Tuesday, July 21, 2009

College Radio vs. Music Aggregators

It was cool to see today that Meredith over at my favorite youth culture blog Ypulse took the time to listen to my interview on the Mediageek radio show about college radio. In response to my argument that college radio is still important because it often showcases hand-picked, curated playlists by human DJs she raises some questions about whether or not these stations and DJs can compete with the online world of music aggregators. In her piece, "Can College Radio Stay on the Same Wavelength as Young Listeners," she writes:

"I'm guessing Jennifer wouldn't be happy to hear that the first thing her description [of DJs curating their own shows] brought to mind was music blog aggregator sites like Hype Machine and We Are Hunted that ascribe these same virtues of authenticity and passion to the process of curating the curators (Hype Machine even creates online radio shows with the results.)..."

While curating the curators is cool and all.... I still like college radio more. I like the mystery involved with turning on a radio station and not knowing what I'm going to hear next. I love discovering new sounds by hearing them before I've heard about them. If you read bloggers to discover music, then often you are getting their take on something before you even happen upon the sounds. I suppose that's the same dynamic as learning about something from a friend or a record store clerk....which is cool. But my magical musical moments have been when I've heard something for the very first time (on the radio, in a music store, at a live show) and have become spell-bound.

Similarly, another point that I made in my interview was that with digital music, for the most part people are selecting what they want to hear before they hear it; rather than ceding control to someone else, like a DJ.

Meredith also writes:

"All this is NOT to question the need for college radio DJs, but rather ask how the traditional role can evolve to embrace this proliferation of music-discovering avenues on the web? I'm sure many are already out generating innovative solutions (that I'd love to hear...)..."

This is an interesting question and I think college radio stations have actually been on the forefront of embracing technology. College stations were early to stream, blog, archive shows, provide live cams, and real-time playlists. So, yes, indeed...many college radio stations are similar to the music bloggers. But radio is still radio and has some inherent benefits. And radio stations have the potential to do so much, from live events, to specialty music shows, to band interviews and live performances, to audio art.

1 comment:

Scott said...

What I personally dislike about aggregators and why I think they are no match for a DJ is their very nature. An aggregator is about collecting and ranking. Most often ranking based on number of times listened or downloaded or some other measure of popularity. Even though the world wide web offers the ability for a world wide crowd to put in a vote, it's still what's most popular. As I say, 50,000,000 Elvis fans *can* be wrong. The DJ hosting the Hype Machine podcast is pretty much a modern day Casey Kasem and simply filling in material around a preselected top ten.

As you said in your interview, DJs are able to put together journeys. They can compare and contrast music, follow themes, or simply present purely joyful music.

Radio stations have a longer history than podcasters and by being a collective and supported by the college, they get studio space, licensing (what's left of it). It would be interesting to see if there are opportunities for podcasting collectives to form and offer some of the same services such as live events, band interviews and performances.

On that note, I happen to listen to a number of radio shows that I experience solely through downloads (though they are all created for on-air broadcast). In a way, I am selecting a genre or theme before I listen. However, within the time of the show, I am ceding control over to the DJ and have had several serendipitous discoveries.

For me, as a listener, the dichotomies are less radio v. bloggers as radio v. podcastng. What do listeners lose when transmitters are shut down. What do radio stations gain by providing *both* transmitters and time-shifted archives of their broadcasts.