Classwork

Artists in Boston’s independent music scene deal with changes

Ben Semeta hopped on stage to check his bass guitar rig and then hopped off, almost unnoticeable, as a crowd shuffled into a Cambridge nightclub for a concert on a recent Sunday night.

Semeta and his band, Black Beach, are an anomaly of sorts in Boston’s independent music scene. They’ve been playing together for at least a decade, though it was only three years ago that they started playing as Black Beach.

“I’m kind of blessed none of us went to school at a city,” he said in an interview before Black Beach’s set that night. “We didn’t have peers to support us – we had to break into the scene.”

The trio started playing together back when they were still in high school, with a goal to just have fun playing together.

“It took a while to find the style we are good at writing,” Semeta said. “I like to think that Black Beach is different: we didn’t meet and say ‘hey, let’s start a band.’ We have been jamming our whole lives together.”

Boston’s bound to have garage bands and basement shows – but even so, there are no major record companies to sign them. Black Beach stands out among the numerous short-lived groups that fade in and out of the scene, or move to a bigger city.

It’s partly because, in the digital age, they’re able overcome a lackluster music scene by self-promoting on music discovery platforms like Bandcamp.

“It used to be that you had to tour nonstop, but with such sites and social media you can stay relevant in places you have visited once or twice, just by posting occasionally,” he said.

Other bands started by college students move out of the city as band members graduate or pursue other endeavors – contributing to the short-lived nature of the scene.

Kyle McEvoy started Seagreen Records a few years before Black Beach was started, but 230 miles southwest of Boston, in Watertown, Connecticut. At the time, all he wanted was the ability to physically self-release music from his former band, The Guru, so he focused on cassettes and vinyl records. The Guru shared their music on Bandcamp and would hand out business cards with their Bandcamp link at concerts, McEvoy said.

The Guru was made up of college kids that, like Black Beach, started out jamming, but in 2014 the band tossed the towel after Eddie Golden III, the band’s drummer and lead singer, no longer wanted to continue the band. The Guru had successfully booked tours across the U.S. several times by then, McEvoy, who was one of the two guitarists in the band, said. The Guru frequented Boston, being that McEvoy went to school in the area.

But the splitting of the band left Seagreen Records at a strange crossroads, despite the romantic aspect of ending a band while still somewhat successful that had led to the record labels fruition, McEvoy said. His confusion about how to progress his label partially derived from the temporariness of the music scene in Boston, he said. Now McEvoy lives in New York and is figuring out in which direction to take his label.

“In Boston it is a new music scene like every year,” he said. “For the most part it is college bands that eventually make the move to New York City or L.A.”

The sentiment is not exclusive to McEvoy or Semeta – Dan Shea, founder of Boston-based music blog Boston Hassle and more than 15-year scene veteran, said he has observed several variables, such as increasing cost of living and the short-lived nature of college bands, take a toll on the scene since he started getting involved at the turn of the 20th century.

Shea’s non-profit Boston Hassle and its monthly newspaper the “Boston Compass” have struggled to get an affordable working space in the city and are currently operate out of an illegal warehouse, he said. Part of the reason being that it is an anti-corporate, do-it-yourself, pro-independence consortium.

“It is hard to come from a place where money isn’t the first thing you think [about],” he said. “Existential questions for the organization itself: We are trying to create a situation for freedom to experiment and try to foster all kinds of art in a communal way. But trying to do that in a city in a way that the more bohemian and artistic people, no matter where they are in their life, are going to be here less and less because they are going to be priced out, who will be our audience?”

Social media and new music discovery platforms have made the scene vulnerable to change, but also helped bridge the disconnect in finding new music, according to Shea.

“It really comes down to the people who are looking can more easily find what they are looking for,” Shea said. “Subculture is about people who are looking, most people look at the surface. There are so many options and so many directions where people can go.”

Despite the short-lived nature of the local scene, Semeta remained optimistic before Black Beach’s set that night in Cambridge. This December, Black Beach was nominated for Rock/Indie Artist of the Year at the Boston Music Awards.

A band must remember why they started in the first place, even with such achievements, Semeta said.

“We are never going to stop,” Semeta said. “At the end of the day we started a band just to jam with each other, with no goal in mind.”

VIDEO: How a couple of local artists promote their music

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Brooklyn Vegan: Reliable Access

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I don’t remember when precisely I started reading Brooklyn Vegan (BV), but I know why I did and why I still do: Access. I like how on-top of music happenings the three-quarters music blog and one quarter music news site is—be it of the New York area or the national stage. There have been instances where the blog was my main news source for a specific music interest (such as the time it appeared that nobody knew if Governor’s Ball Music Festival was going to cancel the it’s third day last June). I love their Twitter and Instagram feed for the cheer aspect of access. I can’t go to every concert I want to, but I can count on them to have a gallery or at least one picture from the show that gets me closer to the show. On top of galleries and show reviews, BV often posts the setlist after concerts as well, and I am a sucker for analyzing an setlists. I also love when they break news on tour announcements and sometimes even publish ticket presale codes.

The blog’s general Twitter is particularly useful and helpful—just last week I tweeted at them a question and they responded—in trying to keep up with new music coming out and learning about artists that are in the East Coast and may be announcing a tour or pop-up shows. The blog interacts with people by constantly Tweeting already published posts or updates from a concert. Facebook interactivity isn’t high, let alone comment engagement, however. Neither is the blog’s “comments” section underneath posts. One common and interesting facet of posts is the embedding of Tweets or Instagram posts from the general public. This feature increases the aforementioned interaction.

 

I think BV can improve its actual appearance website-wise, because it isn’t as attractive compared to other sites such as Pitchfork. Nonetheless, there is something about the current appearance that sort of fits the aesthetic of a music blog—defining it isn’t a big-name, polished site, but reliable nonetheless. Similar to the Allston Pudding in Boston/Allston, but bigger.

Dave Levine, who is often just referred to as Dave or BV or Brooklyn Vegan, founded the blog in 2004, according to the blog’s about page. The blog is focused in the New York music scene, but has expanded—such as the Austin- and Chicago-based Brooklyn Vegan sites and BV’s acquisition of heavy metal blog Invisible Oranges in 2013. Most recently I have noticed more interaction between BV and Invisible Oranges on Twitter. This may be that I am more attentive or that they are actually interacting more. BV is and has been independently owned since it was started; it is also a member of digital marketing company Townsquare Music, alongside Loudwire.com and JustJared.com.

Web traffic peaked in August, according to a Similar Web analysis, which makes sense due to the amount of festivals that occur in the summer months so there could have been more referrals, galleries or overall coverage of music festival season. Approximately 30 percent of traffic came from a direct search, 21 percent from social media and 42 percent from a search. These numbers sound correct due to the activeness of the blog on social media, and also what appears to be a loyal readership that would seek out information from them specifically.  

https://widget.similarweb.com/traffic/brooklynvegan.com

Nonetheless, BV receives a fraction of the visits that Pitchfork does, according to another Similar Web web traffic analysis. This makes sense, too, because Pitchfork is larger (part of Conde Nast). In a comparison to Allston Pudding, BV is much larger—resembling Pitchfork in relation to BV.

https://widget.similarweb.com/traffic/brooklynvegan.com,pitchfork.com

 

https://widget.similarweb.com/traffic/brooklynvegan.com,allstonpudding.com

 

I can’t really assess what kind of revenue strategy it is pursuing besides the exclusive content that exposes ads.

Photo Courtesy Incase, Creative Commons

Women not as prevalent as men in tech companies

This is an interactive graph depicting the gender breakdown of four technology companies—Google, Apple, Facebook and Yahoo—utilizing 2015 data Professor John Wihbey provided verbally in class.

I wanted to make the graph interactive so that the viewer can actually mark a point they wish to note or just to see the actual percentage point because as a consumer of information myself I have found that interaction helpful in retaining information and also in analyzing a data visualization from a macro and micro perspective.

There is a clear difference in the amount of women in technology-related positions at these big tech companies in comparison to men, as depicted by the graph.

Caffé Vittoria serves Italian delicacies in the North End

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Caffé Vittoria rests sandwiched in between shops and the North End’s hustle and bustle on Hanover Street.

The Original Italian Caffé” opened in 1929 and has been serving a variety of coffee drinks, special martinis and “pasticceria tradizionale” – traditional Italian pastries – for almost 100 years.

“The coffee is authentic because we try to be consistent,” said the cafe’s manager Armando Reyes who said he started working at the cafe 30 years ago as a busboy. “When someone comes back they will get the same [consistent cup of] coffee.”

On a rainy Sunday afternoon I found myself trying the cafe’s red velvet cheesecake—something different from my usual choice of cappuccino or “cioccolatto caldo” (hot chocolate) and cannoli go-to combination.

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A chocolate crust molded the cheesecake’s shape that contained layers of plain cheesecake with a red velvet cake center and cream top. The dessert was a little bit on the sweet side, but I liked it and a black cup of coffee would have complimented it nicely (I had already had a cup and a half so I refrained from more caffeine). The texture of the cheesecake was interesting and unlike that of any other I have tried due to the red velvet cake center.

I would recommend the cheesecake to a friend, but would also recommend just the hot chocolate as something more subtle for a first taste of what the cafe has to offer.

The most common dessert pairing is a “cappuccino and cannoli,” according to Reyes. The cafe offers more than a dozen Italian delicacies as well as gelato and three full-liquor bars over four floors of seating, according to the menu.

“I love everything on the menu,” Reyes said. “I used to be skinny when I started working, then I started trying everything.”

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The second page of the menu

Caffé Vittoria is located on 296 Hanover St. and is open Sunday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday from 7 to 12:30 a.m. It is handicap-accessible. The nearest T stops are: Haymarket (Green and Orange Lines), North Station (Green and Orange Lines) and Aquarium (Blue Line).

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All photos by me (Alejandro Serrano)

Final project pitch

I want take a look at how local, unsigned, artists in Allston/Boston promote their music through social media and music discovery platforms, for my final project. It will be more of a feature, with no time-pressing hook. Nonetheless, several of the local bands I have found and listen to have self-released their music on music discovery platforms such as bandcamp. And although their music is readily accessible, so is hundred of artists’ music so I am intrigued to learn about differentiating factors.

The focus of the story will be a feature on two or three bands, for the written part of my final. I will reach out to artists, as well as older music journalists who have been active in Boston’s music scene for years to hear their perspective about how different promotional methods have changed as well as stayed the same. I am starting a list of people to contact that may be helpful.

For the photo story I want it to be a profile sort-of photo story on one local band in action over a week or so. It may be a stretch, but I think I can convince a band to let me hang out at a rehearsal and shoot some pictures then go to a concert and shoot some more pictures and also interview them about their music. This would enable me to use them as a source for my main feature, but also create a sidebar photo story.

For the video component I want to record interviews to accompany the main feature in a similar way as an intersection of these two examples can be incorporated to a longer text story: subtle, but informational to the story.

The biggest obstacles I can foresee in my reporting is talking to sufficient people that can provide diverse coverage of angles so that one band’s practices don’t speak for all. However, as soon as I sharpen out my angle I will start interviewing people.

Northeastern students find new places to study

I went across different locations around Northeastern’s campus at night during midterm week in a search to learn about where students study (aside from Snell Library) and why.

The Curry Student Center, Shillman Hall and Marino Center where the three main buildings which I focused on in my video reporting. Each one had it’s difficulties in regards to my assignment. For example, Shillman Hall’s doors are locked after a certain hour so when I would try to get in at night I had to either knock on the window and ask someone to let me in, or wait for somebody to come out.

I had fun getting to hear different perspectives about where students study and why—specifically because I don’t study at any of these locations, but have learned through friends that they are common alternatives to the library.

When I went to library to shoot some video each floor had an ample amount of students considering the time I focused my shooting (past 9 and 10 p.m.).

Music feeds to follow on Twitter

Twitter is a garden ripe with accounts to follow for all sorts of interests. Being that this blog is focused on Boston, independent and alternative music here are 10 accounts of the like that you should follow:

@Pitchfork is at the forefront of new alternative music releases and show announcements. They also Tweet out links to breaking music news several times a day. It is one of the accounts I make a point to check every time I check my Twitter feed.

Last winter my friend’s band made @AllstonPudding’s “Localz Only Early Winter Mixtape” so I checked it out and followed the blog on Twitter for similar content. It was a good decision. You will find all sorts of information related to local music by following.

@nprmusic is another vanguard at indie and alternative music releases. The links to all sorts of features from the “Tiny Desk” segment to different series on artists and topics is the best following perk.

@FrontRowBoston is a part of WGBH and literally puts viewers in the front row of Boston music through uploading recorded concerts. Their Twitter feed contains links to those recordings and to exclusive studio sessions, by all sorts of artists from the national spotlight to the local one.

@theRSL is music writer Ryan Spaulding’s account. Spaulding is the producer of The Outlaw Roadshow—a traveling music showcase that has a Boston show. I just started following Spaulding, but he tweets updates about his roadshow as well as interesting music commentary and general thoughts.

@ben_stas does freelance music photography and writing for the Boston Globe, Vanyaland and Invisible Oranges—often tweeting live from concerts. He is on top of the music scene at Boston and is at a show at least once a week, most weeks.

@brooklyn_vegan is one my New York go-to sources for music updates that I make a point to check on daily. I have found several up and coming artists (like Whitney) that often come up to Boston. They provide breaking music news and odd news scoops too.

I just recently followed @clickyclicky after a friend’s suggestion, and it was a good suggestion. They tweet lots of local music links and also retweet other Boston music blogs. A touch of comical Tweets are included with the follow.

@BostonHassle is another source to find local artists and shows—they have a lot of shows, too, which they tweet about.

@bradleysalmanac is an active Boston music-scene blogger that Tweets about upcoming shows that aren’t always heavily promoted. His website has his blog posts, new tunes from locals and an intensive upcoming-shows calendar.