Milwaukee Music in the Last 10 Years

Milwaukee Music in the Last 10 Years

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88Nine Radio Milwaukee

88Nine is celebrating 10 years on the radio waves and for good reason. As a proud advocate for local Milwaukee music and always up to date on the hit tracks before they explode, one wonders how they feel Milwaukee Music has changed in the last ten years. So, as one of the interns participating in their program this year, I decided to ask the staff a couple of questions about Milwaukee Music in the last 10 years.
The most important thing about Milwaukee Music are the artists that have stood out and made a following for themselves in the last 10 years. And who better to ask than the 88Nine staff themselves?

Sitting down with Music Director Justin Barney, we delved deep into what makes Milwaukee Music so unique and which local artists have stood out to him since he started working at 88Nine.

“For the last ten years, I feel that I can only speak to the last 5 years I’ve been in Milwaukee for that cause for the first 5 years of that I was in Madison where I was going to school. But I’ve lived in Milwaukee before that. Bands that have really stood out to me… Truly standing out is the whole New Age Narcissism Crew. Just as a concept of a bunch of independent artists working together, is just really incredible for the scene and incredible for them. How they help each other out and how they perform. They really feed off of each other and I think that’s a really great thing and they see the power in working together and it pays off in their live performances and in their recordings. They’re just a group that works incredibly well together. They’re incredibly fun to see, they bring something unique to each performance and they bring something unique out of each other and they truly work together as a team and I think that their audience sees that. I think that Milwaukee sees that and everybody that goes to their show realizes that and it makes their shows better.”



Local talent like New Age Narcissism is continuously thriving here in Milwaukee and is an example of how far the music scene has come in the last ten years and how far 88.9 Radio Milwaukee has come. Marketing & Promotions Manager Peter Adams, pointed out Milwaukee artist Fever Marlene for standing out to him in the last 10 years. Adams said of the band, “they had a super catchy electro-pop feel that was getting a good amount of national attention and a very good Milwaukee following and support from 88Nine, they actually played at our station launch party. And they were unique in that they were a 2-piece with a sound much larger and their album, ‘Civil War’ was one of my all-time favorite Milwaukee releases.” Fever Marlene is a great example of the powerful connection the 88Nine has to Milwaukee musicians and how that connection can help the local music industry flourish.


Doris Wessels, Traffic & Compliance Manager and Underwriting Assistant, had her own input about who stands out to her in the local scene because of “their positivity and energy”  is the band De La Buena because “it is impossible to see them perform and be in a bad mood.”  And while some staff members only responded with one or two artists that came to mind, others couldn’t help but have a multitude of great Milwaukee musicians.


Digital Content Coordinator Amelinda Burich made sure to cover her bases when looking at the past 10 years of Milwaukee music. Amelinda’s list starts with Webster X who’s “an artist who is performing and promoting himself well with a unique style, good music, and great production,” GGOOLLDD is a band that is “not afraid to entertain, [have accomplished reaching] a broader audience with their fun pop music,” and The Promise Ring who recently got back together in the past few years and to her are “one of the most influential bands to come out of Milwaukee with national recognition and a prominent standing in the 2nd wave of emo music.” And as an avid concert-goer and musician herself, Burich keeps her eye out for all the new artists that are emerging in the scene and about to make waves on the radio.

And of course, no input is complete without Chicago native and Program Director/Afternoon Host Ken Sumka who’s been at 88Nine for 4 years now and has been playing Milwaukee artists Paul Cebar, Willy Porter, and the BoDeans at non-Milwaukee stations before making the move and has taken further interests in artists such as Trapper Schoepp, the Rusty Ps, and Brett Newski. When we asked Ken what popular genres have emerged in the Milwaukee music scene in the last ten years he stressed that hip-hop has gotten the strongest.

This seemed to be the feeling across the board. As Amelinda Burich pointed out that hip-hop, the second wave of emo, and D.I.Y punk genres have had a great resurgence and recognition in the city. While commenting on this, Justin Barney stated that “the hip-hop scene right now is just on fire and I think that’s the response that you’ll get throughout. Everybody in the hip-hop scene is absolutely incredible right now. That’s not to say that the rock scene isn’t incredible, because the rock scene has always been incredible.” And with so great music coming out of Milwaukee, it is vital that there’s a platform for musicians to be heard and encouraged by local media as well. That’s where 88Nine has stepped in. As a station playing at least one Milwaukee artists song an hour and as Wessels points out “artists can actually succeed in getting something on the air now that Radio Milwaukee is around [as opposed to before when] local music was relegated to 1 hour late on Sunday nights, if it got airplay at all.” Radio Milwaukee takes the time to find new bands and do what they can to promote and encourage groups to keep reaching out to play on air.



But over the last ten years there’s been a lot of changes on how bands reach out to local radio stations to get their music on air. Sumka pointed out that “the internet plays a much bigger role [now]” and Burich stated that “the ease of recording on a laptop and sending emails has made it easier to contact radio, however, it also means people don’t understand how they should approach submitting music. [And at times] the production value can be a lot lower for an emerging artist if they don’t understand the need to use a professional to create well-produced, mixed and mastered songs for the radio.” And as technology evolves and the music industry has evolved so that there’s higher expectation from musicians. Peter Adams thinks that “the opportunity for a band to have their music in regular rotation has made them up their game and bands may be putting in a little more work and effort to make sure that the music they put out is of quality that would be considered for airplay on 88Nine.” So what is the the best approach to getting noticed by local radio stations?


The big scoop comes from Justin Barney who is always making an effort to find new local artists to play on the station. He says, “I have a lot of people that email me but my favorite strategy is just being in the scene and hearing people and just kind of like being/seeing something that is undeniable and being like ‘I wanna do that’. So, I like my own self discovery of these things and the real impressive musicians, their work speaks for themselves.” These impressive local musicians are going out and doing just that, playing local gigs and packing clubs more than out of state groups traveling through are and have no desire to stop pushing forward.

Milwaukee Music is continuously growing and ever evolving which is why it’s apart of 88Nine’s Music in our Veins. And this celebration of local music is a celebration of the last 10 years of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee as the station has become a staple in this city and it’s “our mission to reach people that don’t know great music is happening here and tell them that it’s and to grow it by the audience” stated Barney. And in the words of Ken Sumka, Milwaukee music, “it keeps getting better.”

Interview and editing assistance from Mitchell Kreitzman.