Monday, September 8, 2008

Interview with Brian of Silber Records about QRD Radio Music Director Issue

Being the college radio geek that I am, I was thrilled to have just found a treasure-trove of college radio morsels in the April 2008 edition of music 'zine QRD. The editor, Silber Records' Brian John Mitchell, did an entire issue focused on interviews with radio music directors.

I'm going to do a series of posts highlighting his fine interviews since it's a great opportunity to explore 9 different stations and learn about issues facing college radio today.

I also had a conversation with Brian over email about what he learned from the project and his thoughts about the state of college radio:

Spinning Indie: How did you select the station MDs to profile? Did you already have relationships with them through the label?

QRD: I had sent a general email out to the hundred or so American radio stations that I normally service & get airplay with for the Silber Records catalog. One of the things that makes Silber a little different than other indies is that I do all the promo work myself & do in fact try to build personal relationships with the music directors. Over the years there have been several music directors that I’ve had friendships with & stayed in touch with for a while when they went to other employment.

Spinning Indie: How many MDs did you contact?

QRD: I’d guess around 100. There were a few who were supposed to do it & ran out of time or whatnot & some whom I really wanted that didn’t work out for whatever reason. There were also some people who I really didn’t know so well & it was nice to feel like I knew them afterwards.

Spinning Indie: How did your college station experience compare to other stations you've encountered through your work/interviews?

QRD: Well, my college radio experience was that I grew up in an area (Raleigh, NC) with some pretty well listened to stations with pretty big broadcast radiuses. So I thought that was the way college radio worked, but when I got to college (Boone, NC) I found that not to be the case. No one in Boone knew there was a college radio station & you couldn’t pick it up on the entire campus.

I was in college in 1994 and the station had just made a major format change from essentially pop to alternative (when that was still a semi-legitimate term). It was pretty exciting & there was a lot of energy at the station like something was about to happen. Of course nothing did change the world. I was a bit surprised by how "rotation" worked & that I didn’t have 100% say of what was on my daytime non-specialty show. I think most of the good stations still have an energy like something is about to happen. That’s why people like those stations. They want to hear the edge that’s going to be the next big thing & the people working there want to do their part to make those things happen.

Spinning Indie: How do you think college radio has changed since you were a DJ in the 1990s?

QRD: Well, when I was a DJ one big thing was some people not wanting to play vinyl. Now people don’t want to play CDs. One thing I had a problem with then that seems even more prevalent is people coming in with a pre-made playlist, essentially just press play on a mix-tape. Now people hook in their iPod & that’s that. Of course this isn’t true with everyone, but it’s common enough for people to think that an MP3 player on random is as good as a DJ.

So I think it’s true now more than ever that it’s important for a DJ to talk to the audience & connect with them. I love it when DJs play a song & then talk about seeing the band or that they hate playing a song because of an ex-girlfriend but it was a request or doing some kind of a themed show with only cover songs. Of course it goes the other way too with DJs talking too much. It’s a real art.

A thing that has changed really unfortunately is stations as a whole seem to play the same hits more. It used to be that there were a lot of regional college radio stars. The big bands in the charts in Texas were different than North Carolina or California. Now they all read the same. Part of this is the growth of affordable radio servicing & ease of finding stations, but it would be nice if “local bands” didn’t just get spins on the “local music” shows. I actually only attended college three semesters, if I’d gone two more I probably would have gotten into being a music director as I already did help getting some more labels to service the station & reviewing discs for airplay.

Spinning Indie: Are you willing to reveal who your dream interviews were that you didn't get?

QRD: Well, Brian Turner at WFMU would have been nice. Also Brandon at KBOO. Those guys are institutions that have helped shape the musical world & I’m sure neither would admit it. On a personal level I wanted to interview Ryan Kuehn (WCSB) & Matthew Reese (WLJS), because I’m friends with them; but their college course work got in the way. It would have been nice to get closer to twenty interviews than ten.

Spinning Indie: On the whole, what's your feeling about the state of college radio today?

QRD: I think there are some great stations & great DJs, but they’re fighting an uphill battle to make the kids think they’re important. There are so many ways to discover music these days on the internet that you don’t run into people who stay up late at night listening to college radio to hear something new & interesting. I think some of the stations are becoming more important because of their internet presence & it’s unfortunate that smaller stations are starting to only get serviced by major labels. I loved the relationship I had with Will Dodson when he was at WMMT. I did a radio session at midnight in rural Kentucky & high school kids were calling in & that was awesome. There need to be more things like that.

Spinning Indie: What was your favorite piece of learning from the interviews?

QRD: It’s hard to say. A lot of the things I learned reinforced what I suspected (like discs needing to be in jewel cases & the importance of accurate blurb stickers), I was a little surprised to hear no one really seems to look at other stations’ charts anymore. But my favorite thing was maybe Andrea-Jane’s little story about building towers of the same CD from a band pushing servicing from multiple fronts.

Thanks to Brian for the great interview!

Every Tuesday for the next 9 weeks, I'll be posting excerpts from all 9 of Brian's Music Director interviews from QRD. Next week it will be tidbits from his chat with the WESU (Wesleyan University) MD. Stay tuned!

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