Ten Reasons You Should Go See an Unknown Band

This is an article I saw in the online magazine Stereo Stickman. It was first published in January of 2016 but the advice is timeless. Please make your New Year’s resolution to get out and see some indie bands.

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There’s no need for an introduction here, we’re diving right in. Time is of the essence.


1. You haven’t heard a new song you liked that you weren’t told you should like by the media, in a very long time. Go forth and find one. Songs tend to hit harder when you hear them performed live. Even if the performance wasn’t flawless. (At least you know it was live.)

2. You’re bored of watching television, Netflix and Youtube clips. You know how one sided it is. You won’t meet the love of your life there, or make any real friends. And you certainly won’t be appreciated for your presence. (The Youtube comments sections are, in many ways, more hellish than the gunky cavern your hand will find down the back of the couch.)

3. You’re less likely to find unlimited footage of these musicians online. If you want to experience something fresh, maybe even learn something – perhaps about the life of a real, hard working musician – you need to make the effort and get down to a show. Live music can be gripping and powerful, it can alter your perception and refresh your view of the world.

4. You might find yourself inspired and enthusiastic about your own musical potential.

5.  Mainstream bands know what to write and how to perform to keep the money and the fame in full supply. There’s a particular set of systems that have been proven to work. Unknown musicians write and perform the things they feel, the music they are compelled to create, the unique experiences they’ve had in the cool and quiet underground. It’s not trying to please anyone, it doesn’t think too much of itself, it might even go wrong at some point; but it’s an actual persons creation, an impressive set of skills, developed in a cold, hard world, and without the population of an entire continent as it’s backing singers. They’re baring their souls in the hope that you’ll respond. It’s scary, and fun, and unexpected, and unique, and loud, and wonderful, and messy. The real world isn’t played on Radio 1. It’s right outside; just past your comfort zone.

6. You’ll only spend the money on pizza and diet coke if you stay in. Or alcohol, after which point you’ll wish you’d gone out and found something new and exciting to be a part of anyway, so it’s really barely a choice. Get out there.

7. Being one of the first to discover an incredible new band or artist is extremely exciting. You feel like you’re part of the elite few who know the world’s best kept secret. Plus, now is the best time to get up close and personal with these artists – just before they head off as a slightly bigger deal into the abyss of the world’s stages.

8. Music saves lives. Literally. If it hasn’t saved yours yet, you haven’t found the right music. You must keep searching.

9. Most lesser known bands and artists have very affordable, if not free, gig prices. You’ll be saving a ton of money by not going to the arena show to hear thousands of strangers sing the song louder than the star. And less people will get in your way (though a few more may spill their drinks on you, but that just increases the chances of making a new friend.)

10. If you don’t support underground music, it may very well disappear. Forever. And then you’ll have no choice but to listen to pop. You made it this far so it must be at the back of your mind to get out and see something new. Alternatively, if you’ve disagreed with points 1 -9, and yet you’re still reading; you possibly do need to get out more. In which case I strongly recommend a night out watching an unknown band; it may just be the thing that reignites that youthful glow in your soul. It’s still there – you know it is. Let it live. Let there be light. Let there be live music.

Rebecca Cullen writes for Stereo Stickman which is an online music magazine offering the latest in underground music news, as well as a platform through which unsigned artists can reach a wider audience.

Reprinted with permission.

We Have Arrived

When I say “we”, I am, of course, referring to the editorial “we” or “the royal” we. I mean “we” as a generation. As a force of society. I remember when I was in high school, I had an English teacher in senior year who was very demanding. I wrote my senior paper on the poetry of rock and roll and remember quoting Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, James Taylor among others. I got an “A” on the paper but I remember my teacher, Sister DeNeri (Catholic High School) commenting that my premise was interesting but the lyrical quality of rock and roll songs would never rise to the level of poetry. That was 1979. I would like to see Sr. DeNeri today to get her reaction to Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Boo Yah! We have arrived!

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The significance of Dylan being raised to the level of fellow laureates like Rudyard Kipling, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill, Pearl S. Buck, William Faulkner, Earnest Hemingway, John Steinbeck among other literary luminaries cannot be understated. It is a testament to the power of song to transform society, a vindication of a generation.

foto_de_alfred_nobelAlfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer, inventor and philanthropist and was a controversial figure in his time because of his invention of dynamite. He was called “the merchant of death” and was a man vilified by many. In 1888, he was mistakenly reported as dead and was saddened by the obituary written about him. He was determined to shape his legacy more positively and upon his actual death in 1896 left the bulk of his estate to the Foundation that bears his name. The Nobel Prizes are awarded annually in five disciplines, Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature and Peace. The awards have been bestowed since 1901 and is arguably the most prestigious award one can win.

Just the fact that the committee would consider Dylan in the conversation francis-h-c-crick-nobel-prize-medal-1is probably honor enough but for him to be awarded the prize is a milestone of historical significance. For generations to come, the late 20th century rock and roll movement will now have to be taken seriously and be studied and viewed as a movement of cultural and historical significance.

I must admit, there is good and bad associated with this landmark award. The good is the fact that rock and roll as an art form is now a serious endeavor worthy of academic investigation. The bad is that “we” are now the establishment.

This Week on The Mad Music Asylum

This week’s show (show #126) is inspired by the events unfolding in Charlotte, Tulsa and across the country. The show starts off with a powerful track from Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals from their new album which sets the tone. Check out the song. If you like it, you can buy it on iTunes or Amazon.

We will then work our way through various protest songs and songs of empowerment from the 60’s and 70’s including music from John Lennon, Frank Zappa, Arlo Guthrie and many others.

The featured artist this week at 10 pm eastern time is Bruce Springsteen who, in addition to celebrating a birthday this week, wrote one of the most important songs on this subject matter.
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The indie spotlight at 11 pm eastern features Goldie Chorus, Mating Ritual, Kenny Moreno and Castaway Radio.

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So, be sure to join us Sunday night at 8 pm eastern for

The Mad Music Asylum

Big Changes

The Mad Music Asylum (www.themadmusicasylum.com) is going through some big changes. Since we started the station over two years ago, we have been producing a four hour show every week that posts on Sunday night at 8 pm. Since that time, our programming has been pretty standard. We have uploaded the new shows and have just played the shows back to back. Now, we have abandoned that practice and it allows us some additional freedom.

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We will continue to produce a four hour show airing on Sunday night at 8 pm eastern time. In addition, the new shows will air on Tuesday mornings at 4 am eastern and Thursday at noon eastern. After that, the shows will disappear from our server.

In terms of additional freedom, we are adding a few specialty shows for your enjoyment. Now on Wednesday night at 9 pm we will be playing an hour and a half of jazz. Also now every Saturday morning at 9 am eastern, join us for “Breakfast With the Beatles”.

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The Indie spotlight has been a popular segment on the regular show at 11 pm on Sunday nights and we have developed quite a library of indie music. Now on Tuesday and Thursday night a 9 pm, we will be showcasing these indie bands on a 45 minute segment.

For the rest of the time, you can hear the tunes you have come to know and love on the show. The best rock and roll from Buddy Holly, Elvis and Jerry Lee up to music from today. Make The Mad Music Asylum your station of choice on the world wide web.

To Recap: (all times eastern)

  • The Mad Music Asylum Sunday 8 pm, Tuesday 4 am & Thursday at noon
  • Indie Music Tuesday and Thursday at 9 pm
  • Wednesday night Jazz at 9 pm
  • Breakfast With the Beatles Saturdays at 9 am

Also, please note that weekdays between 8 am and 10 am we will be playing a mix of music that is a little more tame in nature.

As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions. Please email your concerns, comments, questions and praise to themadmusicasylum@gmail.com

Art vs. Commerce

“When artists get together, they talk about money. When entrepreneurs get together they talk about art.” —Oscar Wilde

Actor Charlton Heston once said “The trouble with movies as a business, is that they’re an art; of course, the trouble with movies as an art is that they’re a business.” Thus has been the dichotomy of the art world for centuries. Back in the day (way back in the day) artists depended on the patronage of wealthy families or the Church for their livelihood. That was fine to a point but can you imagine what the likes of Michaelangelo and da Vinci could have or would have created without the yoke of the Catholic Church or the Medici family?

karl_art_vs_commerce_loThere was a time in the music business when art was created with minimal constraints of commerce but as in all artistic endeavors, once left brain thinking people realized music’s commercial potential they began to put pressure on artists to conform to the realities of the marketplace. Don’t get me wrong, there is a balance. All artists desire a larger audience and the way to get the larger audience is to produce works that a larger audience will consume monetarily. Artists can and do follow their muse and be true to themselves without “selling out”. We don’t remember Beethoven as being a gifted piano teacher or a particularly virtuosic performer but that is how he supported himself while he wrote the music for which he is remembered.

The problem in our modern society is the fact that the film industry, the music industry, and most artistic concerns have been overrun with Harvard MBA types who only look at the bottom line of an artistic undertaking. Art cannot be judged by the amount of dollars it brings in. That stifles creativity. Often times, progressive art movements flounder economically before they are finally accepted and revered.

One question I have always struggled with is this: does marketing respond to the public or does it create the market. American Idol is a hugely successful television show and by all accounts, the singers it has produced should have had a tremendous impact on the music business but that impact has fallen woefully short, Carrie Underwood notwithstanding. I am reminded of Thomas Kinkade who was probably the most successful artist (monetarily) in history but reportedly suffered from depression because his art was not viewed as seriously as he had imagined it should have been in serious art circles.

The balance both for artists and business people is a delicate one and once the pendulum swings in one direction or the other, either the art suffers or the ability for people to profit from it does.

We leave you with this quote and we welcome your comments.

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Quote of the Week

If you’re like me, from time to time normal existence takes its toll. No matter what you do, it seems as though your last name might actually be Murphy (you know, Murphy’s law). Try as you might, nothing seems to go as planned. When I have those days which sometimes stretch to weeks, I am reminded of a quote from Franz Kafka that seems to sum it up.

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I Am Officially Old

I came to a frightening realization this afternoon. I am officially old. I heard things coming out of my mouth I couldn’t believe. Where this all started. As those of you who are reading this post probably know, I spend a portion of my week preparing for and producing a weekly radio show. My music library, for the show, consists of roughly eight thousand songs ranging from R&B, soul, right through the classic rock era up to music of today. I have songs that I have played and regularly play from the late 1950’s up to current time. That is sixty years worth of music. Apart from that, I enjoy classical music back to the baroque era and I have a certain affinity for jazz music as well. I guess the point I am trying to make is that I am not a music snob. The only criteria I have in terms of likeability is does it sound good? Is it well crafted? And does it arouse my emotions in some way?

1397184421_600_1395759848_frankocean_headband_79_58I logged on to iTunes this afternoon and every panel at the top of the iTunes store was promoting the new album by Frank Ocean. Blond (“Blonde” as iTunes has it listed) is the second major release from Frank Ocean and from the looks of it and the way it is being promoted, it seemed a force to be reckoned with. If you know me, you know I couldn’t resist an album with this kind of hype. So I had to listen to the snippets that iTunes gives to preview an album. After listening to the snippets, I had to hear more, so I sought out a stream of the album on the interweb. I had to hear more, not because I liked what I heard, I had to hear more because of how bad it sounded. At this point, I did not trust my own judgement so I contacted my 19 year old son who knows much more about the music of today than I do. I asked him about the new Frank Ocean album and he said he had not heard it but had heard it sucked. Whew. Maybe I wasn’t wrong.

frank-ocean-blond-compressed-0933daea-f052-40e5-85a4-35e07dac73dfContinuing to research the album, I saw comments like, “a songwriter and auteur of the highest order” and “the full-bodied, finely-tuned follow-up we’ve been waiting for” and a reviewer talking about “its diverse sonic palette” and I just wonder what kind of breadth that reviewer has in music history. Apparently, Ocean worked with a wide variety of engineers, producers and guest stars to craft this “masterpiece”. Perhaps he needed so much support to make some sense out of the trash he passes off for music. I am sorry, but I do not hear anything on the album worth praising much less hyping. I understand the goals of corporate America and Apple scored the exclusive rights to the album for a brief period but at some point, hyping trash hurts your brand. As they say, if you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

If this is where popular music is headed, I’m glad I am old.

If You must:

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An Appreciation of the King

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Elvis Aaron Presley. Affectionately known as “the King” to music fans world wide. Presley first burst onto the scene in the summer of 1953 when he cut a record at the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis Tennessee. Prior to Elvis, there were two very different music industries in the United States. The “white” music industry consisting of mostly crooners and singers who had migrated from the jazz world into popular music and the “black” music industry consisting of blues and rhythm and blues acts mostly dotting the Mississippi river from New Orleans to Memphis to St. Louis up to Chicago. Presley’s initial appeal was the fact that he was able to harness the emotional power of the more expressive R&B and blues musicians and make it palatable to a white audience. When he first appeared, radio listeners did not know if he was white or black. His first album released on RCA records  in 1956 attests to his melding of styles covering songs by country and western artists Carl Perkins, Don Robertson and Leon Payne on one hand and Ray Charles, Little Richard and Charlie Singleton from the R&B world on the other.

Because there was not a cultural reference for someone like Elvis, the music establishment really did not know what to do with him. He was invited to play The Grand Ole Oprey in Nashville in the fall of ’54 but really wasn’t a match for the country audience. Presley gaind attention by appearing on Louisiana Hayride a few weeks after the Oprey performance and from that gig appeared every Saturday night on their radio broadcast for a year. The Hayride was broadcast to almost 200 stations in 28 states and suddenly, Elvis was a star. The story might have ended there if not for an ambitious promoter named Col. Tom Parker who took over Elvis’ career and exploited his young star in every way imaginable. Back in the mid 1950’s there wasn’t a blueprint for how to create a star so Col. Parker made it up as he went. Record deals, television appearances, movie contracts together with a relentless tour schedule and promotion of every imaginable product kept Elvis busy and exhausted for the next twenty years. No one had ever seen a performer with such wide appeal and his influence was so wide spread by 1957 that the FBI actually regarded him as a threat to the security of the US.

As this is not a biography of Elvis, I won’t delve into the man himself, just the music he represented. Rockabilly, Country and Western, Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Gospel: Elvis could do it all and remained wildly popular throughout. He defined the modern music industry and paved the way for countless others. In almost every way imaginable, Elvis epitomized rock and roll; money, fame, women, drugs, and the excess, generations to follow associate with the rock and roll life. Elvis was the pioneer and his influence has been felt since that fateful day in 1953 when he walked into Sun Studios in Memphis paid $3.98 and cut a record ostensibly as a gift for his mother. On this, the 39th anniversary of Elvis’ death, every music fan the world over should take a minute to remember the truck driver who created and defined an industry.