Music blogger Ryan Spaulding takes to the airwaves
In 2006, Ryan Spaulding bought a new computer with the idea of starting a blog dedicated to Boston’s vibrant music scene. He gave it a name that seemed to counter the humdrum nature of his day job at a medical-device company in the suburbs. He called his music blog Ryan’s Smashing Life.
Spaulding couldn’t foresee that six years later his life is finally living up to that title. Last Sunday Spaulding took his online clout to the airwaves with the premiere of a new TV show on myTV38 , a local affiliate owned by CBS.
“The Bubbler,” the first such program in New England hosted by a music blogger, is a valentine to the various independent artists making music across the region, from Americana acts (Girls Guns and Glory) to hard rock (Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling) to retro soul (Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents).
The show, filmed in 30-minute segments, will air Sundays at 11 p.m. for a total of eight consecutive weeks, with the possibility of being picked up for an additional run depending on its success.
“One of the things we want to do with this show is inspire people,” Spaulding says recently at his apartment in Malden. “I think what we’re offering people — both music fans in the know and people who are curious and on the outside looking in — is a very approachable series that will sate hunger for something like this, but it’ll also engage them.”
The conceit is simple: Spaulding and his crew film on location at storied venues such as the Middle East, Paradise Rock Club, Rosebud, and T.T. the Bear’s. Spaulding — who’s 36 and has a degree in journalism and once worked as a newspaper reporter — interviews bands and has them introduce one of their music videos, which the viewer then sees. Spaulding, who describes himself as “a music fan first, a journalist maybe second,” does both his blog and TV show out of his intense love for local music.
“The Bubbler” also shines a light on characters who are instrumental behind the scenes. Producer and label manager Ed Valauskas is interviewed about the history of Q Division, the fabled Somerville studio where James Taylor, Aimee Mann, and Morphine once recorded.
“Part of this is educating the reader and curating the experience of discovering music,” says Spaulding. “Part of what we’re doing is really important for Boston, but part of it is important for the rest of the world to know what we’re doing here in Boston.”
“I think we definitely need this,” says Naseem Khuri, the lead singer of the roots-rock band Kingsley Flood, who’s featured in an episode of “The Bubbler.” “There’s a huge scene, and there’s a ton of people who absolutely love music, and at the same time, it evolves very quickly. The fact that you can put a show on a TV channel that isn’t known for music, and the fact that you can tap into a group of people who wouldn’t normally know about these bands, I think that’s great.”
Jonathan Case, the show’s director and coproducer along with Spaulding, was responsible for bringing Spaulding on board.
“I really wanted a blogger to be the host, someone who was in the community and known among the musicians,” says Case. “To be honest, I chose the blog that I liked the best. I contacted Ryan, and he was willing to do it. Bloggers have become the new DJs, for better or worse.”
Case says “The Bubbler” was an easy fit for myTV38, particularly given the strong local angle.
“There’s nothing like it. I don’t know if it’s ever been tried here,” he says, adding that the show was partly inspired by a defunct New York TV program called “New York Noise.” “My aim is to open this world of the local music scene to people who wouldn’t go to Great Scott on a weeknight. The intent was to make it accessible to an audience that wouldn’t know who these bands are. I really worked hard at making it not exclusive.”
Case had never met Spaulding before working with him, and he was pleasantly surprised to learn Spaulding was a natural on camera, especially after his first physical impression of Spaulding.
“I thought he was going to fix the plumbing or something,” Case jokes. “But when we started filming, his enthusiasm and genuineness came through. He’s got a real authenticity that comes across, and his rapport with musicians is natural.”
Indeed, Spaulding is larger than life. Literally. At 6 feet 2 inches, with a beard and the occasional pair of glasses, his head bobs above most others at shows big and small. One week you’ll spot him in the VIP section at the Paradise, pumping his fists to Alabama Shakes, and then a few months later he’s mingling with the locals in a field at a music festival in Jamaica Plain.
He’s perpetually a man about town, to the point that you wonder how he maintains his blog, parties till last call, and then is back in the office the next morning.
“I’m convinced he’s a vampire,” Khuri says. “I know he has a day job, and yet he does the one thing other blogs can’t do: He sticks around and puts up new content all the time. He’s the most enthusiastic music lover and blogger I know.”
Spaulding, who grew up in Vermont and moved to Boston in 1998 for a job and a fresh start, prides himself on that reputation. The evidence is all over the apartment he shares with his sister. The walls of his living room are lined with all manner of Bob Dylan ephemera; above a door frame rest vinyl LPs of bands both local and national. On an adjoining wall is a framed photo of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy performing in Lowell.
Spaulding is perhaps the Boston music scene’s most restless salesman. His focus is on homegrown. The opening credits of “The Bubbler,” a rather New England term for a water fountain, feature a song by the Beatings, a local rock band. In one of the show’s more humorous segments, comedian Steve Macone conducts person-on-the-street interviews with concertgoers.
Much like the tone of his music blog (www.rslblog.com), “The Bubbler” is heavy on the hyperbole. Spaulding is a cheerleader for the bands he loves and eventually counts among his friends. A sample comment from one episode: “When I saw this live, I was blown away by your performance,” he tells a band. And then to another: “I think you’re the best at what you do regionally in New England.”
“If in any way we make life easier or more rewarding for any of the musicians here, or any of our readers or viewers? It’s totally mission accomplished,” says Spaulding.
His zeal and positive approach – you’d be hard pressed to find an unkind word on Ryan’s Smashing Life — have earned Spaulding some high-profile fans. Adam Duritz, frontman of the Counting Crows, was reading his blog before he ever met Spaulding.
“He makes it easy to get to know the music, and he’s got great taste,” Duritz said in March at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, where he and Spaulding cohosted a day party called the Outlaw Roadshow, which featured 19 bands. “We were friends for two years before we actually met each other. We had this great interview, and then we stayed in touch to tell each other about music.”
According to Spaulding, the traffic for Ryan’s Smashing Life grew accordingly – from 10 people daily that first month in 2006 to 13,000 on a single day in 2008. He taught himself the mechanics of building a blog, and his ambitions got bigger as his profile expanded. In 2007, he started booking shows around town and quickly learned that the experience drew him closer to the musicians he championed.
“The Bubbler” feels like an extension of what he’s always done with the blog, but on a broader level. He’s no longer just a local music blogger; he’s a tastemaker.
“In the context of today, where people are pummeled every minute with new information,” Khuri says, “to have someone come along and say, ‘I’m excited about this and you should listen to it’ — that goes a long way.”