Being an independent music artist is not easy. Adversity lurks everywhere, and the cards are stacked against you. The desire to want to make a living playing music is not enough. You also must have singular talent, the drive to share it, the acumen to know how to navigate a complex business, and be a little lucky and blessed with timing to even be considered one of the privileged few who can make music their life occupation.
But it’s nice to have auspicious enclaves of support to help you upon your journey. For many years, a small nonprofit radio station based in Seattle called KEXP has been that very thing for bands traveling to or emanating from the Pacific Northwest. Similar to other radio station-produced video programs like WDVX’s Blue Plate Special in Knoxville, TN, KEXP’s in-studio video series has become an invaluable resource for independent music fans who want to get a live glimpse of their favorite artists, or discover who may become their next favorite, while bestowing an invaluable opportunity to the artists themselves.
KEXP’s now voluminous video archives don’t just cover country and roots music, or music exclusively from the Seattle area. In fact KEXP’s first ever live “podcast” for an in-studio performance was for the hip-hop trio Boom Bap Project on July 21st, 2005. The original goal was simply to create a video archive of an artist’s visit to the studio, and perhaps expand the reach of the radio station to video junkies.
Since then, a KEXP video set has become one of those few music institutions left in the United States that has the ability to truly launch the career of someone in the independent music space, if they make the most of it of course. If nothing else, it’s a big leap up in name recognition due to KEXP’s dedicated followers, fueled by the expert curation of the radio station’s staff, and the excellent work of the production crew. We’ve seen it time and time again for artists and bands that stop by the KEXP studios, and leave with a boost in fans. It’s part of what helped launch Sturgill Simpson during his ascent, and recently helped Sarah Shook during her trip through Seattle. But this is just the very start.
Helplessly voracious music nerds have known about KEXP for years, and not just the in-studio video sets, but all the things the station does that are often local in scope, but international in impact. But despite the success of the video series and the station in general, the financial situation for any nonprofit is tenuous at best, often dependent on public funding, and at times can be a month to month proposition. As the KEXP video episodes continued to become more popular, they felt the pressure to up the production quality, which they’ve done quite a bit over the years. But this comes with a cost.
But the good news is that a generous and anonymous soul has assured that the KEXP in-studio video series, as well as all the other day to day operations and ventures of KEXP will keep rolling for a very, very long time.
“KEXP is a community-centered nonprofit, and it’s always been powered by individuals who support it in any way they can. Making this gift was Suzanne’s way of helping to secure a bright future for KEXP’s mission to make lives better through music,” says KEXP Chief Content Officer Kevin Cole.
Who is Suzanne you ask? That is the only reference KEXP has given to an anonymous donor who bequeathed the radio station and incredible $10 million dollars. The donation was officially announced to the public earlier this week. It is believed to be one of the largest bequests to a single public radio station in history. “We intend to honor her legacy in every step we take in stewarding these funds. Suzanne’s love of music, her support for artists, her sense of philanthropy and service to the community, and the joy she found in exploration and discovery will live on in the programs and services that are made possible through this amazing and generous gift,” says KEXP’s Kevin Cole.
According to the radio station, the bulk of the funds will be placed in a long-term reserve and a board-directed strategic initiatives endowment as a backstop to their current donation revenue, and as seed money for future priorities and initiatives. Education programs for younger audiences, programming for emerging artists, media creation experiences for aspiring DJs and music journalists, and outreach activities in KEXP’s local communities are some of the things the money will be earmarked for.
But for those far flung from the physical reach of a small nonprofit radio station in Seattle still have plenty to benefit from. The studio sessions will keep coming, and the new music discovered and the artists supported through them will continue to be of vital importance to the music community.
Few if any take such a dedicated and passionate approach to supporting independent music as KEXP. Often fighting for the expansion of independent music is thankless, and cash strapped. It’s heartwarming to finally see the vital efforts of an organization such as KEXP so graciously rewarded.
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When you have time, feel free to get lost in KEXP videos. Here’s a start: