How does Indianapolis become the kind of place where musicians want to stay — a city where they specifically come to live?
From We Are City to Dreamapolis, we’ve written extensively about enterprising individuals and organizations looking to shift the course of Indy’s social and cultural future.
Now, Musical Family Tree, Indy’s premiere archive of local bands, is expanding its mission to do exactly that — to establish the city as a flourishing musical draw.
MFT is much more than a website. Once a record label, still an online community and always a musical archive, this Indy tech treasure is in the midst of a massive reboot. With musician Jon Rogers at the helm, the site is mounting ambitious new projects, large events and taking a role in a monumental future project with the potential to shift the course of the arts community in Indy.
New, new, new
You can experience one of those projects Saturday at the New Music Showcase. Starting at 2:30 p.m. at Radio Radio, Rogers has planned a full day of sets from 23 local acts alternating between two stages.
“When we initially conceived of the show, I thought of the old bands. I thought, 'Let’s get Marmoset, Pravada, Gentlemen Caller, Margot. Let’s get everybody that people really like that have been around for a long time,’” says Rogers.
But MFT creator and SmallBox founder Jeb Banner had a different idea.
“I wanted to hear everything that’s new out here,” he says, citing some recent unfamiliarity with newer Indy acts.
So Rogers rounded up the freshest acts he could find, bolstered by a few older musicians with new projects — like artist DMA, formerly of Jookabox, who recently transitioned his new work into another full band arrangement.
It’s not just Rogers’ biggest event for the site yet — it’s also an anniversary of sorts. Rogers started contributing to MFT in October 2011, coming on board full-time in January. It’s a role that’s been passed from musician to local musician over the years, including stints by Joyful Noise label owner Karl Hofstetter and SmallBox employee and previous Broad Ripple Music Fest organizer Dan Fahrner.
Rogers took Banner’s suggestion to the extreme.
“Some of these bands I’ve never even heard a recording of,” says Rogers.
Some bands intend to perform new — and even confusing — material.
“Not only do we compose music that normally throws people into confusion and disarray, but we also strive to put on a performance to match the complicated compositions that we write,” says Zachary Jetter of Humans. “People can expect that to say the least — high energy, utter confusion and something 'different’ than most people are used to seeing.”
Rogers will take the stage himself. As founder of the oft-changing rock group Everything, Now!, Rogers has years of experience as a musician. Their latest, Do It On The Moon, was released in late 2011 on their private imprint, Holy Infinite Freedom Revival. Although the group — almost a decade old and with six full-lengths to its name — is on a hiatus of an unspecified time, Rogers continues to perform, both solo and with his new group Beer.
Since taking over the helm, Rogers — with the guidance of Banner — has revitalized the archival site with a variety of live music and album reviews, along with longer features highlighting prominent and emerging acts in the city.
Under his oversight, MFT’s mp3 archives hit 1,001 bands — a triumph logged after almost 10 years of work.
He’s also launched new recording projects, including EP in a Weekend, a consolidated recording experiment that’s hatched two records thus far.
The EP in a Weekend series kicked off with a scene stalwart — guitarist Christian Taylor stepped into Queen Size Studios for a weekend of songwriting with Derek Johnson and Cole Nicholas that resulted in Source Materials.
“We thought of Christian immediately because he’s a great musician, an amazing songwriter and he does a lot for the community, but he hasn’t always been able to get into the studio and release records,” Rogers told NUVO at the time of the project.
MFT organized another recording session with artist Lisa Berlin, Brandon Jackson and Jason Arnold; the group recorded in Brian Jones Studio in mid-July. Projects will continue approximately quarterly and can be downloaded on the site. Other forthcoming changes to the site include the embeddable playlists, a new mobile site and even more bios telling the history of some of the 1,001 groups archived already.
Growing a scene
As evidenced by Saturday’s lineup and the variety of acts stockpiled on MFT, the city is stacked with talented young artists making exciting music. But it’s no secret that most of these musicians’ time is consumed with day jobs necessary to support their real passions.
“The thing that drives me crazy is that you’ve got people like that who are making their livings delivering subs for Jimmy John’s. [These are] people who are doing meaningful cultural things for the city — as meaningful as anything the symphony is doing, or the zoo is doing, in my opinion. They’re making this a place for young professionals to live,” says Banner.
GloryHole Records label owner Jim Peoni knows the feeling.
“I see them and think, 'You’re so good at playing drums; I hate to see you washing dishes.’ Big bands have those problems too; it’s a problem,” he says.
He’s sees grand potential in the city.
“The music scene here is really amazing. I visit other major label showcases and think, 'We have a really hot scene here,” says Peoni.
Peoni is currently searching for a private venue of his own to open with Cataracts founder Jacob Gardner.
“Somewhere we won’t get kicked out of, or shut down or bothered,” Peoni says, with a laugh.
Indy blogger and promoter Derek Vorndran, founder of The In-Store, will welcome the opening.
“For the size Indy is, there are only really three to four venues to see shows; there are a ton of good bands [promoters] want to expose to the scene but it’s hard to book shows with limited places,” says Vorndran.
In the meantime, he and Peoni will be at the showcase, soaking up some of their favorite new acts.
“There are people, 10 or more years older than me, who still love playing music who are still struggling to figure out how to make time for it, how to market themselves, all of that. I see MFT as trying to bridge that — [to say] there are people paying attention to what you do. If we can find ways to get musicians paid and get them good gigs, that’s what we want to do,” says Rogers.
An idea, proposed in part by Banner and Asthmatic Kitty’s Michael Kauffman, to found an Indiana Musicians Council, ideally will do exactly that. The concept is to create a self-sustaining music scene — a place where musicians are respected and can make a living doing what they do well.
Another scene is already successfully accomplishing this — in fact, Banner proposes that the Indy’s music scene could learn a lot from the tech scene. And, indeed, they’re already inextricably tied. For example, Banner’s SmallBox sponsors a majority of the projects on MFT, and past and future employees of the site, including Rogers, moonlight at his company.
“There’s a reason we have breakout tech companies here, like ExactTarget and Slingshot. There’s a real lack of ego here. You see that in the leadership of these large companies. They’re not focused on building their wealth as much as they’re focused on building their business, and that business is involved in the community,” says Banner.
He sees these burgeoning local tech giants as holding the potential to determine the city’s musical community’s direction.
“The Lillies of the world, they supported things like the Symphony. I feel like ExactTarget is going to be the next Lilly. These new tech companies, they’re going to help decide, in a lot of ways, what the music scene will look like. They’ll sponsor and pay and support,” says Banner.
The Musicians Council will appropriate the model of similar councils flourishing in Canada in order to create a city more like some of the places Indy musicians looking to break through flock to.
“There are places all over that are like that: Austin, Portland, Seattle, Athens. Places where you think of music when you think of the place. How do we make this a musical city? It’s not that the bands in Austin are better than the bands in Indianapolis. It’s just been capitalized [in Austin]; it’s been turned into something. People who love music live in that city and want to be part of it. Indianapolis can be like that, but the important thing that I’m finding out is that nobody can make it as one person,” says Rogers.
How will this be achieved?
“It would involve different promoters and venue owners, record labels and other people that are involved with Indiana music. I think it’s the right time for it, because a lot of people are interested in cultural arts,” says Rogers.
Banner cites one group whose leadership has already changed the Indy cultural scene as an integral part of the idea.
“Nobody has shifted our brand on a national level as much as Dodge and [MOKB Presents]. A lot of people think sports, sports, sports; but we’ve shifted our brand tremendously by bringing 150 bands through this town a year,” say Banner. “Those bands take that experience and carry the brand of Indianapolis with them. They talk about playing here, they talk about the bands that open for them.”
A more DIY approach from another Indy musician is helping expose local breakout acts.
“I think Jacob [Gardner] is doing phenomenal work with Cataracts. It’s the ultimate DIY thing; the most recent one — it was like house Woodstock or something,” says Banner.
The idea is now at the heart of Musical Family Tree’s mission. The site would become the mouthpiece for the Council.
“It’s one of those great ideas that would be so great for the arts community and the musicians in the city — to make them feel like the people are with them,” says Rogers.
And it spreads
That mission has taken a while to conceptualize.
“At the beginning, [the site] was growing so fast that we didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about why we were doing this, besides the obvious reason that we wanted to document and protect what we considered to be sacred, Indiana music,” says Banner. “Now we have a better picture of what we really want; that’s part of becoming a non-profit. We really want to spread Indiana music; not just protect it, but spread it.”
Although Musical Family Tree is currently only recognized as a non-profit on the state level, the creation of the Indiana Musicians Council will allow Rogers to take full advantage of national non-profit benefits. And just in time, too, as the site plans to expand beyond state borders in the fairly near future.
Part of MFT’s grand plan is to take the model beyond Central Indiana — to turn the existing site into a template for other cities to begin to archive their musical history.
“We’d seek out scene curators — people who have been embedded for years — and train them,” says Banner.
Although that plan is temporarily on hold — at least until the relaunch — Rogers is content exploring Indianapolis’ musical depth for the time being.
“It’s really a huge, labyrinth of stuff,” says Rogers.
[A+E] Classical Music, Jazz + Blues + R&B
[Music] DJs + Dancing
[Music] DJs + Dancing
[Music] DJs + Dancing