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Looking back on a year of Madison music’s high notes

Honoring the potency of music coverage during a bounce-back year.
An illustration shows multi-colored images of a keyboard, a turntable, a microphone, speakers, a "play" button," and sliders and indicators from a soundboard, all arranged in a grid-like pattern.
Illustration by Shasya Sidebottom.

Honoring the potency of music coverage during a bounce-back year.

This is our newsletter-first column, Microtones. It runs on the site on Fridays, but you can get it in your inbox on Thursdays by signing up for our email newsletter.

Surviving these past few years has not been easy, for anyone. Whether that was an individual person, a publication, an organization, there have been onslaughts of setbacks and difficulties. Some didn’t make it. Tone Madison is fortunate to have had a readership and internal infrastructure and support that’s allowed us to not just keep going, but to keep expanding. Tone‘s music section is the perfect example of this, as 2022 was one of our busiest years on record.

By the time 2022 turns over to 2023, Tone Madison will have published somewhere between 90 and 100 music pieces, a healthy mix of work from both freelancers and editorial staff. 2022 also saw the return of Tone Madison‘s events calendar, which continued to be music-heavy. Avant garde, jazz, rap, local, touring, folk, metal, and punk shows all got a reasonable amount of attention throughout the year, and we’re excited to highlight even more great music events throughout 2023. Having the calendar back in action helps us all keep up with what’s happening, in multiple respects. Our writers were keenly aware of this and turned in vital copy, for the calendar entries and beyond.

Freelancer Andy Moore closed out our 2021 and kicked off our 2022 with, respectively, an engaging profile of vibrant dancehall artist Jimmy Sugarcane and a round-up of Madison’s small venue owners’ efforts to mitigate the spread of Covid and other illnesses over the winter. Moore would go on to author several more excellent pieces throughout 2022, including Sugar Shack Records’ closure and Boneset Records’ emergence providing Sugar Shack a soft resurrection. Moore memorably profiled Jeff Burkhart and Kyle Rightley, while also detailing the long-awaited return of shows at the Crystal Corner Bar, and delving into what makes Spruce Tree Music unique.

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Film editor Grant Phipps memorably profiled composer Eiko Ishibashi (a piece that would later be linked to in Pitchfork), Amirtha Kidambi, and Madison-based experimental artist Sigra. Jason Fuhrman, another regular contributor to Tone’s film section, delivered a deep Q&A with Makaya McCraven and an introduction to a relatively new Madison band, Little Earthquakes. Phipps and Fuhrman were both emblematic of how the overlap between film and music can yield excellent writing for each side of that equation. 

Sami Schalk meditated on music’s inherent ability to affect mood and provoke thought in one of my favorite editions of her Pleasure Practices column this year. Long-time Tone Madison freelancer Ben Munson penned a strong profile of Bell & Circuit’s Russell Emerson Hall and first-time Tone freelancer Andrea Gonzales-Paul reflected on recording in one of Madison’s more prominent basement studios.

Tone Madison publisher Scott Gordon still found some time to devote to the music section as well. Whether it was assessing the health and safety outlook for live music experiences, grappling with loss, delivering cogent analysis around disappointing reports, or unexpectedly heartening updates, Gordon continued to deliver the type of writing that established Tone Madison. Gordon also delivered memorable writing throughout 2022 on a multitude of genres: rap, jazz, ambient, and experimental all among them. Sock puppets and cool buildings were also involved, proving (again) Gordon’s adept versatility as a music writer.

As music editor, I was able to pursue a number of meaningful—and in some cases, long-gestating—pieces and projects of my own. There was an uptick in the emphasis on live music photography, evidenced by the introduction of a new photo essay series and a Microtones piece that will always retain a place in my heart. I was able to sit down with Joe Pera Talks With You composer Ryan Dann to discuss the show and how accumulated perception colors musical depictions of the upper Midwest. I profiled Paul Mitch, Julia Blair, Ryan Liam, Jason Hartman, Histo’s Donald Curtis, and Cribshitter’s core power couple. I conceptualized and launched a compilation series with the recent release of To Grow A Garden. I covered odd happenings around town, compiled round-ups, set aside space for the rare premiere, and reviewed and previewed a handful of bands that mean something to me. And I surveyed what navigating those types of personal connections entails and how to responsibly incorporate them into Tone‘s coverage.

Following a short break we have planned for the holidays, Tone‘s music section will return in January with our best-of coverage, which we usually publish in mid-December. Last year’s slate of best-of coverage wound up being the most wide-ranging we’ve offered to date. 2022’s best-of selections will be even denser in volume. Honoring 2022’s best will be a great way to kick off 2023, while also ensuring we don’t miss any late-breaking releases that might have otherwise slipped through the cracks.

Looking back at all of this has been a reminder to myself—and hopefully those reading—of the potency and range of Tone Madison’s coverage. Yet, there’s still clearly room for more.

Everything our readers donate during our year-end fundraiser will go towards making that expansion a reality. A single donation could be the difference in determining whether a piece gets published. Whether a freelancer is added to our roster. Whether a new series launches. Whether we spotlight or host an event. Whether we can continue to grow. We do not currently have the capacity or means to publish at the rate we’d like, though this year we were able to start inching closer. Reader donations will ensure that we continue closing in on that goal.

Through the end of the year, new monthly donations will be matched x24, thanks to the generosity of our match partners. All other donations will triple in value, including purchases of the Contributors and To Grow A Garden compilations. Tone Madison will continue to use those funds to the best of our abilities, with a shared common goal of directly impacting and benefitting our community. Any donation can make a difference.

To help keep pushing Tone Madison forward, donate here, and stay tuned.

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