I just got home from a whirlwind week at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City. With all the panels, shows, parties, and radio station visits I barely had time to eat or sleep, let alone distill all the information that was coming at me. So, in the coming days, I'll slowly make my way through the week, talking about radio-related panels, shows that I caught, and trends in music that kept coming up during the week. My radio field trip series continued in full-force in New York and I'll be recapping my visits to 3 different radio stations.
Day One: Tuesday, October 21, 2008
I always think about CMJ as primarily a conference for college radio DJs. However, things seem to have changed a bit in the years since my last trip to CMJ in the 1990s. The first day of the conference had many sessions about the music biz, from the perspective of labels and artists (vs. radio programmers). There was much talk of Web 2.0, music subscription services, promotion and marketing, and the state of the music industry and genres within it (jazz and hip hop).
During the very first session that I attended on Tuesday, October 21st (“It’s Broken, Fix It”) at NYU, I kept waiting to hear radio mentioned. And, finally, during the Q&A a college radio Music Director pointed out that none of the panelists had said a thing about radio. He asked, “Do you listen to radio?”
Famed artist and producer Dallas Austin said no, he didn’t listen to radio because there isn't anything new on radio. Wow, did he really say that at a conference full of college radio DJs who make a point of playing new, undiscovered music? He continued, admitting that he used to listen to college radio to learn about new artists before “alternative” hit.
So, what happened? Why did he abandon college radio. Has college radio lost its edge and is it failing to provide new sounds? Have people just forgotten about its existence? A little of both? It's not uncommon to hear these broad condemnations of radio, it's just a little surprising to hear it come up at an indie-oriented college radio conference. But, then again, I heard similar condemnations of the broad category of radio by some of the participants in the Noise Pop and EMP panels this year, perhaps because the dire state of commercial radio often makes music fanatics forget about the energy and passion to the left of the dial.
Despite the relative absence of radio and some of these dismissive comments about the medium during the first day of CMJ, there were also some welcome voices discussing how radio can still deliver something different and special when pitted against its competitors like iPods. During the panel "The Ad-Based and Subscription-Based Models Dissected," Matthew Adell from Napster talked about how music that contextualizes is more powerful than a random selection of songs heard on one’s iPod, saying, “What makes people love a radio station …is.. programming… programming wins …context…is what people are willing to pay for.” The CEO of Lime Wire George Searle added that another benefit of radio stations is that they are “brands” that people still “affiliate with.”
Following the Tuesday sessions, there was an official “College Radio Mixer” in the rooftop bar at the Delancey Lounge on the Lower East Side. Folks from college radio stations from the U.S. and Canada bonded while drinking vodka cocktails (it’s all about the free booze at CMJ) and snacking on savory meat and veggie pies. It was also a chance for potential voters to meet some of the nominees for the “College Radio Awards.” People who were up for awards (and who made it to both CMJ and the Mixer) sat at tables throughout the bar while others “speed-dated” through the room in an attempt to meet as many other DJs and radio staff as possible.
It was exciting for me to be in a room full of other college radio DJs. Although I was kind of daunted by the task of trying to meet as many people as possible, the payoff was that I finally started having some great conversations about radio at the conference. The folks who I met hailed from stations from all over the country and Canada, including New Jersey station WRLC-The Core, University of Maine freeform station WMEB-FM, USC's Internet-only station KSCR, Valparaiso University's WVUR-FM (Indiana), Florida station WPRK-FM, and Montreal’s CJLO-AM.