Writing about music has its perks. There are the most obvious ones; advance previews of music, free CDs, press passes to concerts, and getting to meet and talk with musicians about their music to sometimes get a better understanding of the inspiration and motivation behind particular songs. As great as all of these benefits are, they aren’t the impetus behind writing about music. The overriding incentive is more about the joy of finding under recognized and under heard music that for one reason or another isn’t getting the red carpet treatment and an escort in the front door like all of the artists over played and over heard on commercial radio. It’s more rewarding to scan the blur of faces and listen up for the voices in the crowd of artists beyond the red carpet and behind the barriers, clamoring for access to the show and zoom in on the ones with genuine talent who stand out from the rest. However, here’s the dilemma. Because the sheer number of musicians on both sides of the barricade is so large, even the faces and voices that attract your attention can be overshadowed and shouted down by the warble and pulsing din of the crowd. This is when the best of those perks of writing about music comes into play. Occasionally, in an attempt to raise their voices above the red carpet racket, musicians will personally reach out to music writers to ask if they will listen to their music and share their thoughts about it in print. There is no shame in this practical do-it-yourself marketing method. It’s a perfectly acceptable avenue to getting your voice heard in a musical landscape that often values style over substance and established artists over new and different artists. This is especially true in a city and an industry where hometown music is erroneously identified exclusively with Beyoncé and ZZ Top, who are held up on a pedestal as if they were the only talent of note to emanate from Houston. As a writer, if you are writing about music because you love music and want to share it with a wider audience than it might ordinarily attract through all the ordinary channels, then you jump at the chance to listen to any musician who takes the initiative to reach out to you and ask you to express your thoughts on their music.
Connecticut-born, Minnesota-raised, Houston-based musician Aaron Kaufman is one of those musicians who reached out to raise his voice above the overwhelming clamor, and he’s an example of how cluttered the local musical landscape can be. When someone who lives, breathes, and writes about music, predominantly local music, is first introduced to a musician who already has a discography two albums and two EPs deep, only because that musician introduced himself, then there is a problem with how the music scene is represented by the music industry and presented to the music listening community. If it takes proactive musicians and the sympathetic ear of journalists to get the music to the people who crave music beyond what commercial radio and the mainstream press guardedly ration out to the public, then that’s the way it will have to be. Get busy local musicians and interact with local music journalists and share your craft, but only if you’re serious about making music and contributing to the local artistic and creative culture of Houston and its surrounding communities. However, if your ultimate goal is to be the next Beyoncé or ZZ Top as a means to getting the hell out of town and becoming the next rigidly marketed, carefully sanitized sensation whose hometown origin is reduced to a six word Wikipedia blurb, then you’re probably singing up the wrong tree. You could always just try to jump over the barricades onto the metaphorical red carpet and storm the door to the show and see how far that gets you, or you can reexamine and reassess your musical motivations. Music journalists, you play a role in this too. Be receptive to artists who contact you and be honest, decent, and kind to musicians, regardless of where they fall on the music business food chain, or whether or not their music personally appeals to you. You already know this if your main motivation for writing about music is your love of the music, unhindered by genre or generation, and sharing that music with the public. However, if your goal is to be the next David Fricke, then you’re probably scribbling up the wrong tree, and you may need to reexamine and reassess your journalistic ethics and trajectory. Whether you are on the stage or in the audience, the primary focus should always be the music, because it has the power, even at the local level to chronicle, reflect, shape, and change your world.
Aaron Kaufman is quite familiar with music’s power to change the world. After graduating from college, Kaufman was an intern in Houston with the non-profit organization Purple Songs Can Fly, a songwriting program that works with the Arts in Medicine program at Texas Children’s Hospital in the Cancer Center to provide a musical outlet for many of the children being treated for cancer and blood disorders at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers. It was there he wrote and recorded songs with young cancer patients and their siblings in order to provide the kids with a creative, musical environment to express their thoughts and feelings. Kaufman still works with Purple Songs Can Fly on a contract basis. In addition, he currently works for the local non-profit organization Music Doing Good, which performs music outreach for at risk students in Houston. Music Doing Good brings the gift of music and all of its benefits to children who otherwise wouldn’t have access to music programs.
When he’s not altruistically playing his talent for music forward for those in need, Kaufman is writing and producing his own music. He recently released the first single “I Feel a Light” from his latest upcoming EP. “I Feel a Light” is an emotionally charged, acoustic tune about unrequited love and the inevitable precariousness of relationships that require constant, lasting, and shared sensibilities, motivations, and ultimate goals in order to make them work. As the song suggests, this can be an almost impossible endeavor considering we all start from a different place, and have diverse and fluid destinations in mind that don’t always synchronize despite the amount of love and dedication you bring into a relationship. The music video for “I Feel a Light” adds a tangible dimension to this common emotional impasse, as an anguished and pensive Kaufman performs the song in a steady, tear-like drizzle of muted colors, contrasting shadows, and coordinated chimes, carefully edited and choreographed in rhythmic jump cuts that capture the breadth of emotions and the toll such disproportionate relationships can take on your psyche. However, as the song title implies, as much as the end of a relationship can hurt, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Even if in retrospect, you second guess and belittle yourself for not seeing the warning signs of the impending demise of what you thought you were building with another person, the salvageable, good memories of that relationship remain part of you. They shine a light on the darkness and emotional turmoil enveloping you, and give you the desire to pick up the pieces, learn from them, and move on. “I Feel a Light” reassures you that music can change your world. To watch the “I Feel a Light” music video in its entirety, click on the play button on the video above. For more information about Aaron Kaufman and his music and upcoming shows, you can visit his website and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and You Tube.
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