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Dallas Music Finally Getting National Attention

Doug Burr gained national attention in Paste.
Brian Harkin

Spend enough time with creative types—especially musicians—and you start to get a sense of how important outside feedback, either positive or negative, is to these folks.

It's a simple matter of pride and self-doubt. These people are filled with both. Guess that comes with the territory when you're putting your innermost thoughts to song and releasing it for all to hear.

So it's no surprise, then, that it cuts our local set so deeply that, on a national level—hell, even on a state level—Austin gets lavished with all sorts of praise as a hub for musicians, and Dallas gets mentioned, mostly, for its love of all things material, shiny and new.

What is, however, a tad surprising in the early goings-on of 2008 is how much recognition Dallas has been receiving. It's certainly not Austin-level hype, but just two months into the year, the national music media has indeed been paying pretty close attention to Dallas. There was the two-page spread on Dallas in the back of Spin's January issue penned by former Dallas Observer music editor Zac Crain; there was local battle rapper Kris Misfit's Top 10 spot in an online Vibe magazine music video competition; there was Harp's inclusion of the Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller's take on the Pixies' "Where is My Mind?" on its February compilation disc; and there was Paste magazine's placement of local folk singer Doug Burr within both the confines of its February compilation CD (with the song "Thing About Trouble") and its pages (Burr was named in one of the magazine's monthly "4 to Watch" musician features).

Hardly a bad way to kick off the year.

But was it coincidence? A matter of the national media finally picking up on something our locals have known for so long? Or was it that the local supporters of these artists were finally knocking down the right doors?

Depends whom you ask, really. Crain, for instance, who has contributed to Spin in the past, had no hand in suggesting his piece run in the magazine.

"They solicited it," he says. "[They] just kind of contacted me out of the blue."

Crain wasn't necessarily surprised—the " Rock City" feature is a staple of Spin's final pages each month—so he simply assumed it was just Dallas' turn. "In the past, as far as I can tell, they've done a pretty good job of throwing a little shine on Dallas."

It's the other coverage that has Crain and others in the local community scratching their heads. "It might be a coincidence," Crain says. "But I think the music scene here has been ready for some exposure."

That's where Paste's mentions of Burr come into play. And, actually, that story goes back a few years.

Before Paste started as a magazine, it existed as an online record store of sorts, asking musicians to submit their music for sale on the company's Web site, pastemusic.com (now pastestore.com). Burr was an early adopter, submitting his 2004 release, The Sickle & The Sheaves for sale on the site. Doing so inadvertently put him on the upstart magazine's editorial department's radar. And when Burr released last year's On Promenade, the magazine was eager to help promote it. It took some time for them to do so—about four months—but Burr's seen some dividends from the coverage he's received.

"The biggest thing I've noticed is a spike in my MySpace page," Burr says. He had previously been getting 80 or so page views a day, but the weeks following the Paste nod had his numbers checking in at closer to 200 a day. His record sales have also increased somewhat—although, Burr jokes, not by enough to help him quit his day job. (Burr notes that an article that ran around the same time in The Dallas Morning News probably also helped.)

Still, Burr's plenty thankful for the Paste love. "There are just a few entities that have the power to support little nobodies like me, and Paste is one of them."

Paste deputy editor Jason Killingsworth offers Burr plenty of that. "I'm a big Doug Burr fan," he says. "His newest record, On Promenade, is really a masterpiece of a record." (He's right; it is.) But Killingsworth isn't ready to stop there, likening Burr to artists such as Bonnie Prince Billy and Johnny Cash, artists who have an ability to sing stories with a sense of both heartbreak and sweetness. "I listen to a lot of music. We get 30 CDs a day in the office, and when you hear something good, it's so refreshing."

Killingsworth is quick to credit Denton freelancer Dave Sims, a frequent contributor to his magazine's pages, for turning him on to Burr and to other Dallas/Denton/Fort Worth artists. "There's a host of talent there that's bubbling over," Killingsworth says. And though his own personal affiliation with it comes through Sims, Killingsworth hardly thinks that the scene's recent props are flukes.

"No," he says, "I don't think it's a coincidence at all. Everyone points to Seattle in the '90s. And here, in Atlanta, where we're based, we can sense something happening here with hip-hop and bands like the Black Lips. Dallas is one of those cities that's having a similar perfect storm."

Killingsworth points to "a host of factors." Mainly, he seems to credit the Internet for making an artist's location less important when it comes to getting noticed. He points to Burr as an example. And he says that Burr's not the only one that he and the fellow tastemakers at his indie music mag have come to notice.

But when he's asked for other specific artists he's been surprised about from the Dallas area, Killingsworth balks, choosing to instead praise the entire region—and Denton in particular. "I keep hearing great Denton bands and great Dallas bands," he says. "At this point, it's like, 'of course.' That's an area where things are definitely happening."

At a rag that aims to clue music fans into all things interesting across the country and beyond, it's tough to tell if Killingsworth was truly drawing a blank, or if he was just posturing for good local press, as so many in his position are prone to do when called out by local media. Still, his words were more than supportive. And though he's adamant that something is indeed happening here, it's tough to tell whether the amount of coverage the town has seen of late is truly indicative of that—or if it's just a perfect storm of coincidence, as Crain believes.

"You see that a lot in the publishing world," Crain says. "People come up with a lot of the same ideas around the same time."

Nonetheless, that national support is a step in the right direction for Dallas music. You know, something the local set can proudly hang its hat upon.

Burr, although pleased with the coverage he's received, is skeptical of how much longer he can count on the fruits of his mention in Paste. He sums it up best: "Well, I don't see how it can hurt," he says with a familiar mix of self-satisfaction and self-doubt.


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