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


How I consume music


Last night I was talking with a friend and I wanted to show him “Bloodstyle” by Caroline Smith because I had it stuck in my head. Naturally, I busted my phone out of my pocket and opened Spotify. The first thing that came up was a notification telling me that The Rolling Stones “Blue & Lonesome” was officially out and I should listen. It was 2 in the morning.

It is no secret that music streaming services have made music more accessible to the consumer (evident when my ears entertained new music from the Stones really, really early this morning). This year will mark the first year that music streaming revenue surpasses download sales, if the year’s streaming trends continue, Pitchfork recently reported.

With this much access to a broad amount of music, consumers are now faced with a unique problem: What new music should I listen to and why? I remember one of the first physical CD’s I bought was Metallica’s then long-anticipated release “Death Magnetic” in 2008 (Boy did we not foresee having to wait eight years for another full album from the outdated Bay-area thrashers). I went to Best Buy, bought the CD then listened to it, in 2008, over and over. Just last week Metallica released a new album and I heard half of it before I remembered the name of a random song that was stuck in my head, so I put that song on for the sole fact THAT I CAN WITH THE CONVENIENCE OF A CLICK OR SWIPE.

This convenience of music accessibility sheds light on the abundance of music. I feel like a boy who can’t decide what to listen to because there is so much I want to listen to and I can listen to. In other words, I feel like a hungry cow who has been relocated in a field of grass that stretches miles upon miles. So what am I to do to optimize my time upon this grass field?

I don’t know, but I think I am on my way to finding out so I am going to explain how I consume music nowadays.

Spotify playlists are my go to. I make playlists for any task from “this will hit the spot when running at dusk” to “I just got out of the shower and have to get to class in 22 minutes, but don’t want to get ready in silence.” A useful tool that Spotify has is the “related artists” sidebar in an artist’s profile. This comes in handy when I am crafting a playlist and perusing more music to add.

Another useful feature Spotify offers is the different discovery playlists. I had mixed feelings about these options, at first, but they are in fact helpful. Last week I was talking to the manager of a local band, and we started talking about what we each listen to. He told me that he uses the discover playlists often, and that it is helpful for people in the industry because it shows you a glimpse of what is out there and how long you can tolerate a sound – if you like something you don’t skip it and chances are you will now retain the memory of the song or artist because you didn’t skip it. Voila: Finding new music.

Finally, I use Spotify’s radio feature. This is not my favorite feature, but it helps me find new music. Earlier this year I was listening to some random station when this band Whitney kept popping up and I eventually started to recognize them. That led to me to check out Whitney’s debut album which led me to become a fan of Whitney.

Given, Spotify’s radio feature is not that good especially when compared to music radios such as Pandora. My main problem with Spotify’s radio feature is that the collection of songs in a given station doesn’t contain that many curve balls that hit the “wow” factor for me (if you hadn’t noticed you can browse the songs that are part of an artist’s’ radio station by scrolling past the “play” button – that will REALLY ruin the “wow” factor).

Fortunately and unfortunately I don’t solely use Spotify to consume my music. Bandcamp is just as relevant in my music diet, to a lesser extent. The great power I have found in Bandcamp is a) local artists are much easier to find and b) I personally love the roughness of some outtakes and raw cuts that some artists post on Bandcamp, but not on Spotify.

Bandcamp makes local artists easier to find because it doesn’t matter where your locality is, once you start browsing a band’s music you can see upcoming shows and tour history on the sidebar (see below). If this is not found on Bandcamp’s sidebar then you can find it on an artist’s Facebook which would be linked in the same sidebar. Once I start browsing who a band has played with then I start checking those bands out. This works because if an artist is not on a heavily promoted tour with already established artists, that artist may be playing shows with locals. Next thing I know I spend an hour listening to different bands that are connected in some way.


Back to how Bandcamp can sometimes have rough outtakes, though. This is not a consistent theme for Bandcamp, but some of the bands I listen to do post outtakes every now and then. For example, Porches’ “Scrap and Love Songs Revisited” may be my favorite release from the band.

And if you really like rough demos (as I do) you can find more on Soundcloud – which rounds up my music diet. I have to admit I do not go to Soundcloud that often, but I do seek out the site for the sole reason of demos. I mean, even Kanye West has released demos on Soundcloud; Father John Misty is the king of Soundcloud demos, out of the artists I listen to.

Yes, there are a lot of ways to consume music thanks to streaming services improving over time. And although it may appear as if there is an overwhelming amount of music being shared, the music discovery platforms enable exactly what they offer: The discover of new music.

Whitney’s Bandcamp account screenshot by me. Spotify photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons.

Amazon Tickets may give Ticketmaster needed competition


A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I devised how to go about buying tickets to a Kanye West concert. The show was scheduled to be in Brooklyn, a day before New Year’s Eve. We knew competition would be abundant to get such tickets, nonetheless we planned it: We analyzed different scenarios and used the prices from the pre-sale tickets available to calculate how much money we would need and how to go about getting good seats. I gave my friend money that he deposited into his bank account to purchase our tickets (I had class so I could not buy my own).

A minute or so after the start of the pre-sale we were going to buy tickets from, I received a text from my friend. Due to some disconnect between Ticketmaster’s previous pricing info and our calculations, tickets were $10 more than we had anticipated—my friend was unsure how much money was in his checking account and he started freaking out that we were about to be a couple dollars short of buying already expensive tickets due to unplanned service fees. Long and dramatic story short, he ended up getting tickets and much to our dismay West cancelled his tour last week (My friend and I are getting refunded, on the bright side).

However, this is a scenario far too common for concert goers and music lovers: Getting tickets to see one of your favorite artists is more difficult than necessary, and in part that is because, more often than not, Ticketmaster is the only ticket marketplace to get tickets from. So if you cannot get tickets via Ticketmaster and the show sells out, your options grow limited to 1) Not going or 2) Second-tier marketplaces such as StubHub.

This may change, soon.

Rumors surfaced early last week that Amazon will be expanding its ticket marketplace—Amazon Tickets—service in Europe and potentially the U.S.

Although no outlet I have read has gotten comment or confirmation from Amazon, yet, if this is true it is a great initiative for concerts and for music lovers. It is unbelievable that Ticketmaster practically holds a monopoly over almost all major tours’ tickets and expanded that power when it merged with Live Nation in 2010 to form Live Nation Entertainment.

Any big company, in this case Amazon, that can water down the market that Ticketmaster holds by increasing competition will be a least a step—not sure if it will be forward or backward—toward making tickets more accessible to fans.

Hopefully the move will make it more difficult for scalpers to buy broad amounts of tickets (That they then capitalize on from die hard fans) and ultimately offer fans more than one option when devising plans to go to a concert, starting with the initial step of acquiring tickets to the concert.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons

Q&A with Daniel Gibson

Last week I got to talk to Daniel Gibson of Streets of Laredo about the band’s sophomore album, how the band has evolved and touring with CRX (Nick Valensi’s side project). The Q&A ran in Tastemakers Magazine this morning:

Daniel Gibson, the singer/guitarist fronting Streets of Laredo, loves developing his band’s music while still preserving their sound. The family-based band is originally from Auckland, New Zealand, but relocated to Brooklyn, New York in 2012. The band released their sophomore album Wild on Oct. 21, but Gibson said being an aspiring band in a big city is no menial task. Tastemakers Magazine recently caught up with Gibson over the phone while the band is on the road supporting CRX—the side project of The Strokes’ guitarist Nick Valensi.

Tastemakers Magazine (TMM): To start off, Wild came out two, three weeks ago, how was working with John Agnello on the album?

Dan Gibson (DG): It was really amazing. He’s got a really amazing history. He has mixed, recorded and produced a bunch of records which we really dig; he mixed a Phosphorescent album, Dinosaur Jr. and stuff. I suppose, you know, he’s got a lot of tricks up his sleeve, and it was really, really, awesome working with him in the studio. But, also, he’s a true artist. He’s always trying to make a song bigger, you know? And whatever the song needs he doesn’t need really any belief to take a risk and go there.

Read the full interview here.

Hassle Fest 8 starts tomorrow


Hassle Fest 8—the eighth installment of Brain Arts and Boston Hassle’s music and art showcase—will kick off Friday night at Brighton Music Hall with more than 30 scheduled acts over the two-day long fest.

Local Allston groovers Sadha will play the fest for the first time Saturday afternoon. Guitarist Jacob Schwartz said he is excited to be playing, being that he has grown a part of the Boston Hassle community ever since he volunteered tabling and doing sound for Boston Hassle shows a couple of years ago, before he went to college. Schwartz is a freshman studying musicology and music theory at Hampshire College.

“It just feels really nice [to get to play], we are all just a big family and I guess if you put in effort you get nice shit out of it,” he said. “Boston Hassle has put me in touch with a music scene that contains music and art that I care about. I have an incentive to play shows.”

The fest also includes an THRASH LAND—an art environment focused with a theme of recycled items displayed through the work of local artists.

Jilian Medford, singer of Ian Sweet, said that she is looking forward to playing an eclectic collection of songs during the band’s set Friday night.

“Really nice for us to be debuting songs from the new album to people who haven’t heard them live, we play a couple old ones, especially when we are in Boston,” she said. “I wanna dig up some olds […]  just for the sake of messing it up or seeing if it works out. I want it to be a fun set, for sure, it always is, but whenever we play this new record it can be emotional for me so it can be nice to play some of the older ones.”

Ian Sweet is originally is from Boston—Medford met the other bandmates when she moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music—but moved to Los Angeles for a couple of months.

“I am excited to be back in Boston and with all of our friends,” she said.

The Monsieurs have been rocking Boston and Allston for years now, but guitarist Hilken Mancini said she hasn’t lost appreciation for the local scene and events such as Hassle Fest. The Monsieurs will play this year’s installment of the two-day festival on Friday night.

“I am just glad that this continues to happen and I feel lucky to be a part of it as I get older, and as a woman,” she said. “There is so much going on and there is so much support  […] it is good to know that people still give a shit about rock and roll.”     

Tickets are $25 at the door. Music starts at 6 p.m. on Friday and 3 p.m. on Saturday. Tentative set times can be browsed here.

Photo Courtesy DigiBoston, Creative Commons

Rock and roll isn’t dead, Roger Daltrey

“The sadness for me is that rock has reached a dead end […] the only people saying things that matter are the rappers and most pop is meaningless and forgettable.”

Guess who. Kanye West? Drake?  

Nope, it was Roger Daltrey, frontman of The Who, that said rock is dead in a recent interview with The Times magazine.

Now, I am not going to say that Daltrey doesn’t know what he is talking about, he has been around. But saying rock and roll is dead AND that rappers are “the only people saying things that matter” is absurd—ironically, the type of behavior that you would expect from a rockstar.  

I have had the discussion of “is rock dead?” with too many friends over the years, at this point. And I stand by, and will continue to stand by, the notion that it is not. “Name a current day rockstar?” is the most common follow up question. Well for starters, what constitutes a rockstar? Are rock heroes such as Keith Richards, Joe Perry, Tom Petty, Nikki Sixx, Axl Rose, Morrissey, Liam and Noel Gallagher, Eddie Vedder (and so on and so forth) irrelevant because they are old now? What do you expect from a rockstar? On top of that, the discussion is about rock and roll, the genre, not the entities that fulfill badassness.

There is a plethora of bands that are rock and roll—What is Jack White doing? What are the Strokes doing? What is Radiohead doing? What is Tame Impala doing? What are the Alabama Shakes doing?


Sure these bands don’t all sound exactly the same nor fill a heavy-first template of sound, but they are modern day rock. I would hate if every band in the last 40 or 50 years sounded exactly the same as what came before them. Even back, 40 or 50 years, not every “rock” band sounded the same; they sounded similar. Led Zeppelin was not the Who the same way Pearl Jam wasn’t Guns n’ Roses the same way the Strokes aren’t Tame Impala. The new bands were influenced by older artists. For example glance The Last Shadow Puppets and Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner’s “What I’m Listening To” playlist on Spotify—the first track on the playlist is Leonard Cohen’s “Is This What You Wanted?” which The Last Shadow Puppets recently covered in their own way.

The aforementioned bands prove rock isn’t dead because they took a sound that they liked and then molded it into something new, still preserving elements that suit the rock genre, like distorted guitars and powerful vocals. Kind of familiar how the Beatles started out with the music that influenced them into finding their own original sound, and as the Rolling Stones did, too and just like many other bands.

I can see where Daltrey is coming from, as he once said that when the Who was the most creative they tried to avoid outside influences by not listening to anyone else’s music. Times have changed, though, and it is nearly impossible to avoid music. For Daltrey to say that rappers are the only artists that have a meaningful voice and that top stars don’t have a lasting effect is just disrespectful. Ultimately, it is his opinion and things are different for a man who has taken the stage in front of thousands many times—I disrespectfully disagree with Daltrey. Rock is evolving and always will be, perhaps now there are just more sounds accessible to listeners that make it more difficult to categorize one specific sound to “rock.” That is not to say the genre is dead, though.

Photo courtesy Ingrid Richter, Creative Commons

Artists should cover songs to add their own touch

The Rolling Stones shared another song (“Hate to See You Go”) Friday off the band’s forthcoming “Blue and Lonesome”—a studio album of blues covers.

The album’s tracks were cut live in three days at British Grove Studios, down the street from where The Stones began their career frequenting stages at pubs and clubs, according to the press release.

Releasing an album of covers is not unheard of to fans of The Stones, though.

“The Rolling Stones,” the band’s debut release, was an homage to R&B and blues hits that guitarist Keith Richards and frontman Mick Jagger loved, with the exception of the album’s sole original song “Tell Me (You’re Coming Back).”

Given, the songs in “The Rolling Stones” had a “dangerous edge” but cover songs should have an artist’s edge: their distinct brush stroke. What is the point of covering a song to completely recreate another band’s sound? When I hear a cover I like to wonder why an artist is covering that specific song and how the cover differs from the original—more often than not growing my love for both the songs.

This applies across all genres of music (see some of my favorite below)—from Judy Chong’s cover of Porches’ “Mood” to Guns N’ Roses’ cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” to complete album-length covers like Ryan Adam’s take on Taylor Swift’s “1989.” A cover is to a singer/band what a remix is to an aspiring producer: A little bit of originality met with a little bit of influence. Or what a family dinner recipe becomes over time as it is subject to personal preference or restricted by access to ingredients.

The Stones are tying their career back to their roots and closing the circle of where it started, even though this may not be the end (At least I like to think until I get to see them live at least once) with a stamp of their own sound. The two songs that they have released from the forthcoming album did not have distorted guitars nor a tempo as fast as The Stones have played the. Although giving credit where credit is due is important, so is originality. Artist’s shouldn’t cover a song just to cover it and call it a day.

Some of my favorite song covers:

“Journey Through the Past”






“Back In the U.S.A.”



“Just the Way You Are”