Thursday, March 12, 2009

IBS Recap Part 4 - Independent Labels, Local Music and Program Director Sessions

Independent Labels and Your Station Panel on March 7, 2009
(Rew Starr, JP Blues, Rick Eberle, Steven Velardo, Peter Field, and Jenn de la Vega)

On Day 2 of the IBS College Radio conference on Saturday, March 7th, I checked out panels related to independent labels, local music, and the role of Program Director in college radio.

Indie Labels and Your Station

First up was the panel "Independent Labels and Your Station." Jenn de la Vega from Mushpot Records talked a bit about her experience being at University of California-Davis radio station KDVS. The station is unique in that it also has its own record label KDVS Recordings. She said that the label focused primarily on local music and that they were lucky in the fact that student fees at Davis helped to pay for special projects, including the label.

Panelist and musician Rew Starr mentioned that changes in the economy seem to be affecting major labels more than the indies. She said that majors are having to cut down on expenses, but with indies, "we're so used to doing everything this way [on the cheap]." She said that touring can be a struggle for bands. Peter Field of Backlight Records said that there's a lot that college radio stations can do to help make it easier for bands to come to their towns (or even nearby big cities). He said that when he was in college they would put bands up in vacant dorm rooms so that they could have a free place to stay, adding, "if lodging is not a financial concern, that's one-third of the way" to getting a show in your town and getting a band to play at your station.

Others mentioned that even if you have a small station, it's still possible to have bands play in-studio. Sometimes there are restrictions, especially with stations in dorms or school buildings that have limitations on noise.

The panel talked a bit about digital music distribution and digital download cards. Some mentioned that there are stations that don't accept digital music submissions. An audience member said that his station is trying to go digital-only and is working on installing an automation system and digitizing their vinyl library. He argued that digital music will make it easier for the DJs to find things. Someone else pointed out that he still enjoys the physical product of a CD or piece of vinyl with artwork and information. Peter said that if a station wants a physical copy of a release he's happy to send it, he just doesn't want to waste CDs.

In terms of college radio relations with labels, Jenn said that she really appreciates honest feedback from stations that's more descriptive than just telling her if something is in heavy or medium rotation. She said, "be honest with us...if it's not a good honest," adding that it's OK to tell her, "we don't have a place for this." She also said that people should understand that it's also a "crazy dynamic" at promo companies too, with high turnover, as is often the case at college radio stations too. Others suggested that stations post their playlists online (on websites or blogs), so that they can easily be found by artists and labels. Blogging was mentioned as an important tool, with Rew joking that blog "is the new black." Peter added that music bloggers have also built careers around their blogs, including a PR person who he works with.

We also heard mention of scams in which college stations are being asked to pay for music by promo companies. Someone in the audience said that her school is charged a certain fee and for that they get one CD a month. Publicist Rick Eberle said that there are "a lot of sharks in this business."

On the flip side, in the "local music" panel Peter mentioned that often indie labels are happy to provide promo copies of CDs for giveaways. He suggested that it doesn't hurt to contact labels if you're doing an event or fundraiser and would like to give away CDs to listeners. He said that it's great free promotion for the bands, so it helps to benefit both the station and the musicians.

Local Music and College Radio

Featuring the Local Music Scene on Your Station panel
(Peter Field, Jeremy Swiger, Rich L'Hommedieu, George from Backbone, Phil Minissale, Rick Eberle)

Panelist Rich L'Hommedieu from WUSB said that he thinks college radio stations "need to reach out to the local music scene." At his station, they help support and promote local artists by announcing local music events several times a day and by doing genre-specific listings like "blues news" during specialty shows. Jeremy Swiger of WVYC added that with social networking it's so much easier to find local bands than in the past. Beyond that, Alvin Clay of Quadpain Media said that it's good to just get out to see and talk to bands in local clubs. Mike Ferrari of WCWP added that doing events at clubs is also a good way for stations, listeners, and bands to connect. Additionally, Jeremy pointed out that on-campus shows are beneficial and can be a low-cost way to present local bands in an all ages environment.

Rich said that college radio still has the potential to "break new bands." He implored the DJs in the audience to listen to new things, which are often by local artists. He said, "you don't have...someone saying you have to play this" and "you can be the catalyst to create a [music] scene." It was suggested that even if you live in a major city, you can help the local scene by co-presenting events at clubs or even with other college radio stations.

There were also a lot of great tips for people in small towns or in towns with a limited number of venues. Peter Field pointed out that unlikely places like Charlottesville, Virginia have thriving music scenes due to the multitude of music blogs (16!) and unexpected venues, like a tea shop (Tea Bazaar). He suggested that people seek out alternative venues and sponsors for events in order to help facilitate live music in one's town. Rich said that there's a regular music event in his town at a luncheonette. Others mentioned empty theaters, restaurants, and VFW halls as potential venues.

Rich added that it's good to make your station a "center...rallying point" for local musicians. Mike said that "it's good radio" to have bands play live over the air. He suggested interviewing bands, doing podcasts, and creating compilation CDs in order to support local music. Rich agreed, saying, "excite people" about your local scene.

Flyer for Show Co-Presented by WBAR

Program Director Forum

Throughout the conference there were various panels devoted to specific college radio roles (Music Directors, Station Managers, etc.). I caught a bit of the Program Director session and it was fascinating to hear what the big issues were in the world of PDs. PD Natalie Camillo from WVYC recounted a story about getting complaints from faculty members about Slayer being played on the station during the middle of the day. She said that she ultimately adjusted the schedule so that metal shows now happen after 10pm. This was largely the result of some listener surveys she did to determine who listens to the station when. Something else that she has to contend with is that her station is in a building that is inaccessible between 1am and 8am. Since staff members and DJs can't be there overnight, she runs automated programming during those hours. Others on the panel said that their stations do not do automated programming, but understand why it's helpful for WVYC. Natalie added, "if you can be in your building all night...have DJs."

The panel also discussed how staff and DJs communicate with each other. Some mentioned that their stations have email lists or Yahoo groups to facilitate communication. Natalie argued that as Program Director she feels it's her duty to be on email constantly so that she can quickly address any issues that come up. Gabz Ciofani of Black Squirrel Radio at Kent State said that she's a fan of doing "little team building things" with DJs. She said at her station they do vinyl listening parties and have group dinners and that these activities help "connect you with other DJs" and "get ideas flowing" for the station.

Chris Sampson of WHUS added that he thinks Program Directors should have a good relationship with DJs, pointing out that he'd met a PD who was proud of the fact that DJs were afraid of him. He said, "why would you...want to...cultivate that kind of drama?" He added, "don't go to the dark side." Gabz agreed, saying, "we are all DJs first...keep that in perspective." During the Q&A with the audience, someone mentioned that DJs appreciate it when they get compliments from PDs about their show. Someone else encouraged PDs to listen to shows and call DJs to let them know that they are listening and offer positive feedback. Even if PDs can't listen in real time, many stations have archive servers set up so that shows can be tuned in later.

In conclusion, Natalie encouraged PDs to "be a a mom...nurture." Ben Shaiken of WHUS added that there are DJs at his station who have been on the air for 30 years, which is longer than he's been alive. He acknowledged the important history of the station, saying that he thinks it's vital to "respect the institution that you're serving."

Previous IBS Conference Posts:

IBS Conference Recap Part 1 - Tom Moon's Plea for Musical Exploration
IBS Recap Part 2 - The Future of Music and Radio
IBS Recap Part 3 - Community Radio and Low Power FM

1 comment:

jenn dlv said...

Jennifer! Thanks for the most excellent and thorough coverage! It was nice to meet you!