Tuesday, September 30, 2008

CMJ Preview and Pontification

The CMJ New Music Marathon is rapidly approaching (October 21-25 in NYC) and the list of bands performing over the course of the week keeps growing and growing. In the piece "Madison Bands Invade New York City," for Dane101, The Collaborative Blog for Madison, Wisconsin, Jesse Russell outlines some of the local Madison bands that are performing during the CMJ fest.

In the post Jesse also includes a critique of the music biz, discussing CMJ's tier system for college radio and the associated record label pressures. According to the piece:

"...CMJ's rating system is somewhat controversial in college rock circles due to the station hierarchy. The publication has a six-tier weighting system that puts more value on certain college radio stations than others. If your station falls into one of the top three tiers it is considered a 'core station' where the charts have more value and inasmuch it is guaranteed to receive nearly every single release promoters send out. If a station falls into one of the bottom three tiers the music directors can expect to beg for service from the less scrupulous promoters."

It never occured to me that stations with lower "status" might actually be more tempted to strike deals with labels in order to get sent promo copies of releases. Jesse goes on to relay an anecdote about his experience as a college radio music director:

"As the former music director of a level three college radio station I would rarely get the same type of pressure that the lower level stations would receive. The extent of pressure on me was when none of the DJs at my station were playing the new Nine Inch Nails album, so therefore it wasn't charting, and the promoter threatened to not send us the new Weezer album if we didn't start charting it. Instead of giving in to such a ridiculous threat I instead instituted a station boycott of Interscope records for the remainder of my term as music director and stopped taking calls from that promoter. My experience was small potatoes compared to the favors and trades lower level tier music directors had to dish out and often those favors were called in at the CMJ Music Marathon which could also be considered college radio's payola-a-thon."

I definitely overheard pressure-filled phone calls like the one relayed above in the 1990s. What do you think, is this kind of pressure and system of favors and rewards as rampant today as in the past?

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