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Searching for the Sound of Boston

Campus | October 21, 2013

On most weekends, there is a group of Tufts students sporting their press passes at intimate music venues around Boston to photograph and review shows. They focus on concerts in smaller venues that are likely to add some variety to your idea of a typical night out. The blog Sounds of Boston, started by Jonah Ollman and Knar Bedian, covers local artists and performances with witty descriptions and in-your-face photos from the live shows. Although it only launched earlier this semester, Sounds of Boston is taking off and giving Tufts a lesson in what not to miss in the Boston music scene.

Jonah Ollman, a senior, was already writing about music and interviewing up-and-coming artists when he received an email from a man in Denmark, the creator of the website “Sounds of Aarhus.”  He encouraged Ollman to take the idea of profiling a city and the authentic aspects of its musical culture and apply it to Boston. After Ollman posted on TuftsLife to recruit writers and teamed up with Knar Bedian, Sound of Boston was launched. Already on mailing lists for several bands, Ollman, knew how to score a press pass for a free show and urged the new writers to contact bands they liked to see what would happen. While this blog is great for its readers, the writers also have major incentive to put in the legwork. Ollman says, “I haven’t paid for a show in a year and a half. If you email these people, they are usually into what you have to say.”

What goes into this blog is a genuine appreciation for music and an interest in discovering something new, whether it’s a cool new band or a venue that keeps drawing you back. As for the future, Ollman hopes to move from Tumblr to a dot-com set up by the end of the semester. The blog is meant to appeal to a wide audience, which makes it more crucial that they draw in a wider base of support. The overarching goal is to “try to find Boston’s sounds,” so bias and personal preferences are be secondary.

Ollman elaborated on the idea of Boston’s own sound, saying: “There are so many cities that do have a sound.  Boston is no smaller than Nashville with country music, or Atlanta with a strong hip-hop culture. Why isn’t Boston music more well-known? The more attention it gets, the better it’s going to be.” Artists seem to agree, showing their thanks by sharing the Sound of Boston’s articles and acknowledging the efforts of the writers. Ollman, who has been writing about music on his personal blog Write to the Beat for four years, thinks this exposure is the best reward for the new writers.

Even with the initial success the blog has achieved, there is much more in store. They plan on putting a couple of themed features in place including one focusing on collegiate bands or campus venues at the many Boston-area schools, and one that highlights worthwhile records stores in the city. Their aim is to attract a wider range of music lovers and to give a more solid foundation to the blog. In the meantime, Ollman is proud of the initiative the writers are taking and the shows they’ve been able to attend. He says, “It’s satisfying to think that I’m at that level.  I still kind of feel like I shouldn’t be there next to writers for Rolling Stone.”

After perusing Sound of Boston, the article I was most curious about profiled a modern living room concert series called “Sofar Sounds.” Ollman mentioned it in our conversation, and since he was the one who attended the concert, I had a ton of questions about his experience. Ollman explained the concept as a network of concerts in cities all over the world that put four acoustic sets together for a “pop up show.” You have to sign up if you are willing to hand over your living room for a night and welcome fifty strangers into your home. If you are on the mailing list, you will get an email a couple of days before the show letting you know where it is.  Ollman attended the very first Sofar Boston, hosted at an apartment in Allston. He said, “It is surprisingly put together and some small bands have grown from this.” The next show in November is exactly the type of new experience Sound of Boston works to support—unique, engaging, and a lot of fun.

With so many students attending Tufts from out of state, the information on Sound of Boston gives everyone creative ways to explore Boston and get to know the city’s sound even better. Ollman said, “I’m curious as to why a sound, like Seattle and its indie scene, happens in one place. Boston has everything it needs: venues, young people, culture, history. Why isn’t Boston a Seattle or a Nashville?” Sound of Boston is chipping away at this question with every show it reviews and every band it uncovers for its audience. Maybe Boston doesn’t have a singular musical identity like many other cities across the country, but Sounds of Boston is looking to find its own Boston music scene that is equally as satisfying.

I urge you to check out Sound of Boston on Tumblr and like their Facebook page. It’s no surprise that our fellow Jumbos are at it again, expressing their creativity and sharing something they are passionate about with the people around them.  This project is something new that deserves the attention it’s getting.  Whether you are looking for something fun to do in the city or you’re interested in getting involved in Sound of Boston’s mission, it truly is something worth checking out.