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Hear Nebraska spreads word about local music, involves tech community

On its website, Hear Nebraska showcases local music through video, audio, photos and articles, and provides resources for artists and listeners, such as a directory of Nebraska bands.

Andrew Norman, editor-in-chief of Hear Nebraska, doesn’t want the rest of the state to grow up like he did: knowing nothing about the plethora of music being created all over Nebraska. The small town of Imperial, Neb., had the Internet when he was growing up, “but not at my house,” Norman (far left) said. “So I listened to what everyone else listened to. The music from the coasts.”

But with the help of friends, he got into punk rock, which evolved into discovering less mainstream music, which led to an appreciation of local musicians, which eventually brought him to the creation of Hear Nebraska. A journalist by education and trade, Norman developed the music news site that would become Hear Nebraska as part of his master’s project at Michigan State. “People knew about Saddle Creek, but nobody knew about the great bands in Lincoln and the smaller towns in Nebraska,” Norman said. He wanted one place where people could go to find everything about Nebraska music.

An online music magazine maintained by about 40 volunteer writers and directed by Norman and his wife Angie (above, near left), Hear Nebraska is now a year old and Norman, 32, is wiser for it. “Originally, I thought I’d make enough with advertisers to just get by,” he said. “I never wanted to get rich with the site, I just wanted it to make enough to pay for itself.” But journalists aren’t necessarily ad salesmen, and Norman quickly realized that even with a goal of just sustaining, ads on the site would be too stressful. “It’s a site about local musicians, independent artists,” he explained. “These are people who care deeply about the statements they’re making, the ideas they’re associated with.”

Fortunately for Norman, Christopher Kingsley, CEO of Roundscapes, offered a timely suggestion. “Do a nonprofit.”

So now at the helm of an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization headed into its second year, Norman has to change hats yet again and embrace the role of nonprofit fundraiser. “Our first year, our focus was on trying to produce content, getting good material out there,” he said. One might say they managed. Hear Nebraska has more than 750 original posts to its credit for 2011, a compilation CD called Hear Nebraska Vol. 1 that was all locally produced (and with the exception of the printing, all volunteered), and a video tour, produced by Love Drunk, of 15 bands in 13 cities in 15 days.

In its first year, Hear Nebraska published more than 750 original music stories, including videos, audio interviews, photos essays, previews and reviews.

Year two for Hear Nebraska holds some of the same: another video tour, this time on the east coast; another compilation album, this time in vinyl; a second Nebraska Music Retreat; and the organization’s second year covering South by Southwest Interactive. But Norman’s new role as chief fundraiser means 2012 will get its own flare. Avid followers of Hear Nebraska may have noticed Tuesday’s featured post about “an intimate dinner/performance/fundraiser” with Simon Joyner and Isa Moskowitz. Twenty tickets are on sale for this March 25 evening with a Nebraska music legend and a local vegan chef.

A new year means a new look too. Hear Nebraska will soon be undergoing a redesign, which will involve an RSS feed and a general streamlining of the site. “You’re really looking at 1.0 right now,” Norman said. Fortunately, Hear Nebraska has connections. Ian Hewlett, the volunteer programmer for the redesign, is a developer at Michigan State’s National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory as well as a fellow music lover. iSoft Data Systems in Lincoln has been hosting the site for free since November. “They are huge supporters,” Norman said. “It used to be our only existing overhead.”

Used to be? Meet yet another addition of 2012: Managing editor Michael Todd is Hear Nebraska’s first paid employee. “Last year, we were running on bare bones, both for time and funding,” Norman said. “I was assigning, editing, managing. I have to step away from those and concentrate on fundraising.” In February, it was clear that a new hire was necessary and Todd, an intern with Hear Nebraska, more than fit the bill.

To reach the organization’s fundraising goal of $25,000 this year, Norman has put his training to good use. “As a journalist, I know how to find information, so I can do this,” he said. “But it’s awkward asking for money.” Advice from local entrepreneurs like Rachel Jacobson of Film Streams keeps him moving forward. “Our goal is to be a major cultural institution in the state with a stable foundation,” Norman said. “We want to influence how the rest of the country views Nebraska.”

Here’s a promotional video recently released by Hear Nebraska providing an overview of its work and background.


Credits: Screenshot from hearnebraska.com. Photos courtesy of Andrew Norman. Video from Hear Nebraska on Vimeo.

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