The back burner

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

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MICROTONES by Scott Gordon, editor-in-chief and publisher

Running a very, very small publication means learning to work within some pretty severe limits. It means always being aware of those limits, for better or worse. It means making really deliberate choices about what you are and what you’re not. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from talking with musicians and artists over the years, it’s that constraints keep things interesting, and often make the work better. 

Tone Madison marks its fifth anniversary this week, and we’ve made it this far by figuring out how to do a lot with a little. Whether it’s time, money in the bank, technology, or sheer human capacity, there’s never quite enough—and yet we’ve still managed to publish hundreds of stories about music and culture in Madison, put on dozens of events, and build a pretty special relationship with readers across the community. 

In five years of publishing, there’s also a lot of stuff that doesn’t quite get done—ideas and stories that ended up having to wait, or just never quite got finished, because other stuff had to get done and, well, there are those limits again. There’s a lot of stuff on our back burner, as they say, and to me it represents all that we could accomplish with only a little more support, with resources that matched our capability and ambition. I’m talking about longer-term reporting projects that have slowly inched along for months or even years (truly, some of the absolute hardest work to find the time and capacity to do) and would add even more to our unique perspective on music, art, and politics in Madison. Improving the depth and production value of our podcasts. Finally making some progress on a series of short documentaries we’ve been trying to get off the ground for a couple years. Putting on more and better events. Maybe doing something with that “Madison venue Monopoly” game idea a few of our writers dreamed up over drinks at Mickey’s a while back. Commissioning more original artwork to run with our stories.

I can promise you that we’ll always have more ideas than we really know what to do with, as any self-respecting publication does. But we can also get some of those bigger projects a little closer to reality if you help us out during our fifth anniversary fundraising drive. We’re looking for 50 readers to step up and join the ranks of Tone Madison Sustainers—who make small, recurring monthly donations that provide the lion’s share of our budget. In return, we’ll send you our awesome fifth anniversary sticker pack. And then we’ll make our back burners a bit less crowded. If you’d like to be a part of that, head to Thank you.

(Photo by Justin Taylor on Flickr.)

New this week:

What comes after the climate strike? Dayna Long reports on the activists pushing state and local leaders to take the climate emergency seriously.

Guitarist Mary Halvorson spoke with us ahead of her October 31 visit to Arts + Literature Laboratory with the Tomeka Reid Quartet.

On our podcast, artist Kel Mur and chef Francesca Hong reflect on a project that uses food to explore menstruation.

Elsewhere on the Madison internet: Edge Effects sticks up for bats. Madison’s own Biff Blumfumgagnge does a rig rundown with Premier Guitar in his role as Robert Fripp’s guitar tech. Shepherd Express visits the Wisconsin Triennial.

This week’s Madison calendar: A tribute to jazz great Dexter Gordon at Café Coda. Chicago noise-rock duo Djunah plays at The WiscoAnd more.

Upcoming Tone Madison Events!

December, date TBD: Tone Madison Best of 2019 Listening Party

Help us publish more weird, questing, brilliant, feisty, “only on Tone Madison” stories


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