Rough Mix Issue #23: Blood, sweat, and songwriters


The Low Anthem, “Blood and Altar”

I don’t know much about Providence, RI’s The Low Anthem—I encountered them on a Paste Magazine sampler cd (remember those?) more than a decade ago, and downloaded a couple of their albums. The other day, though, I stumbled across this 2011 recording of “Blood and Altar,” and it honestly gave me chills—it’s a hauntingly beautiful song.


The Working Songwriter

I first discovered that singer-songwriter Joe Pug had a podcast when he interviewed my college classmate Josh Ritter some years back, and it has turned into one of my regular must-listens. It might be a little “inside baseball” if you’re not a songwriter yourself, but chances are you’ll learn a lot about the craft from the series of luminaries Pug has accumulated in his catalog.


“Prayers for Richard” by David Ramsey, Oxford American

I found out about this 2015 piece on the infamous Little Richard, who died earlier this month, through Aquarium Drunkard‘s newsletter. It is everything the best music writing should be—lyrical, personal but damn near universal, and cognizant of a legend’s cultural impact without being overly reverent. If you have any interest in the roots of rock and roll, this is a must-read.

Rough Mix Issue #22: The Wild Onion


Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, “Sunday Candy”

This week’s newsletter turns out to be a bit of a love letter to my adopted hometown of Chicago, and this sweet little confection from Chance the Rapper and his collective of collaborators (including a killer hook sung by Jamila Woods) is a great place to start.


South Side Stories, “Arthur”

“South Side Stories” is a collaboration between Chicago’s WBEZ and the creators of the Comedy Central show, South Side. In this episode, we meet pretty amazing character. Arthur Dubois is a retired 72-year-old with a brand-new career aspiration: to become a big-time trap producer.


“Chicago’s Hidden Indie Rock Archive” by Monica Eng, WBEZ

I wasn’t in Chicago for the glory days of its alternative rock scene, but Adam Jacobs (who became known as “The Taping Guy”) was, and he has 10,000 live recordings to prove it. In a time where many of us are wondering what the future of live music venues are going to be, this is a truly fascinating glimpse into their past.

Rough Mix Issue #21: Swing Training


Casey Bill Weldon, “Guitar Swing”

I’m guessing we could all use a pick-me-up these days, and there’s no way this little ditty by early slide guitar master Casey Bill Weldon won’t have you tapping your foot or dancing around your kitchen. Fun fact: Weldon was married (at different times) to both the legendary Memphis Minnie and Geeshie Wiley, whose own mysterious recording was covered in a New York Times article I featured back in the fourth issue of this newsletter.


Radiolab, “Songs that Cross Borders”

Country music, for better or for worse, is often thought of as one of the most American of musical genres. However, in this episode of Radiolab, you’ll hear how incredibly appealing it seems to be to people in places from the Caribbean to Zimbabwe to Thailand… and why. Plus, follow along on reporter Gregory Warner’s Afghan accordion adventures.


“Ten Train Songs That Tell the Story of the South” by Scott Huffard, Bitter Southerner

Being stuck in the house all the time must have me thinking about traveling, and there aren’t many modes of conveyance that get more attention from songwriters than the locomotive. In this piece, a student of the American South’s relationship with the train puts together a playlist that tries to “imagine a new canon of Southern train songs that cut through the stereotypes of the romanticized Dixie and the sanitized music of modern country,” from Bessie Smith to R.E.M.

Rough Mix is a newsletter about all things audio curated by Aaron Rester and brought to you by Beartrap Spring Records. Every other week, I highlight great music, articles, podcasts and more that I think are worth sharing and spending some time with. You can subscribe, or if you have a suggestion for something to share, please email, or connect with Beartrap Spring on Facebook or Twitter. Music highlighted in these emails is available on our Spotify playlist.

Rough Mix Issue #18: Some welcome distractions


Adia Victoria, “Different Kind of Love”

I keep seeing Nashville-based singer-songwriter Adia Victoria’s style being described as “gothic blues,” which hits all the right buttons for me. This tune in particular, with its swampy snares and shivering lead guitar, is right in my sonic wheelhouse.


“Imaginary Worlds,” on Audio Dramas

In a time of global freakout, escaping into a world outside of our own is a tempting thought. Eric Molinksy’s fascinating podcast about why we create imaginary worlds “and why we suspend our disbelief” mostly explores science fiction and fantasy films, novels, and other artifacts. In episodes 101 and 102, he explores the radio history and the podcast-era resurgence of audio dramas—how they’re produced, and why they’re so compelling.


“The True Story Of The Fake Zombies, The Strangest Con In Rock History” –  Daniel Ralston, Buzzfeed

Ah, the ’60s. Back when no one knew what bands actually looked like, and all it took was adding some quotation marks for unscrupulous promoters to semi-legally run impostor acts—including future members of ZZ Top!—out on the road to capitalize on a mysterious British band’s hit single. This Buzzfeed article lays out the whole weird story.

Rough Mix is a newsletter about all things audio curated by Aaron Rester and brought to you by Beartrap Spring Records. Every other week, I highlight great music, articles, podcasts and more that I think are worth sharing and spending some time with. Have a suggestion for something to share? Email, or connect with Beartrap Spring on Facebook or Twitter. Music highlighted in these emails is available on our Spotify playlist.

Should You Start a Podcast? Some Stats

I handcoded my first podcast RSS feed roughly a decade ago (I don’t remember exactly when we started it, but that podcast, of events in the University of Chicago’s World Beyond the Headlines series, was named one of Wired magazine’s favorite education podcasts back in 2006). Since then, podcasting as a medium has had its ups and downs, but with the runaway success of NPR’s “Serial” last year, it certainly seems to be on an upswing. I’ve been digging around for some numbers about podcasting both for an upcoming conference presentation and to determine whether it makes sense for my current institution to jump on the bandwagon, and thought I’d share them here:

  • Overall, according to the New York Times, podcast consumption “is up 25 percent year-over-year.”
  • According to Edison Research, as of February 2015, 33% of Americans over 12 had listened to some form of podcast, with 17% (some 46 million people) having listened to a podcast in the previous month and 10% (27 million) in the previous week.
  • People who already have a college degree are more likely to listen (perhaps providing a great opportunity to reach potential grad students), but the numbers still break down to 24% (ever) / 11% (in the past month) / and 6% (in the past week) for those without a degree (ibid).
  • As of 2012 (the latest for which I could find age-related numbers) listeners between 12-24 were the largest single audience for podcasts, making up 26% of the audience, with those 24-35 close behind at 24%.
  • Edison Research also estimates that nearly 2% of total time spent listening to audio is devoted to podcast listening, and those who do listen to podcasts listen to an average of 6 per week.
  • Pew just posted some podcast-related numbers as well; they put the number of podcast downloads for 2014 at 2.6 billion (up from 1.9 billion in 2013), and the number of actively hosted podcasts in 2014 at 22,000 (up from 16,000 the year before).
  • Worldwide, Apple says that there are over 1 billion podcast subscriptions in its store.

Clearly, the podcast is a still-growing medium. However, the great part about such audio content is that “the podcast” in and of itself is but one of many channels for distribution. Whether you’ve subscribed to their podcasts or not, chances are you’ve listened to something on, for example, NPR’s website that was *also* distributed as a podcast. Likewise, your audio content could simultaneously live and be discoverable on its own in a Soundcloud channel (as videos are on YouTube), AND be embeddable in your news stories, blog posts, or other online content, meaning that folks who wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to download a podcast are still able to encounter and engage with our content. And of course, all of this is easily trackable, so you can know if people are interacting with your content or not.

In Which I Land on Boagworld

This past week’s episode of Boagworld featured yours truly doing an audio version of my review of (originally featured here). Boagworld is the only web design podcast I listen to religiously and I’ve highly recommended it before; aside from being quite informative, the hosts, Paul and Marcus, are very entertaining and exceedingly funny… maybe it’s the British accents? It’s a pleasure to be associated with such a great resource for the web design community.

Presentations: Podcasting & New Media

Late last year, along with Renee Basick, the Interim Director of the Chicago Media Iniatives Group, I did a couple of presentations on podcasting and new media. The first, entitled “An Introduction to Podcasting,” was presented in November to a group of University of Chicago IT folks as part of the University’s “Get IT Together” initiative. The presentation was (gulp) video-recorded, and you can watch it below. In it, Renee and I address the logistical and technological issues surrounding starting a podcasting initiative in a higher education environment, using my experience in starting the CHIASMOS program as a case study. The advance publicity for this presentation may be the first and only time anyone has ever referred to me as an expert in anything.

The second presentation, “Embracing Web 2.0 and New Media Communications,” which was an expanded version of the presentation in November, was presented at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education District V’s annual conference in December. While this one wasn’t recorded, you can check out our slideshow below. If you download the prsentation, you can also read our notes that went along with it (which will make a lot more sense than just looking at the slides).

Designing With Your Ears

On a recent episode of Design Matters, Petrula Vrontikis said something that, well, made my ears perk up. When host Debbie Millman asked whether she preferred working by hand or working on the computer, Ms. Vrontikis responded that she works “mostly… with [her] ears.” Listening, she reminds us, is the root of design work — listening to what your client says, and translating that into a piece of visual work, is what good designers do.

Of course, what your client says and what they think they want may be two very different things, but we’ll leave that for another day.