TasteMakers007: Swell Tone

TasteMakers is a new feature from the Adafruit Music team. In this sister series to MusicMakers, we will be talking to music writers, bloggers, record labels and brands about creative spaces, technology and DIY, as well as what inspires them and keeps them motivated to support and amplify the creators in their communities. This week we’re speaking to Swell Tone founder Shana Hartzel!

Photo courtesy of Abi Reimold

This Q&A with Swell Tone comes to us courtesy of Various Small Flames who kindly recommended we speak to Shana Hartzel back way in August in TasteMakers003! And we’re very grateful because this a good one!

Swell Tone’s announced objective is: “with an emphasis on the new and undiscovered, we aim to bring you the swellest of musical gems from amongst the sea of many.” And that’s just what they do. Through a series of bizarrely specific and brilliantly eclectic Swell Lists, they offer a wide variety of music in playlist form for occasions like leaving Philly, the rise and fall of The Mooch, Fun Uncles, allergies, being real late and so much more.

Plus, there’s their killer series of video sessions (more on those below), some deeper digs, travel journals and lots more. There’s heaps to enjoy. The blog has a really great feel to it, like the music sites of uh “golden age” of music blogging, Swell Tone is broad, energetic and deeply personal. The freedom that Shana clearly enjoys with her work and the thoroughness with which it is all put together is really something to celebrate.

We’re really lucky to speak to Hartzel about technology, the rise of new media, the benefits of isolation, changes to the industry, getting started, staying busy and so much more. Read on for some killer insight, some great ideas and some really wonderful videos. I hope you can find some inspiration within.

Before we get going, what’s a song you’re loving right now that people can listen to while they read along?
I love that we’ve started with this question but it’s always a struggle for me to pick just one track. I’m really enjoying the new Laura Gibson album, Goners. It’s artistically a new level for her as an artist in the complexity of the album as a whole. “Tenderness” is a bright gem from the collection. The opening line is striking and begins a sort of twirling web with this enchanting melody that trickles down into the verses.

Tell us about yourself. How long have you been running the site?
Howdy! I’m Shana. I currently live in Philadelphia but am about to move to Portland, OR. Here in Philly, I work at The Fillmore (a 2,500 cap music venue) and also for a company that does VIP and travel package for big music tours and festivals. I also have bi-weekly radio specials for Philly music and Australian music on Y-Not Radio. When I’m not doing any of the above, I’m usually at a show, drinking tea, in a vintage shop or working on my blog. Swell Tone has been chugging along since 2013 in its earliest form but really got up and running in 2014.

What inspired you to start and what motivates you to amplify DIY music makers?
Swell Tone began as a way to share all of the great little bands I was finding with more people and has blossomed to much more. My pal, Victoria Engle, and I brought it to life fully in 2014 as a part of our thesis in Global Media. I’ve always found that music listeners are their own community within the industry and have come across a host of like-minded, music-listening comrades in other music blog’s like mine. It’s those people that are most receptive to new music.

Music, after all, is art. It’s something that’s created out of passion and a necessity specific to artists. Anything I can do to help elevate beautiful music/art to more ears is a joy and a pleasure. A lot of what Swell Tone does content wise is mostly made to be a platform for artists that don’t have as many resources to be able to get their music to a wider audience. I personally tend to associate music with visuals and you’ll see that reflected in what types of things we produce on the site.

Have changes in technology had any effect on your work or engagement with the music community?
Technology has definitely affected how the blog runs and how we connect with others. We’ve been able to connect to a larger community of artists and listeners through the video sessions that we’ve done and put on YouTube, especially thanks to our session with Peach Pit. They’ve got a massive online following that really seemed to enjoy their session and the ones we’ve done since.

Additionally, I’ve been doing a ton of traveling this year and Instagram has allowed me to connect with lots of bands, labels, and radio personalities across the globe. It’s also allowed me to take the blog’s followers along for the ride. I post a lot of live videos of bands I’m seeing abroad and at home and always get feedback about people finding new bands to love through those Instagram stories.

What’s something you’ve done with the blog that you’re particularly proud of?
I’m particularly proud of our video sessions. They have always been very personalized pieces of content that are meant to match both the band and song. If you watch through them over time, I think it really shows. Our best sessions are the ones where the band went with our whacky ideas and really let loose. These sessions would never be possibly without Bob Sweeney on video and Jake Detwiler on sound. They do such a good job that I’m often asked if these sessions are really live (and yes they are). In moving to Portland, the future of the sessions is uncertain at the moment and I’m already missing the joy in the creativity of putting them together.

Are there any changes you’d like to see in the music industry?
In truth, it would be great if the industry could be more economically stable as to be able to fully support a larger array of those working within it. But beyond that much larger goal, I would love to see people open their ears and hearts to new music earlier. We’ve been asked to take down or adjust a lot of posts for artists who end up re-releasing EPs, albums, and songs we’ve loved for a long time. A lot of time people who follow music blogs or are actively searching for new music are looking for things that are already familiar. I think it’s important to listen to at least one or two completely new things each day.

Any tips for making or customising a creative workspace?
You always need to have a pair of headphones, a good wifi connection, and a snack. I’m not one for routine so I’m always posting from different places. In my recent travels, I’ve been posting from remote Starbucks in Orlando and from a friend’s work computer in Scotland. Some of my best work has also come from isolating myself in a coffee shop. As long as you can focus, you’re set!

What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own blog?
Do it! Getting started is the hardest part. It’s not something that happens overnight and it has to be something that you really love. But, it easy to keep it moving once you get it going. Don’t set specific constraints for yourself about what to post and when until you’ve really got a good idea of what you want to do on a larger scale.

Also, I think it’s important to never be afraid to send an inquiry email about a piece you’d like to do. The worst that can happen is that you get a no (or no response at all) and then you just try again with the next piece. It will always work out if it’s meant to be.

Who do you think we should speak to next?
I think it would be fascinating to hear the logistics and ideas behind any of the viral YouTube channels that exclusively share music, namely TheLazyLazyMe or David Dean Burkhart. Both of these I’ve used consistently to find new music and have heard others also do the same. Being that the format is really truncated from a traditional blog, it would be great to know how they do what they do so well.

Swell Tone lives @ swelltonemusic.com and you can follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Soundcloud, Hype Machine, YouTube and Spotify.

You can find more music Adafruit is loving right now in our ongoing MusicMakers (feat. Frankie Cosmos, Jeffrey LewisBedbug, Pom Pom Squad, Art Brut and more) and TrackTalk features (with Trust Fund, Shay Spence and Haiku Salut). If you missed the previous TasteMakers features with The Grey Estates, Various Small Flames, phluff, Alcopop! Records, The Alternative and Stories About Music then you can read those here.

This week I’m enjoying:

This gorgeous EP by Painted Forest.

The debut album from Pip Hall on My Little Empire Records:

And some lovely new music from national treasure Malcolm Middleton:

As always, you can also follow Adafruit on Soundcloud and Hype Machine.

Adafruit publishes a wide range of writing and video content, including interviews and reporting on the maker market and the wider technology world. Our standards page is intended as a guide to best practices that Adafruit uses, as well as an outline of the ethical standards Adafruit aspires to. While Adafruit is not an independent journalistic institution, Adafruit strives to be a fair, informative, and positive voice within the community – check it out here: adafruit.com/editorialstandards

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