Mapping Sounds in the Live Music Capital of the World

Producer Delaney Hall celebrates this weekend’s public launch of the Austin Music Map with KUT team members Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon and Haley Howle.

“You’re reanimating people with this stuff!” exclaims musician Jon Dee Graham, the self-dubbed Mayor of South Austin. He is leading Delaney Hall—the producer of Localore project Austin Music Map (AMM)—through the retrofitted formal dining room of a ranch house, crammed with enough equipment for a mad scientist’s lab.

Tucked away in suburban Travis Heights, Hall reports, Top Hat Recording is one of Graham’s favorite secret neighborhood spots. AMM’s mission is to reveal such out-of-the-way venues, and document them in collaboration with the musicians and fans that frequent them.

Since the spring, Hall has been building multilayered profiles of spaces and performers with her team at KUT. This past weekend, they threw a party to introduce the project to the community, including live performances, a photo booth, storytelling stations, and a preview of AMM’s immersive website.

Like the other CPB-funded Localore projects that AIR is producing across the country, AMM aims to increase its incubator station’s capacity for cross-platform innovation and outreach. In our interview, Hall shares lessons she’s learned so far, and offers insights for other stations seeking to collaboratively produce content with local cultural figures and fans.

Q: What are your goals with Austin Music Map?
One of the main ones is to use local music, which is really central to KUT’s mission and programming, to connect with new audiences and communities across the city. Austin is known as the “live music capital of the world,” but we’re really trying to dig into that idea and explore all the diverse ways people make and consume music.

We’re trying to find stories that are off the beaten path, and in the process connect with communities that haven’t interacted much with KUT in the past.

Listen to the piece on the Annie Street Arts Collective for a taste:

Like all of the Localore projects, we’re experimenting with combining professional storytelling with citizen contributions. We’ve set up a hotline that people can call and share tips, a Flickr group to share materials, ways for listeners to submit videos. All of that material will feed into the interactive web site we’re developing. By opening ourselves to citizen contributions, we’re hoping the public will lead us to places and people we wouldn’t have known about otherwise. The community is an incredible resource.

Q:  Could you describe the Austin Remixed event you’re planning for December? How do you think events like this can help drive participation?

We’ve been thinking since the start of the project in April about how to inspire participation—trying to figure out why people might want to submit stories and, beyond some abstract concept like “civic participation,” how to make it fun, meaningful and game-like. Working with Haley Howle, Art Levy and Peter Babb at KUT, we came up with Austin Remixed, and put out call across all channels asking “how does Austin sound to you?”

People can submit sounds or point us to sounds to record. We’re being very open—the sounds can be mariachis, buskers, bats under the Congress Street bridge (an iconic Austin noise that you can hear below), personal interviews, cooking with grandma—anything that feels like it captures their Austin experience.

We have picked seven musical groups, and will be handing these sounds over to them in early December. They’ll have two weeks to compose original songs that include these samples. We tried to pick musicians who represent the wide spectrum of performers across the city, to produce seven distinct musical portraits of Austin in collaboration with the city.

An event in mid-December will let participants and the wider public experience that music. We hope it’ll be a way to make community participation really meaningful, and result in something as creative and beautiful as Austin is.

Q:  How is the project giving KUT opportunities to experiment with new platforms and engagement strategies?
KUT has already done a series of interesting community storytelling projects, like the Armadillo World Headquarters oral history. This combined interviews about this venue, which still holds a place in the Austin imagination, with the collection of amazing mementos such as Frank Zappa ticket stubs and posters. That project resulted in an hour-long documentary, but no place to share the bigger pool of material that the station collected. We hope AMM will provide a platform and a storytelling vessel where pieces of documentation and community stories like this can live, be searched, and navigated by users.

Austin Music Map has also allowed KUT to really push its multimedia and visual storytelling. Right before I arrived the station hired Senior Multimedia Producer Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, so for every radio story that I’ve produced we’ve created a corresponding multimedia piece. This has given KUT a chance to experiment with their visual style and figure out how to tell stories on the web. A good example is the video we shot of a Tango community at a small church.

KUT is a very powerful presence in the local music scene—they do a lot to break new bands, give attention to local musicians, host in-studio performances, but often the station’s focus is on the local industry. AMM has a different focus, which is looking at music happening a bit outside that industry, informally and off the radar. I think that has allowed us to focus on telling stories that wouldn’t have fit into the programming that KUT would have done before—not the next up-and-coming act, but musicians who make music for really interesting reasons. So it’s opening the station up to reporting on music more culturally: Why do people make music, and what are the different ways people make music?

Q: You’ve had success with generating participation via Flickr. What are your tips for other radio stations looking to work with photographers in the community?
In Flickr we found a vibrant pool of materials because there are people who take it upon themselves to be the documenters of a particular band, venue or scene, many nights a week. So we’ve been able to use Flickr to discover those people and invite them to get more involved in AMM.

Hall says that AMM Flickr contributor Nisa Asokan “totally got the project,” and has submitted a range of images documenting out-of-the-way venues that provided story leads.

For example, when we did a story on the Moose Lodge, we found photographers who’d captured the scene there and invited them to become more actively involved. So, in addition to the story we tell, we have this kaleidoscopic community portrait of a place.

In terms of suggestions for other stations: You have to be quite active in your outreach through Flicker. You can’t just set up a group and wait for submissions to pour in—you have to find photographers, write to them, explain the project, select images you’d like to feature…be very direct and proactive about building that body of material. But it’s been really rewarding because we’ve found very talented people who have been active and submitted a lot. It’s made the project much more dynamic.

Q:  You’re thinking creatively about what a “map” might include. Can you describe how the process has evolved?
We spent the first phase of web site design with interactive storytelling partner Zeega saying “this is not going to be a literal map,” because we didn’t want a Google map, or an aerial view. The user experience of those maps is that each thing is a point unto itself—a bit of a dead-end experience. We really wanted to innovate on how maps are used in storytelling by creating interesting connections among the stories. We wanted every story to lead to another—not just through geographic connections, but also musical connections, and more idiosyncratic connections.

But then we realized we could do that with a map by pushing the design to reveal those connections. So now every story will be tagged in multiple ways: according to the venue, the neighborhood, the musical type, and thematic tags that have more to do with the particulars of any given story. Those tags will reveal patterns and allow users to navigate in multiple directions from each story.

The site will look like a map of Austin that is crinkled paper with hand-drawn designs—like a map that your friend might give you where she’s marked her favorite secret spaces. We wanted to make it feel a little hand-made.

Q:  What advice do you have for makers and stations embarking on a multiplatform production? Take a lot of vitamins?
Take a lot of vitamins, get some sleep, and be prepared to produce at least three versions of each story—we’ve made sonic IDs, bits of sound for the hotline, videos, radio features. Be prepared to repurpose and let things take a bunch of different shapes.

There’s a good reason to do all that repurposing. KUT has an extremely dedicated core audience that we reach through broadcast. Videos are reaching a more digitally connected community; traffic is coming from Facebook and Twitter and they circulate more virally. Our next phase—placing custom stickers in the venues we’ve documented that allow people to dial a code to hear or submit a story—will connect us to audiences that are a bit less predictable, chance audiences that happen to hang out in the place. This is really interesting because we’re targeting them intimately and directly. It all feels like a grand experiment.

Catch up with the other Localore projects that have been profiled on the NCME blog, and learn more about the overall initiative at Localore.net.

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