Kevin McStravick has vowed to listen to every act performing at SXSW this year - more than 2,000 artists, by our last count - and review them all for his Web site. Yes, you read that correctly. Each and every one.
You can track McStravick's progress at operationeveryband.com. Rocks Off emailed him some questions last week, and he got back to us a couple of days ago.
Rocks Off: First of all... why?
Kevin McStravick: I've always been the "music guy" amongst my circle of friends and wanted to find a way to spread my wings a bit. I discovered SXSW my first year in Texas in 2009, but was completely overwhelmed and ended just bouncing around catching random bands.
It was wonderful, but I learned that coming in with a plan helped. The next year, I took the task of building my own spreadsheet of ratings to catch the best of the best and plan out what showcases I wanted to hit up.
Telling folks "I listened to all of them" yielded some dropped jaws and I knew I was onto something. Leading up to last year's SXSW, I made my first Tumblr account and just started writing. A year later, I feel like I have a second full-time job! RO: That's also my second question: What made you decide to do this?
KM: Because I may be just a little obsessive about music...
RO: What is your background? Do you live in Austin? Is Operation Every Band one person or several different people?
I actually work a full time job in the financial industry. This project fills up pretty much every night from November to March, a true labor of love at this point. I have no writing or music industry background, but I've certainly gotten my feet wet over the past two years.
I'm based out of Denton, Tex., about four hours north of Austin, an incredible music town in its own right. Though I cover about four-fifths of the writing this year, I picked up a couple writers to pick up some speciality genres, including Nathan Headden on hip-hop and Lucas Holl covering electronic music. It's been really exciting to have a different set of ears this year for some fresh perspective.
RO: What kind of time commitment are we talking about here? How long does it take? Do you only listen part of the day or all day long?
KM: I spend about three hours a night or so, but put in some heavy time in on weekends. I try to take a couple nights off a week to maintain some semblance of sanity, but it's full on now until I get to Austin. Since I work all day, this is a nighttime project.
RO: Do you just listen to one song per artist, more than one, or just enough of a song to dash off a quick review?
KM: Every artist gets two songs minimum. It's amazing how much just listening to one track can misrepresent a band. Normally, I'll cut in about 30 seconds in and keep listening all the through if I'm interested or try the same on a different track.
So many times, I just can't decide if I love something or hate it, which warrants more and more. The best stuff I'll download and listen to full albums on my commute.
RO: How long does it take for you to write an average review?
About 15-20 minutes now. It's an exercise in speed as much as anything else.
7. Do you make any money off the Web site? Are you trying to?
KM: I don't make a dime, but I'm all ears if anyone has any ideas!
RO: How does listening to every artist playing SXSW not make you incredibly jaded about music? Or does it?
Great question. It doesn't make me jaded, rather it makes me hopeful. SXSW can be viewed as a microcosm of the "indie" music world as a whole. Through two years of this project, I have heard pretty much every angle of every genre imaginable. Yet, every day I find something new and exciting.
To really grab my ears, a band needs to brings something unique. I think the blogging community, especially true listeners, believe the same. As a result, boundaries are being pushed in a way that is unlike any other time in music. There are thousands of great bands out there and anyone can now connect with music that truly moves them, from aggressive noise rock to a folkster on an acoustic guitar.
This experience has been revelatory for me, and is actually an experience I would recommend to anyone who is feeling jaded about the current state of music.
RO: What have you learned about music since you started this project?
I'm sure many struggling bands would disagree, but I've learned that with great music, any band has the opportunity to gain a decent fanbase. It's less about strategy and marketing now and more about quality. If you are not just good, but great, you will be heard and adored by someone. It just spreads from there...
RO: What's the worst thing you've heard so far this year? Has there ever been something so bad that it was unlistenable?
KM: Let's just say Norwegian black metal fans would probably not be enamored with my site.
RO: Are you actually planning to attend SXSW this year? Are you even interested in going? Did you have to buy a badge or can SXSW comp you one?
KM: Absolutely - I look forward to it every year as soon as leave Austin in March. I was lucky enough to be invited as a panelist last year, so I was a big shot flashing my badge around. This year I'm not "working", but SXSW was kind enough to share some wristbands for our coverage.
RO: Finally... any tips for those of us who will be going to SXSW this year?
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KM: First, get all of your day parties and showcases lined up and rank them, with at least five different options per time slot. Plan B isn't nearly enough, as lines can build unexpectedly, forcing some quick decision making.
Also, don't jump around too much, find an event that you would be happy spending hours at. Lastly, don't wait in line while there is music going on. You can always catch a band another time and there is way too much greatness going on to not be in front of a stage. Have fun!