Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008

Milwaukee Music's Newfound Support System

By Evan Rytlewski
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My annual look back at the year in Milwaukee music is in this week's issue of the Shepherd, but it's worth taking a little extra time to expand on an obvious but important point. Over the last half decade—and particularly the last two years-the media support system for local bands has strengthened two—or threefold. There is now a vast network of print publications, Web sites and radio stations buoying Milwaukee music that simply didn't exist five years ago.

Fan-Belt, an excellent blog with an unwaveringly cheerful perspective on the local music scene, typifies the trend, but it runs much deeper. Steven Hyden has done an outstanding job adding thorough local music coverage to Milwaukee's edition of The Onion and now to its new online component, Decider Milwaukee. Vital Source, already to be commended as one of the few city publications that covers fine arts from a non-establishment perspective, puts out an annual music issue that gets more expansive (and more local) each year. WMSE 91.7 is still among Milwaukee's most treasured resources, but now it finally has some company on the airwaves. RadioMilwaukee 88.9, in a service Milwaukee musicians had been praying for until 2006, plays hordes of local music through an eclectic but assessible format that casual listeners can get into. And although nobody would mistake FM 102.1 for a non-commercial station, since its makeover three years ago, the venerable alt-rock station has made a genuine effort to showcase local music. The Turner Hall Ballroom, meanwhile, may only book a handful of local shows a season, but the venue uses its considerable promotional budget to plug the hell out of them, treating selected local bands to an advertising blitz most could never afford on their own. MilwaukeeRocks.com is an important forum for bands that sometimes fall outside the scope of other media, and even a site as simple as the Milwaukee Shows Myspace page provides a crucial service, listing hard-to-find punk and DIY shows at small venues.

Milwaukee's music scene may still be too scattered to distinguish itself nationally-optimists say this diversity is what makes our scene special, but the truth is every other mid-sized music scene without a niche claims the same thing-but at least Milwaukee talent finally has the support to flourish locally, and that's an essential first step.

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