Sunday, March 2, 2008

Noise Pop Education Session Recap

Yesterday I attended the Noise Pop Education Session at the club 12 Galaxies in San Francisco and heard from musicians and music industry folks on the topics of "Promoting Your Band," "Careers in the Industry," "Starting Your Empire," and "How I Did It" (tales from musicians about their careers and definitions of success). As with the Noise Pop Festival in general, the panels were made up of people with "indie" leanings, including DJs, musicians, club bookers, tour promoters, and record labels.

A big theme of the day was the importance of working hard and paying one's dues in order to be a successful musician/writer/DJ/etc. Band members on the panel defined success not so much by industry trappings of record contracts and big money, but in terms of having a happy life and having the resources to make music and work with people they like. There was also a lot of talk about how the music biz is changing with online music distribution, social networking sites, and declining CD sales (and disappearing retail outlets).

College and commercial radio were discussed in the panels by Irwin Swirnoff, Music Director and DJ at University of San Francisco's station KUSF 90.3 FM and Aaron Axelsen, the Music Director at San Francisco commercial alternative station Live 105. KUSF's Swirnoff said that their station receives between 100 and 400 CDs in the mail every week (Live 105's Axelsen said he gets sent 500 CDs a week) from musicians seeking airplay and that at KUSF they listen to everything that is sent to them. Swirnoff also said that compared to many places their station is "...super old school...We still like vinyl."

It was interesting for me to hear from Aaron Axelsen as he seems like someone working in commercial radio who is passionate about music and still has some degree of control over the music that gets added to Live 105 and is played on his show. He said that he started working in local record stores when he was 16 and eventually started DJing at clubs and then began his career in the music biz through internships. He's been at Live 105 since 1995, when he was hired as an intern. He also started club night Popscene 12 years ago and is still managing that. Clearly he's someone in commercial radio who loves music and he seems to be aligned with a station that is in synch with his music taste. He's even able to do a 3-hour show on Sunday nights called "Radio Soundcheck" where he's playing indie, punk, local music, and imports (as well as major label stuff), which means that a handful of unsigned bands and indie label bands are getting commercial radio airplay. A few years ago, the San Francisco Chronicle did a nice profile on Axelsen and the role that "Radio Soundcheck" has played in introducing new bands.

In terms of the future of radio, Axelsen said that radio can survive by "adapting and evolving..." and gave examples of how his station accomplishes that by streaming multiple channels online and doing podcasts. He also mentioned that one of the ways that a band can get buzz (and potentially noticed by commercial radio?) is by getting college radio airplay. There are many examples of bands who've watched their audience grow on college radio before "moving on" to commercial success. Similarly, there are bands who are happy to remain underground and a portion of those have been very successful even if they don't get commercial airplay.

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