Friday, October 30, 2009

CMJ Music Marathon 2009 Recap Part Two: Subway Sounds, RXP's Listening Session, Margaret Cho, Care Bears on Fire, and Gothy Dark Sounds at Fontana's

"Radio in this country is pretty close to dying."
-overheard during CMJ

"Terrestrial radio...I think is still around, although I'm not sure."
-Jason Herskowitz

"College radio is so important. I had so many great years there."
-Matt Pinfield

Throughout my week at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City, I kept my ears open for talk about radio and its future. I overheard both positive and negative proclamations about radio, saw some interesting sessions about radio in all of its forms, and reaffirmed my commitment to college radio during College Day. I've already discussed some of the stations who had a physical presence at CMJ and in the next few posts I will go into detail about the variety of panels and shows that I hit during the festival.

The opening day of panels was on Tuesday, October 20th. Most sessions were geared towards musicians, with topics ranging from "But How Will I Get Paid?" to "Music and Advertising." Others focused on the state of urban music, the lost art of the album cover, and New York's "Music under New York" program that brings music to the subways.

Music Under New York
The session about music in the subway system, "Music Under New York: Stories from an Underground Culture" was fascinating. A number of musicians spoke about their experiences playing for commuters and relayed some heartwarming tales about encounters with folks who were touched by the sounds. They pointed out how "magical" a place the subway system is and that passersby are "not obligated to listen to you... and they do." They also told stories about how beautiful it is to be playing music in a place where there are rats and pickpockets. As I heard them speak about their experiences I was reminded of radio, another place where people are often delighted by unexpected sounds.

CDs awaiting Critical Ears

RXP Music Listening Session
The first radio-oriented session that I attended was the RXP Music Listening Session, which featured a panel full of DJs from New York commercial rock radio station WRXP, as well as Matt Pollack from Monotone Records.

RXP DJ Matt Pinfield began the session talking about the unfortunate state of most commercial radio stations today, where one "lose[s] the element of passion [because] DJs are told not to get emotional about the music or show passion [because] radio companies think things have to be dumbed down."

Throughout the panel it became clear that RXP likes to set itself apart from that typical commercial radio model, as it allows DJs more freedom to program shows and express joy about the music they are presenting.

Everyone on the panel was asked what they look for in a new artist or a song when considering it for airplay. RXP's Music Director Brian Phillips features new material on the station's half hour "10 o'clock News" segment every weekday night. He said that he listens for songs that have a "wow factor," that he would want to listen to for a second and third time.

RXP's Program Director and morning show host Leslie Fram pointed out that, "you have to have trained radio ears" and she added that she listens for hooks and originality, saying, "It's about the things that will make people react."

Matt Pinfield also mentioned RXP's interest in local bands, saying that they felt a responsibility to "support local music." Leslie added that they listen to everything that is sent to them. In that spirit, the remainder of the session was devoted to listening to music from artists who dropped their CDs into a mail tub that was in the aisle.

Matt Pinfield, Matt Pollack, and Brian Phillips Listening to CDs from the Tub

The panelists pulled 10 different CDs from the tub and played bits of each CD for the audience. I was impressed that the radio and label folks were very supportive of the musicians in the room, offering both positive feedback and suggestions about labels that might be interested.

Comments about the music included: "accessible enough," "multi-format," "off-center," "Rocky Horror dynamic," "ambient trance thing," "balanced," "a little J. Mascis," to "great potential." The final two artists played during the session (Frontier Brothers and Overnight) actually got airplay later in the week on WRXP.

College Radio Mixer
My first scheduling bummer of CMJ happened on Tuesday night when I got to the College Radio Mixer too late and was turned away. It was set to begin at 5pm and apparently those not in line by that time were told that the event was over capacity. Uh oh.... Part of the problem was that one of the most buzzed about shows that night (a New Zealand showcase featuring Bang Bang Eche and Die! Die! Die!) was happening later in the same venue.

Media Meet-n-Greet
Luckily I had a media badge, so I headed over to the media mixer at the LimeWire space instead. I was treated to food, drinks (rosemary vodka!), and DJ sets by Jon Spencer and Margaret Cho. I got serious junior high school dance flash backs as Margaret Cho directed the spinning of classics like "Another One Bites the Dust," then slammed the crowd back into 2009 with selections from the likes of Lady Gaga. On a screen at the event there was a stream of photos from live shows from past CMJs. It was interesting to see images of some of the heavyweights who'd performed and some of bands who subsequently have made it big.

Care Bears on Fire at Bowery Ballroom, NYC
October 20, 2009

Care Bears on Fire
The next scheduling snafu of the day was missing pretty much the entire set by Care Bears on Fire at the Bowery Ballroom. I thought they went on at 8pm, but they promptly began closer to 7pm. When I arrived around 7:30, I got there just in time to see one song by these young ladies. I'm nostalgic for the whole 1990s riot grrrl scene, so was particularly looking forward to seeing these teen girl musicians. Oh well. The song I heard was fun and rocking, but I'd like to hear more. The next few bands at Bowery Ballroom didn't do much for me, so I hightailed it over to Fontana's for a change of pace.

Cruel Black Dove at Fontana's, NYC
October 20, 2009

Fontana's Show: Telltale, Cruel Black Dove, Dead Leaf Echo
As I descended into the cozy and dark basement space I instantly felt more comfortable than I had in the larger, emptier Bowery Ballroom. Telltale was mesmerizing with Joy Division-inspired sounds and an almost surf-style guitar. Cruel Black Dove featured 2 ladies in front and 2 dudes in back on synthesizer and drums. The Siouxsie-ish music was accentuated by one gal's dancer-like moves and the tone was also set by some running visuals in the background. Finally, I was treated to a set by Dead Leaf Echo. I was pleasantly reminded of Cocteau Twins, yet with both male and female vocals. It was beautifully hazy. All three bands worked to create an entrancing scene that hit the right dour notes for me. What a great way to begin CMJ!

Previous Posts about the 2009 CMJ Music Marathon:

Radio's Presence at CMJ
Radio is Alive and Well at the CMJ Music Marathon (for Radio Survivor)
CMJ 2009 Band Name Trends Revealed

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I was at the "Music Under NY" session, which was eye-opening. Then I changed trains at Union Square and I saw one of the pannelists, the 'Saw Lady' playing in the subway. Serendipity.