, as do most people in the local music scene. For me, that content has always been about “local.” I’ve been at this “Indy In-Tune thing” for seven years now, and have accepted that I will never even begin to recoup my investment, to say nothing of my time. It’s never been about success or money, though; It has always been about filling a void by creating the type of media and content that I wish someone else was creating – and hoping there were at least a few people who felt the same way. Sometimes people are on board with my ideas (a local music streaming radio station) and sometimes I get jeers (PodConcert #1: The great cross-genre experiment). Hey, I tried. No harm, no foul. There are a number of new initiatives being planned for the next two years, and I fully expect a few dismal failures, a couple of marked successes, and the largest percentage to be “meh.” Rest assured though, it’s always going to be entertaining, if not amusing, and while I do tend to lay back every once in a while and concentrate on the more mundane aspects of life and career out of necessity, it’s never for very long.
While there are no doubt a number of excellent music listening services out there, I think the real killer app, the one that makes me discard my allegiances to Amazon Cloud, TuneIn, Winamp, and most-recently Spotify and put everything under a single banner has yet to be developed. I know one thing though, it won’t be coming from Yahoo! I’ve been a streaming music listener since the days of Spinner, MusicMatch, and LaunchCast. Seems like whenever I became a paid subscriber to one of them, Yahoo! would buy them up and either through neglect — or worse, integration — ruin everything completely. Does anybody remember that last fateful incarnation of Yahoo! Music which combined MusicMatch, Launchcast, Chat, eMail, and probably some SETI telemetry into a Frankenstein’s monster that was so resource heavy and dependent on high speed bandwidth that by the time you got it to play a track, the guitarist had already ODed twice, the band had broken up, the VH1 Behind the Music special had aired, and reunions were in quiet negotiations. In fact, if you’re enjoying a particular software package or service that I don’t use, be thankful, because that means Yahoo! also isn’t likely to swoop in and fuck it up for you in the near future. In fact, while I would probably sell out Indy In-Tune and everything I’ve spent seven plus years building up, rest assured it would be assimilated by the Satanic Madeline l’Engle collective at Clearchannel before I would get in bed with the “phat Yahoo! cash.” Amusingly, after typing that, I just looked and it seems Yahoo! has already ditched the idea of developing their own player gotten in bed with Clearchannel’s iHeartRadio. That’s just swell. This means either the two most ruinous companies in the music industry will destroy each other with commodification and consolidation, or their combined forces will destroy music itself, pave the way for a world government run by MTV, and turn Rush’s 2112 into a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Stepping back a couple of apocalyptic wars, this is also one reason why I waited so long to plunk money down in the Spotify camp. I hate relying on “music leasing” services, only to have them shut down a few years later leaving me with none of the music I’ve been enjoying in the meantime, and no real convenient way to even get a listing of those tracks, artists, and albums so that I might recreate the playlists on a different service. However, recent realities have forced me to bite the bullet, so to speak, and get back on the music service bandwagon with Spotify, which solves a few of my musical woes. To my knowledge though, there are still a few key features I would love to see that no app has managed to crack yet.
First off, subgenre radio. Yes, it’s great that I can now eliminate Techno-Polka from my radio stations with the click of a button, and I know that no artist likes to be lumped into this genre and excluded from that genre, but can we be a little more specific than “Rock,” “Jazz,” “Country,” etc. What if I only want to listen to Chicago-based bebop between 1945 and 1964? What if I want only the latest popular music, but nothing with female artists, because, while Zooey Dechannel is absolutely adorable, it’s painful to look at her knowing that, were I ever to meet her in person, I would have to begrudgingly admit her music is very well done, but lacks sufficient edginess for my tastes?
Next, smarter “seed” playlists. Another small aside here. I know I’ve been threatening to record an album project for years now, and I keep getting sidetracked by things like starting a radio station … or drinking beer … but I’ve got two major problems: 1) Most of the music in my head is beyond my capability to play, and 2) I have an idea for a particular style of music that combines the lush tones and synthetic feel of modern dubstep and drum-and-bass, but humanizes it with real musicians, improvisation, and virtuosic solos found in fusion jazz. My extensive computer programming skills and limited music ability should just be able to pull this off, and I would love to convey the concept to other musicians so we have a common frame of reference to work from, but unfortunately I don’t know enough about club music or modern jazz to know where to begin to show them similar music. I built a playlist out of Chick Corea, Al DiMeola, Skream, and Source Direct, hoping Pandora would somehow figure out what I’m asking for, but instead it came back with Herbie Hancock and Andrew Bird – erm, no. Could I at least get in and tweak the algorithm a bit? I’m certain I didn’t invent this genre and somebody, somewhere in the world is playing it, but I just don’t know what to call it or how to find these people.
Finally, more and better socialization. Come on, we’ve already discussed how the ability to see what you friends are listening to at any given moment is more than a little bit creepy in that Norman Bates kind of way. On the other hand, I believe every site should be offering real-time interaction among visitors who choose to meet like-minded people. We’re a social society after all. Wouldn’t it be cool if, for example when I discovered the group Washed Out the other day, there was a little chat room I could have pulled up that was filled with people who were listening to the exact same song at the exact same time — and who could have explained to me right away that Washed Out is actually the stage name of one guy, not a band’s name, and saved me a bit of embarrassment later on when I was talking to people. Not to mention, they could have also pointed me to similar artists they are listening to who are doing similar things with a lot more accuracy than the frustrating algorithm that is so sure that, because I like Yes’ 2011 release “Fly from Here,” that I would rather be listening to Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung.” Let’s face it, computers are really great at pulling up music really quickly when we ask for it. For obvious reasons, they suck at picking out music we want to listen to, or recommending stuff we’ll like – which is probably a good thing since the search is half the fun.