Casey Meehan has a mission: giving the Chicago music scene the respect and attention it is due. After moving to the city from Michigan, Meehan has become involved in, seemingly, every aspect of the industry: he works at Pieholden Studios, runs the label/online music distributor Rock Proper, DJed on WLUW, and is also a musician. His latest project, Chicago Mixtape, launched this past February, and has since gained so much momentum that he’s had to quit his day job as an online marketing consultant to devote himself full-time. He puts together a weekly playlist, made available free online, which is composed of songs by local bands playing that week.
Meehan originally conceived of this idea as a potential solution to some of the problems he saw with his label’s website. “The Rock Proper site was pretty successful considering the amount of traffic we get. You can go and download any album you want for free. There’s about thirty albums up there, some of my favorite Chicago albums,” Meehan says. “But it really wasn’t having a ton of impact on bands’ careers or show attendance, so I decided I really wanted to localize the audience and find a way to continuously provide a lot of good content.” At the same time, Meehan was continuously providing good content through another channel: Meehan’s weekly show on WLUW, called Radio One Chicago, consisted entirely of local music. “I was doing all this research and finding bands I really liked. I was making tons of spreadsheets, it sort of turned into this obsession,” Meehan says. “I thought, man, if I’m doing all this, my friends would probably be interested.” He built the site the night of the huge snowstorm—it consists of an animated explanation of the mixtape narrated by Meehan himself, as well as a sign-up box. “I put it on Facebook, and by the time I came home that night there were already fifty subscribers. I was pretty excited, and figured it could turn into something cool,” Meehan recalls. “But I never thought it would be this big.”
The site now has more than 5,000 subscribers, and has just begun what Meehan calls its “second phase,” “Unlock the Vault.” Because each week’s mixtape expires when the next one is released, newer subscribers often want access to the archives. By getting friends to sign up using a unique link, they can “unlock” the archives, one old playlist per new subscriber. “If you want to get the past mixtapes, you’ve got to get the word out.” There are plans for the website to expand with the audience. “I have tons of new ideas,” says Meehan. “I want to archive the bands, do a document of each mixtape, have a community engagement portion of the site where people can comment on things, perhaps a forum. Really, I’ve gotten some of my best ideas from the community itself. It’s been very cool to see this take on a life of its own; I’m just sort of the facilitator of that.”
One goal of Meehan’s is to increase exposure for Chicago bands on a larger scale—“We’ve almost put out 200 bands now, getting close, and what’s really cool is we have people in Beijing writing in saying how much they like some band that’s playing their second show at The Whistler.” When Meehan sifts through “thousands of Bandcamp pages and MySpaces” in research for both his playlists and his label, he says he looks for “music with integrity,” which he sees as particularly present in Chicago bands. “As far as large cities go, we’re the most blue collar, I think, the city of broad shoulders. I think that integrity really bleeds into the music, into the culture that we have. That’s something that I don’t think can be said about New York or L.A.”
The description of the show “Radio One Chicago” proclaims: “Some say that Chicago is cursed. Is it doomed to be overlooked due to its lack of oceanic coastal waters? I scoff at thee naysayers. Spend a month in Chicago and you will see firsthand that it is a cultural hotbed of activity that would put NY and LA to shame.” Though Meehan is not trying to “beat” those cities, he sees Chicago as a place where there is the potential for real connection between audience and artists. “There are microscenes here, too, but I think as far as art rock, punk rock, this very loosely defined community, it’s the right size that I think it could be a cohesive whole,” Meehan says. “We just need to get more people’s interest. Let’s try and spread the word and really build this thing into something massive, where these bands can actually go around the country and be somewhat known.”