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#InConversationWith Keyton - Being part of the Music Cities Convention’s Local Musician Programme

Keyton Music

One of the most important things about bringing the Music Cities Convention to a city is to ensure that it leaves a long-term impact on the local community. 

Besides gathering music advocates from all parts of the world to discuss the latest music cities topics, one of our main concerns is that it helps to jump-start projects and career paths for those people who care about using music to make their city better.

To help in this process, for the past couple of years we've been hosting a “Local Musician Free Ticket Programme” whenever we put on a Music Cities Convention. The way it works is that we allocate a certain amount of tickets to be given to local musicians for free. It’s something very simple that makes a big difference.

Last year, we got great feedback from the programme that we hosted for the Huntsville Music Cities Convention, so we decided to go back and interview one of its participants, to get more insights on his experience being part of the Music Cities Convention’s Local Musician Programme

Keyton, is an indie musician from North Alabama that is part of Huntsville’s growing music ecosystem. He is a well seasoned musician that has spent more than 15 years playing on different kind of bands while developing his own solo career drawing influence from melodic rock reminiscent of early 2000's emo.

In this interview, he shares some eye opening info about Huntsville's music history, how his music intertwines with it and how is it to be a musician in a city with such an exciting music advocacy path.

Hi Keyton, thanks for doing this interview with us, we were very excited to hear that you had a great experience at the Huntsville Music Tourism Convention.

To begin, could introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your musical background?

I was born and raised in North Alabama. I live a few minutes outside Huntsville and primarily write/record original music under the one-name moniker “Keyton”. Though my music draws influence from melodic rock reminiscent of early 2000’s emo, I have performed with many groups through the years, ranging from a 7-piece soul act to full-fledged pop punk bands. I have written and released over 40 songs and spent years booking and playing several independent tours around the southeast (most notably 2008-2012). As a solo acoustic artist, I have opened for various members of Taking Back Sunday, Say Anything, Alkaline Trio, The Get Up Kids, Bayside, MXPX, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and The Ataris. 

Huntsville has a vibrant music scene. Can you talk about the importance of music for the city and how it contributes to its cultural identity and lifestyle?

Music has long been a mainstay (arguably, longer than that of science and technology) for Huntsville. The musical heritage runs deep in this area, and the infusion of roots, rhythm, and rock are undeniable. “Father of the Blues” W.C. Handy, was the band director at Alabama A&M in the late 1800s. Even in the 1930’s, world-renowned jazz fusion pioneer Sun Ra, studied music at Huntsville’s Alabama A&M University. Little Richard lived here in the late 1950’s, and his final resting place is actually in Huntsville’s Oakwood Gardens. In the 1960’s, our city appeared on Dick Clark’s musical radar, and his show Where the Action Is filmed a segment in Huntsville. Situated in a prime location around Nashville, Atlanta, and Memphis, several musical heavyweights actually have loose connections to Huntsville, from Prince to Elvis, Ray Charles to James Brown. More recent Huntsville musical gems are Mervyn Warren, a five-time Grammy winner and 10-time Grammy nominee. Our city is also proud to have Huntsville-based producer/songwriter Kelvin Wooten, who in addition to producing artists as diverse as H.E.R. and Eric Clapton, also is the recipient of a Grammy Award. Needless to say, the city’s long-running musical heritage serves as a pivotal part of our community -not just from a historical perspective but also serving as a backbone to build upon and emphasize for the newer generations.

Music Heritage and Scene in Huntsville

How would you place your music into the context of the Huntsville music scene?

Huntsville is an amazing town. The city has an enormous infrastructure built around industry (primarily aerospace and defense) and features more than 1.2 million residents in the Huntsville metropolitan area. This is important to note from a music perspective because although there is a hub of educated professionals seeking progress, grassroots, and rural spirit still reverberate throughout the social contexts of Huntsville. On any given day, you might drive past a Saturn V rocket or see a tractor driving down the road. It’s really interesting.

This duality is something of a contrast I have tried to capture in a few of my songs, two of which I’ve listed below.

This song is a passionate, angst-ridden meditation on the end of a relationship. 'Moving Forward Towards the End' really exemplifies emo's enduring appeal. With contributions from members of Atom Willard (Alkaline Trio), bassist from The Raconteurs (Jack Lawrence), and Canadian Singer-Songwriter Billy the Kid, it blends vintage punk styles with modern aesthetic, depicting raw, unresolved feelings of betrayal. It’s perfect for the growing alternative subculture of Huntsville.

This next track blends folky-indie with emo and tinges of Americana, evoking genre-crossing acts like Pinegrove and Phoebe Bridgers. On ‘Sunday,’ I lament the confines of Alabama, longing for an escape from the previous generation’s outdated lifestyles and attitudes. With diary-like lyrics and a soothing vocal melody, it captures the hopes and frustrations with small towns across America. 

How would you describe being a musician in Huntsville? Are there enough opportunities to play live? Is there enough music business infrastructure to sustain a full-time music career in the city?

Being a musician in Huntsville offers a mixture of experiences. If you’d like to play bar gigs during the week, concerts in Big Spring Park during a weekend day, and a headline show at a mid-tier venue, there are several opportunities to do so. There are also quite a few smaller venues such as houses that host shows, coffee shops, breweries and the like that have live music offerings. We are fortunate to have a supportive community of musicians and music lovers alike, and there are always openings for a variety of genres. There’s also an assortment of open mic events around the city on any given night, so there’s plenty of opportunity for newer artists to showcase music, as well. Since Huntsville is a budding music city, I can realistically say that one would have a good chance of pursuing a full-time music career in Huntsville if also oriented in a sub role that supports the infrastructure. I know of several people that teach music lessons during the day and write/record/perform when they are not working their “day job.” Roles that foster our community are just as vital as performance. Both are important, but different parts of the music ecosystem.

Do you have any other occupation besides doing music? How do you balance and integrate it with your career in music?

I’ve worked as a safety professional in the aerospace industry for over 10 years. This is a really cool field and I work with some brilliant people, but sometimes it can be stressful. I pretty much have to turn that part of my brain off when I leave work - haha. The late nights of music can be a little difficult when I have to be at work at 7:30 the next morning, but it’s worth it. I just have to be careful to not burn the candle at both ends too much. Nights and weekends are definitely dedicated to writing, recording, performing, and socializing with other artists. This has always been the case for me, even when I was working as a server or retail cashier. The big difference now is knowing yourself and knowing that it's easy to get burned out, so above all, mental health/bandwidth takes priority.

How do you feel about the efforts the government is making for supporting the music ecosystem in Huntsville? Have you seen any changes in Huntsville since the City started working on the Music Audit in 2018? 

The music audit really showed enthusiasm and support for the scene. A city going out of their way to intentionally foster music scene growth is a feat in itself. Since then, several initiatives have been enacted, from the establishment of an official music office, a city music board, quarterly sponsored music meetups, to the founding of an annual Huntsville Music Month in September, the difference from 5 years ago is simply day and night. I can only imagine what the future holds. Since COVID really messed things up for live music, the city went to work once things opened back up, and revitalization efforts were emphasized more than ever. Many new music venues and festivals, both small and large, have sprouted in the past 5-6 years. Innovation has been rampant, as well. The Huntsville Madison Public Library created an innovative digital database for tracks by local musicians, and a new program has even been implemented with emphasis on city sponsorship of local touring musicians, called the Music Ambassador Program. The scene just keeps growing and growing, and I’m here for it!

Speaking of the Music Cities Convention, can you share your experience attending the convention as part of the local musician program?

The Music Cities Convention is a must for any music industry professional serious about growing their craft and cultivating their scene. At this conference, there were so many opportunities to network and learn from people across the globe. I can almost guarantee you will meet one person who has “been where you are” professionally, and can offer advice. This sort of opportunity is invaluable, and Music Cities brings it right to your doorstep. Prior to attending, I did a little bit of research on what to expect, and fortunately, Music Cities has a great online presence, so I was able to find itineraries, photos of past events, and testimonials from others stating how valuable the experience is. 

My Experience At The Music Cities Convention

How did you find out about the Huntsville Music Cities Convention?

The Huntsville Music Office does a spectacular job at communicating information via social media, email newsletter, in-person promotion and any other means necessary. That said, I found out about the convention the music office. Hats off to them for staying so active and supporting our music scene growth! Honestly if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have seen this kind of progress in the past 5 years. Once I saw their post, I immediately followed Music Cities and a few others. After that, I was fully “plugged in.”

What where the things that you liked the most about the event? How do you think events like the Music Cities Convention benefit both individual musicians and the Huntsville music community as a whole?

Music Cities did a spectacular job fostering a learning atmosphere full of round table discussions and expert talks from people around the world. I met so many amazing people from all over. It’s important that events like these are accessible for everyone, so Music Cities and Huntsville did a great job at offering attendance opportunities. The presentations were the highlight for me. Topics ranged from advocacy, music & economic development, social strategy, and more. It was an amazing, well-rounded music business experience. 

After being part of the Music Cities Convention, are you getting involved in any new projects that involve any sort of music advocacy activities?

Since the conference, I have become affiliated with LoudHouse, a boutique co-op creative agency that blends the world of music with a strong commitment to social change. This company holds fast to the belief that music has the power to unite people, raise awareness, and inspire action. LoudHouse incorporates artist development, brand building, and social impact programs to create an inclusive approach to entertainment and live event services. We were recently able to host a fundraiser for the Carnegie Visual Arts Center at Lipz Lounge, and it was an amazing experience. There’s nothing better than putting in work to benefit the arts.

Carnegie Visual Arts Center

We hope you enjoyed learning more about the impact the Music Cities Convention can have in local music ecosystems and discovering Keyton’s music. Make sure to follow his at his official page. 

If you’re looking for ways to strengthen your local music ecosystem and turn your city to a Music City, we invite you to sign up to our Music Cities Community or to write to to inquire about hosting one of our events.

Do you want to keep up to date with everything related to Music Cities Events and Music Cities topics? Then we invite you to also subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

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