Exploring Madison's Music Scene
Mar 12, 2013
05:27 PMLocal Sounds
Welcome to Local Sounds
When Madison Magazine suggested that I write a local-music blog for them I agreed without hesitation. I’ve been writing about local music for some time, since I started Rick’s Café newspaper in January of 2003. Rick’s Café was exclusively dedicated to local music and arts and grew to a circulation of 12,000. The impetus for it was my perceived lack of effort by other media outlets to expose the astonishing breadth and depth of the scene in Madison. I’d been performing and recording music since my youth, so I felt it was time for me to start contributing in other ways (once I realized the “magic bus” was not going to pull up at my door to take me on that world tour).
At that time I estimated that perhaps 5% of Madison’s population participated in the local-music scene with any regularity. After years of publishing and beating the pavement I realized that it may be closer to 1% and that I had been largely preaching to the choir.
This seems like a good opportunity to reach out beyond the isthmus, to a different demographic that may not be aware of the treasures in its midst. For example, if I were to ask you how many recordings were released in Madison in 2012 (released being defined as available for sale to the public), what would you answer? 40? 50? 75? It may surprise you to learn that, at last count, there were over 130. You can see the complete list here. There have been over 100 releases in each of the last several years, and it takes a lot of effort to search these out. After all, few of them received review in any publication. Most of the city’s recording artists have no illusions about this; their efforts—a considerable investment of time, creativity, energy and money—go largely unnoticed. I don’t believe there is another city of comparable size that can match the quality and quantity of musical output of Madison, Wisconsin. But there are issues apart from apathy that face Madison.
One could easily argue that the center of Madison’s creative arts is a focused area in and immediately around the isthmus. Having two large bodies of water results in what I like to call the “inner” and “outer” circles. These two circles don’t cross over a great deal unless football or brats are involved. When I began to realize that the 1% participation figure I mentioned earlier could be doubled with effective outreach, it followed that things could get twice as good. These geographic realities have proven that growing Madison’s music scene is not so easy.
There are other factors, lack of industry being a big one. Artists who do rise above are compelled to relocate. There is also a lack of involvement at the city level, a topic I will address often in the coming months. With all due respect to Mayor Soglin, spending $50,000 on a video to promote the city and highlight its diversity and artistic qualities is not going to get it done.
Since ceasing print of Rick’s Café in 2007, I have carried the torch to the internet under the banner of Local Sounds Magazine. I decided that Local Sounds would be a fitting name for this blog as well. I hope readers will link over to the site and catch up on what we are reporting there as I will be referencing a lot of material related to the stories I write here. I’ll be writing reviews of CDs, and performances, highlighting important local events, doing profiles and maybe getting wistful from time to time.
In addition to Local Sounds Magazine and the other facets that make up the larger Local Sounds group, I will be talking a lot about the Madison Area Music Association (MAMA), a nonprofit I founded ten years ago. MAMA, Inc. presents the annual Madison Area Music Awards and works to put musical instruments in kids’ hands in addition to funding music education programs for Madison-area youths. The tenth anniversary of what is known as “Madison’s Grammys” will take place June 23rd at the Capitol Theater in the Overture Center.
Music reflects our lives back to us. It has never ceased to amaze me how I can pinpoint where I was, what I was doing and how I felt about my circumstances or the world at large just by hearing a song. It’s all there, isn’t it? Love, pain, ecstasy, sorrow, fulfillment, longing, enlightenment. Whatever emotion humanity is capable of experiencing you can experience through music. I can’t imagine my life without it and I can’t imagine Madison without its vibrant music culture. I hope you will join me in discovering some of this music and the creative forces behind its making.