Attending local concerts can be a hit or miss experience. Not all bands in the city may live up to the hype. Arriving at a heavy metal concert expecting a folk-rock duo may ruin the live experience, and the music of smaller Chicago bands may not be readily available before checking out a show. Now, a local resource is digitally delivering the best of local bands, giving concert-goers a taste of what to expect from local city shows.
Casey Meehan launched the Chicago Mixtape on Feb. 14 to spread the word on local bands as a throwback to the days of recording cassettes and burning CDs, and connect Chicago’s music scene. By sending out digital playlists every week, Meehan hopes to bring new life to Chicago’s live concerts.
Meehan has been a musician in Chicago since 2001 and started his international digital label, Rock Proper, roughly four years ago. That lead to the opportunity to deejay on WLUW 88.7 FM. Through his weekly playlists on his show, Radio One Chicago, he discovered a huge crop of local bands frequently playing shows in the city.
Combining his resources from Rock Proper and WLUW, he created a format to send out tracks from the bands he discovered straight to peoples’ inboxes every week.
“What I’m excited about is the digital world meeting the real world and doing something online that pulls people to the shows,” Meehan said. “The purpose of it, really, is to get people to these concerts.”
On the launch day, more than 1,800 people signed up through the e-mail portal on ChicagoMixtape.com. Once each playlist is sent out, the tracks are only downloadable for a few days, a tactic Meehan said is in place to keep people from taking advantage of the site just for the free music without supporting the band’s live shows.
While there was hesitation from a few bands about the legal complications of giving away free music, most were willing to provide Meehan with MP3s for publicity.
“If there are bands [who] are worried about giving away MP3s, they are really behind the times,” said Mike Lenz, promotional manager for the band Streets on Fire, who was featured on the premiere mixtape. “It’s not like giving away an MP3 is going to make it so you can’t pay your rent. [They] already can’t pay [their] rent.”
For Meehan and the team behind Chicago Mixtape, monetary reward for the site is not the end goal. This is not to say the project won’t help musicians make money, according to the site’s designer Paul Grechen. He said much of the money bands are making today come from publishing, alliances with corporations, live shows and merchandise—not necessarily their tracks.
“I think Chicago Mixtape lends to assist those current revenue streams,” Grechen said. “I don’t think stealing music in the long run is going to have as lasting an impact. It definitely changes the way we operate, but not as a lasting financial impact.”
Grechen said he sees the mixtape site as a place people will go to as a reference point, the way people would look to college radio stations or fliers in coffee shops before the advent of technology. Connecting bands and music lovers through social media and the Internet should lead to face-to-face interactions, Grechen said.
While Meehan and music coordinator Josh Dumas are actively seeking out bands, they’re also making it possible for bands to reach out to them. On the site, a band specific page is available where local musicians can upload their songs in hopes of being chosen for a future playlist, allowing the networking to go both ways.
“To have an organized way of releasing tracks for free, to have some sort of curation on them, is really important because it’s almost like a modern style of radio,” said Jason Ewers of Ornery Little Darlings, a featured band. “Then to see your song get downloaded 1,000 times in 20 minutes is always a good thing.”
The band Ornery Little Darlings is part of the line-up of Chicago Mixtape’s official launch party concert on March 5, bringing to life its mission of promoting live shows.
As the project grows, Meehan also wants to include a YouTube channel with the site and is partnering with bands and local venues to provide free tickets to entice more people to engage in Chicago’s live music community.
“I think a lot of people are really excited about the idea of it,” Meehan said. “I hope they’re excited about actually using it for its intended purpose. There’s a lot of cool stuff on the way.”
Chicago Mixtape’s official launch party will be on March 5 at 9 p.m. at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave. Tickets cost $8. To sign up for weekly playlists, visit ChicagoMixtape.com.