Now that I've gotten caught up on all of my CMJ Music Marathon coverage, I can finally get back to some of my regular features, including the ongoing series of excerpts from the QRD "Radio Special" issue. What's so interesting to me now is that I actually saw many of the folks that Brian John Mitchell interviewed for the issue on panels at CMJ a few weeks back. Small world. Thanks again to Brian for giving me permission to share bits of these interviews. To read more about his process for selecting MDs for this special issue of his 'zine, see my interview with him in which his gives an overview of his connection to college radio and what he learned from the project.
Back in April 2008, Brian interviewed Justin Lanoue of University of Victoria station CFUV about the ins and outs of doing the Music Director role there. Coincidentally, Justin was also on the "Music Directors' Summit" panel along with fellow QRD-interviewee Keri Fico during "College Day" at the CMJ Music Marathon this year. I was super impressed with what he had to say in person, so it's great to be presenting some of his interview with Brian John Mitchell.
CFUV is a Canadian campus and community radio station that has been broadcasting over FM since 1984. They have a freeform format, with an eclectic mix of specialty shows focused on a wide range of international sounds as well as bluegrass, country, hip hop, metal, ska, rock, blues, salsa, Hawaiian music, and more. They also air public affairs and sports programming.
In his QRD interview, Justin talks about why he got involved with college radio, his perspective about the role of Music Director, why he prefers vinyl over mp3s, and his take on digital releases. When the interview was conducted, Justin had just left CFUV to move to a new city. However, based on his presence at CMJ this year, he must have only been away from his MD role for a short period of time. Based on his passion for the job, I'm sure his station is thrilled to have him back.
QRD – Why did you want the position of music director & why do you think you got it over all the other applicants?
Justin – I had always had a near obsession with new music & finding new bands, which led me into radio. Once I started getting involved in campus radio I was hooked because I would get a chance to listen to more new bands than I ever even thought existed. That led me to exploring different genres & from there it grew even more. I think that one of the main reasons that I was chosen as music director was because I was open-minded about everything coming into the station & was always learning about new music whether it was from fellow DJs, magazines, the internet, etc. I was always seeking out something new & different for my show & the staff noticed.
QRD – What do you think the job of a good music director is?
Justin – ...Open-mindedness is a vital quality to find in a music director. A good music director doesn't focus on one genre or one era of music. They should know the history behind the music & older bands that influenced the newer stuff, but at the same time respect & seek out the new bands that are making something new & groundbreaking...
A great campus music director needs to balance their love of the old with an appreciation of the new, because they’re going to be inundated with literally hundreds of new CDs every week. A good campus music director should also be open-minded in the sense that they realize they do not & cannot know everything. It is a constant learning process. When I was music director I learned so much by talking to the DJs at my station & other staff members...
A good campus music director also needs to be approachable & also learn to approach those within the industry in order to get CDs that other stations might not have. I found that some record labels wouldn’t focus a lot on radio campaigns. I also discovered that it never hurt to ask for a promo copy from them. Not only does getting these extra CDs make your station sound better & more eclectic to the listener, but it also sets your station apart from other campus stations. I remember at one point about a third of my station’s top thirty consisted of CDs that were not serviced to most other stations. It took a lot of work; but it set us apart, made us sound better, & hopefully gave these artists some extra exposure.
QRD – How have streaming online radio stations affected the purpose & competition for your station?
Justin – I honestly didn’t think much about online stations. We had our own niche pretty well established, so I didn’t think of other stations as competition or anything like that. Plus, I doubt that many people actually sit at their computers to listen to the radio. I rarely do. The sound of an internet station is low quality & pales in comparison to an FM or satellite signal. Maybe I am just a geek in that way.
QRD – I imagine a lot of the younger generation of DJs pretty much exclusively use MP3s over CDs (much less vinyl). How do you feel about the situation?
Justin – I always grumbled to myself when a DJ would plug in their laptop, open a playlist & be done with it. There’s no fun in that. Plus, sometimes the sound of the MP3s was atrocious. I always encouraged people to play the CD or vinyl copies of something over MP3s.
QRD – Did you try to get your entire catalog digitally encoded on a hard drive for radio play?
Justin – We didn’t try it. We had way too many CDs & vinyl to even attempt to digitize it all. Plus, again there is the sound quality issue. Some MP3s just sound bad.
QRD – I know that some labels & promotional teams are pushing towards digital download links over physical copies. How do you feel about this?
Justin – Conflicted. Hard copies have been & always will be ideal for campus radio, but I understand the move to digital submissions. For a tiny indie label it saves them thousands of promo copies & the costs to mail them, which can mean a lot to a struggling label. It can mean life or death for some of them. On my end, as a music director, some digital delivery systems were easy to use & some were a nightmare to use.
A positive thing about digital submissions is that it allowed me to get my station serviced albums that otherwise we never would have gotten. I would ask labels for digital copies of something that they might have only been releasing on vinyl in limited numbers & they would send the links right over. Otherwise, there would have been no chance of getting it into the station at all. A digital submission is better than no submission is what I would keep telling myself.
Coming up next week will be excerpts from Brian John Mitchell's interview with the former Music Director from Foothill College station KFJC.
Previous QRD MD Interviews:
Interview with Brian of Silber Records about QRD Radio Music Director Issue
QRD Music Director Interviews Part 1 - Wesleyan's WESU
QRD Music Director Interviews Part 2 - McGill's CKUT
QRD Music Director Interviews Part 3 - UMass Dartmouth's WUMD
QRD Music Director Interviews Part 4 - University of Georgia's WUOG
QRD Music Director Interviews Part 5 - Stony Brook University's WUSB
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