Sound Advice

“How do you do, fellow Scots?”

In my head, I’m wearing a gray T-shirt emblazoned with the logo “Music Band,” a backward ball cap and have a skateboard slung over one shoulder, a la Steve Buscemi in the episode of the NBC sitcom “30 Rock,” in which he went undercover at a local high school. 

You may not know the show, but you’ve probably seen the meme, and you’ve probably seen me around campus as the guy who handles social media for Maryville College. (I’m usually working with my partner, multimedia specialist Brennan Checkalski, who frequently reminds me that he was born in 1998 when I drop some cryptic pop culture reference – see above – and likes to call me “Dad” whenever we’re in a public gathering of students.)

At this point, you’re no doubt wondering why I’ve been given real estate in this esteemed publication, and that’s an excellent question. I’m no stranger to newspaper columns, and I’ve worked as a professional journalist since I graduated college myself, back during the age of dark rooms and wax machines and pasting copy by hand. For roughly 20 of those, I was an entertainment journalist, writing about music and movies and shows and theater and pop culture and basically getting paid to do the things that people pay to do. 

It was a sweet gig, as long as you don’t mind living below the poverty line, but children require things like “food” and “shelter,” so the allure of better pay in the marketing world ultimately led me to change careers four years ago. Say this for those who write because it’s who they are as much as it is a career, though: You can take the writer out of the inkwell, but you can’t take the ink out of the writer (now that’s a stilted homily if I’ve ever written one), and so I’ve continued to work as a freelance journalist for various publications in the years since.

That means I also receive numerous pitches from music publicists, which is industry speak for press agents wanting to land their clients interviews with any outlet possible in this growing-ever-louder digital slipstream, which leads me to The Highland Echo. Big thanks to Editor Emily Huffstetler and faculty advisor Kim Trevathan for giving me the green light for a regular column, in which I hope to enlighten, entertain and spread the gospel of music journalism.

More than likely, unless your tastes run toward the eclectic and obscure, you may not know every artist I’ll profile, but don’t let that stop you from giving them a chance. I’ve interviewed a lot of marquee names over the years, and the prestige of having done so never fails to impress ardent fans of those particular artists, but my personal philosophy is this:

You can pay $50, $75, $100 or more to see your favorite superstar at Thompson-Boling Arena or the Civic Coliseum over in Knoxville, and you’ll enjoy yourself immensely. You can also pay $5, or nothing, and see a show in a club like The Pilot Light, down in Knoxville’s Old City, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with freaks and weirdos who are positively delightful and unabashedly exuberant, so close you can reach out and touch the musician(s) on stage, and experience a night of what can only be described as unfiltered art…and it’ll change your life.

Some of the most memorable moments of mine have been spent having my face melted, my mind blown, my hair parted, my ears turned into trans-dimensional receptors of sound and color by musicians whose names I didn’t know prior to walking through the door. By the time the show was done, I was at the merch table, buying every album they had, and I still listen to them today, more than I ever do the songs and albums by their much more famous contemporaries.

Music is subjective, of course, and we all like what we like. No shame, and no justification needed. I just hope to encourage you to expand your horizons, toss out a few suggestions for your consideration and make bad jokes and arcane pop culture references along the way.

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