Tuesday, May 30, 2006

THE DIXIE CHICKS, MUSIC PROGRAMMING AND OTHER STUFF

The Dixie Chicks performed an ARTIST CONFIDENTIAL at our Jazz at Lincoln Center facility in New York last week. I personally don't like the kind of music they do, but there sure are a lot of people that DO and combine that with their volatile point of view and you've got a pretty electric version of the series. I really wish they hadn't made those comments about Bush. Not for political reasons but because it's yet one more thing that trivializes music and fuels the whole celebrity driven state of the art. They were really outstanding as singers...their band was airtight and solid, but you couldn't help thinking about "the incident"---it clouded the perception of the sounds.

I really could give a damn about what an artist thinks politically. Many people were hurt by their opinion including themselves, and I can sympathize with that too...but the POINT is that it drives me nuts when artists get political outside of their art...actually let me change that--It drives me nuts that people actually care about what an artist thinks outside of their art. Recently there was a "teen pop princess" waxing on about Iraq. It was pretty deep. "Like war is so uncool...like people get hurt and stuff...like it's really not cool". It went downhill from there. There are so many intellectual and educated observations on both sides of the political scale to draw opinions from, but so many people gravitate toward the celebrity for guidance. It's a reality of the modern world, but so symbolic of the often transparency of celebrity.

I wish artists would express themselves via music rather than tabloids.

The lyrics can say so much more and say it with such power.

In any case, the Dixie Chicks were strong musically and engaging people, I just wish they had said "it" with music rather than social commentary outside of the song. Or...I wish people would draw their opinions from a wider and more credible source of input than celebrities. Jimi Hendrix said more about the state of our Nation with his electric Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock than he could ever say in a magazine. Bob Dylan didn't need to say ANYTHING beyond what he said in "The Times they are a Changin"....The power of an artist’s opinion is in their music. The random political commentary can work against the artist. You can re-enforce a point of view much stronger through lyrics and musical attitude than any other means….and it just fuels this notion that celebrities define our culture.
To me, that’s an intellectually dead end street.

In any case, The Dixie Chicks were great…and we look beyond their POV and focus on the musical output.

On a lighter note---Bob Dylan did an amazing show about Baseball. He actually SANG "Take me out to the Ballgame". Baseball and radio are such a magical combination. Great play by play is an art form. It DEFINES theater-of-the-mind. We had a baseball boot camp recently where we tried marrying the qualities of music radio with sports radio. Sports radio can get as clichéd as Music Radio. But somewhere in the middle there's a point where the excitement of music radio thinking intersects with the spirit of Baseball...and I think we're there. The morning show on Channel 175 is worth listening to. These guys go far beyond recapping the games. They take the baseball experience to a new level. These guys aren't sports talk guys...they are REAL players tellin' it like it really is...and they're a gas to listen to.

Musically, we operate on a few arguable theories, actually there are hundred of them, and they are hard to explain in writing, but a few include:

*16-20: Historically the music people like before 16 is fleeting. You kind of go through phases based on what's cool at the moment. Might be looks...fashion...hot trends. Then around 16-20 you go into the "musically formative years" where you really lock into a sound. You get hyper critical. Things you don't like tend to "suck". When I was 16, there would be fist fights over who is a better: Cream or the Rascals. Before 16 I kind of went with the flow...but come those formative years, and music becomes a powerful personal statement. After the formative years of 16-20, you are somewhat locked into YOUR sound. You evolve, but your roots are firmly planted in where you were musically 16-20. That's the KEY to Classic Rock. Once a 50 year old has tasted those 16-20 era artists, that's the reference point. New music would need to be an evolution of that sound to gain personal traction....or you are simply satisfied with that sound. It's YOUR sound. Take a 50 year old today, if that 50 year old is musically adventurous, I can guarantee you that he or she was into the "Album artists" of the early 70's. If another 50 year old in 2006 was into Top 40 back then, that person is likely into AC today. In other words, they didn't suddenly at the age of 30 or 40 discover adventurous or progressive music.
The musical architecture of a person is designed during those musically formative years. Back in the 70's, we distributed "call back cards" where whenever someone bought an album we got a card with their name and phone # with the Album they bought. We'd then call them back a week later to find out what cuts they liked...and what they thought of the Album after living with it for a week. This was effective in determining which cuts to play. About ten years ago, we called people back (with about a 10% success rate) to see what they were into 20 years later. The 16-20 thing REALLY came into play as it was totally clear about peoples' evolution musically and the power of the 16-20 years. It also led to the pretty obvious discovery of where Classic Rock on FM has failed itself. A person may have bought an album and really liked 8 cuts. Then Classic Rock researched it down to one cut, leaving 7 popular cuts in the delete bin, creating the "enough already"! thing, where you ask "Do you like Born to Run"? Answer: Yes! "Do you want to hear it again on the radio"? 'No!--Enough already"--cant you find something ELSE to play by him? Our belief is that Classic Rock is about CAREERS not just SONGS and in many ways Classic Rock is like ANY music form that touches a generation in the 16-20 region going back to the earliest Classical...you need to deliver the complete package, not just a taste of the biggest pieces. The 16-20 thing also debunks the "music is for youth" thing. Yes--it STARTS with youth, but music hangs with you for life. I recall a major manager once telling me from backstage that "The kids are really loving the show"....Upon looking out at the audience the average age of "the kids" was about 35!
From a programming viewpoint, a station that targets under 16 is all about the moment...16-20 it's all about being in the trenches and violently supporting and nurturing the tastes, over 20 it's about celebration of the music that a listener is rooted in.

*Cult/Fringe: Every popular artist has two kinds of fans. Cult members are TOTALLY into the artist. They know the bass players' name...they may travel 300 miles to see a gig. A Fringe fan likes the artist for the latest single. Cult artists include Yes, Phish, Miles Davis, etc....Fringe artists include Foreigner, Mariah Carey, etc...
Then the ultimate commercially is the artists who have a balance: U2, The Stones, etc... This is of course highly over-simplified but it's an effective tool in determining the degree of exposure and depth an artist's fans are best suited for. With a cult artist it's insane to play "the hits"...these fans want to hear everything. On the other hand it's doubtful there's much demand for depth from Foreigner as those fans crave the hit tracks and are pretty uninterested in the other tracks. The combination Cult/Fringe artists are the ones that you go nuts with across many channels--some focusing on the hits, others delivering the nuggets.

Music programming has in my opinion become this mindless game of numbers. There is SO much more to it. Every artist, every listener, every channel is different. Music programming is a complex issue. THAT'S THE PROBLEM today. Failure to try to understand the complexities involved in the PROGRAMMING of music . There's a tendency to do everything the easy way--Play the hits...watch the other stations...apply the Top 40 principles to EVERY format. Ouch! That sucks. We may not have the answers but it's a mission to understand what listeners want...knowing how far we can go before we get too cool for the room...UNDERSTANDING as much as we can about capturing the soul of every genre and delivering the goods FAN TO FAN not "Corporate Radio to Radio Consumer".

...I'll have a few more of these arguable theories coming in the next few weeks.

Just got back from Chicago for a 3 day weekend. Flew into Midway Airport and thanks to my tail number of 101XM, we were treated royally as the ground personnel were all XM fans. After a quick focus group on the tarmac we were downed out by 2 departing Southwest 737's....We had two Soul Street fans, a Bluesville fan, a 60's fan, and three White Sox fans. I really liked listening to WGN. They really have the pulse of Chicago. One of the few remaining truly "local" stations. But there was this new Oldies station on FM. The music was pretty decent. Wide...not the typical oldies station were you'd hear respect twice a day. But the production was THE worst I have ever heard. It was SO bad, I thought they were kidding. It was comedic it was so clichéd. I ended up listening mostly to AM stations with some cool ones trapped at the right end of the AM dial. Didn't have satellite. I guess the cars equipped with it were all rented.

This week at XM looks pretty interesting. We're going to take a group photo of the Programming Staff. Last one we took was in 2000 for a trade magazine. We had hoped to take it on the roof of XM but were advised that the roof might collapse as the staff has grown pretty big. I'd like to take it at the Greyhound Station down the street or at the legendary "Bens Chili Bowl" in downtown DC...give it some character. Not sure I'll win this one.

7 Comments:

At 9:36 AM, Blogger David said...

Lee-

I just wanted you to know how cool it is to be able to get inside your brain on this music/XM stuff. It's amazing to see you folks work so hard to keep XM's content so fresh.

A friend of mine just caught to back-to-back Dylan episodes after getting worn a little on the 60's channel. Said it was like falling in love w/XM all over again.

And as for myself, I didn't even know what "chill" music was two months ago. Now it is getting the bulk of my listening time. It's a great soundtrack for free-form thinking.

(I was too young to experience that combo in the 60's when you guys were perfecting it...)

David H.

 
At 11:04 AM, Blogger Paul Bachmann said...

Ok, so I sent Lee this in an e-mail, and he said "what are you just telling ME for? Post it!" So I guess here's a sample of what XM programmers throw back and forth with each other...

***

I tend to agree with you about the Celebritology thing - just because there's a microphone doesn't make someone's opinion worth more than anyone else's...but I can't say I agree with your position on the Dixie Chicks. I'd agree with you if Natalie had said what she said out of anger in a public setting, and then went back to writing "I got my revenge on that cheatin' man" songs. But in the instance of the "incident", it then informed their art on the latest album. They challenged themselves musically and lyrically... if one looks at the current hit "Not Ready to Make Nice" and finds "It's a sad, sad story when a mother will teach/Her daughter that she oughta hate a perfect stranger/And how in the world can the words that I said/Send somebody so over the edge/That they'd write me a letter saying that I'd better shut up and sing or my life will be over?"...I mean, that's IN the song so the least that can be said is that a real-world experience influenced a song...or to paraphrase you, "got political" inside the art, rather than outside. That's owning up, no?! It just took a while.


What I don't like is when artists speak out to the press about whatever - using the media to perpetuate their fame by saying something "topical" or even edgy - but then bring NO return on that investment in their later art. That speaks more to your teeny-bopper Pop reference, I suspect. If I were interviewing your "teen pop princess" and she just offered up that info, I hope I would have had the stones to say "okay that's great, where can I find those ideas in your music?" I would have asked the Dixie Chicks that back in '03 as well (the closest track they had at the time was the pretty damned patriotic "Travellin' Soldier," ostensibly about Vietnam). Their real answer, at least the one that anyone is paying attention to, came 3 years later on the new album. Which is okay because they do, in fact, answer. I wonder - do you share a similar disdain for, say, a Toby Keith or a Kid Rock (wearing that snappy American Flag poncho at the Super Bowl a couple of years back) or whomever with pro-"let's get 'em" ideas in interviews outside of their songs? Or perhaps what you like about music best is the open nature of interpretation, as opposed to the directness of comments in interviews?


On the other side of that equation and perhaps on a parallel track to your blog entry, I'm firmly of the belief that we are in another really interesting age of the good old-fashioned Protest Song. The latest Neil Young or Springsteen/Seeger discs are easy examples, but the post-9/11 mad-as-hell tunes from a post-Woodstock generation can't be ignored. Whether you're talking about the latest Dixie Chicks or other songs that get heavy rotation that are very clearly "what the fuck is going on" songs... see Green Day ["Holiday" and the rest of the 5 million+ selling `American Idiot'], Pearl Jam [`Worldwide Suicide'], Kanye West [the Bush reference in `Crack Music'], Radiohead [`2+2=5' and likely most of the upcoming disc]...heck, pop star Pink has a "Dear Mr. President" song on her latest...


To your point, they're speaking through their strong suit of music, yes...but I imagine they're also backing up all sorts of extra-curricular comments and activities (interviews, rallies, benefit shows, etc) through that art as well. I don't have to agree or disagree with it, or like or dislike it. But I can respect it.

 
At 2:51 PM, Blogger Steve Klopp said...

Lee
I really enjoy your posts and subject content. Most times I agree with your observations and knowledge, but I think your 16- 20 formative stage might be to simplified.As an example ,did your household play music or your school have music plays. Did you go to camp and have guitar playing around a campfire.Both my Grandmother and her sister played piano so American standards and ragtime are in my collection.My father was stuck in the Benny Goodman era so I also like Big Band sounds. Everyday when I Came home From School Mom had American Bandstand on.All these experiences formed a wide taste of music appreciation for me. Not to mention I was and am an Avid dancer, from Philly line dances to Country and Polka.and lets not forget heritage music wether it be German or Polish or Gospel and so on.My point here is you may be right in the final formative time period but the building blocks I think are much broader than a simple time period.Maybe I am not average in this respect . It would be interesting for other people to speak up and find what shapes your tastes.I only know that for me Xm is truly a smorgasbord of music and I love it.

 
At 6:42 PM, Blogger William said...

Lee...you are right on the money in regards to your comment on the Dixie Chicks. I went to see U2 in concert and they went into a whole political thing at their concert. I agree....keep your beliefs in your music.

 
At 8:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee:

You forget the handicap that country artists record under. They HAVE to make music that will sell to a conservative, heartland audience. Yes, there are country fans in other parts of the country and of other political stripes -- I'm a liberal-leaning New Englander and still like the genre -- but most of the concertgoers and CD buyers are Red State people.

Rock fans, by and large, never cared that Charlie Daniels' or Ted Nugent's politics were conservative. Country fans, by and large, have always cared. Look at the baby steps into liberal social activism that country artists took in the '90s -- taking part in an AIDS walk is as far as most would go or risk losing their careers. (Emmylou Harris is very liberal, but never recorded anything but traditional country heartbreak songs during her hitmaking years.) Putting an anti-war song on an album? That would be suicide at radio, as you well know, no matter how good the musicianship is. A rocker can put anything he wants onto an album and rock radio (what's left of rock radio) will play it just as long as it kicks ass musically.

I found the Chicks' comment fairly benign, but I can see where it would offend the "my country, my president, right or wrong" contingent. The thing is, the Chicks COULDN'T express their views in their music; saying it from the stage was their only option. Whether celebrities should speak out on issues, and whether their opinions should carry more weight than yours or mine, is another question entirely.

Howard

 
At 11:43 PM, Anonymous groundskeeperwillie said...

No mention of WXRT while you were in Chicago, come on your going to tell me you didn't slide over there and listen to cop ideas?

 
At 6:33 PM, Blogger Dan Clarke said...

Hi there, just caught your blog, I"m an XMer since June 30, 2002. I now have 4 subscriptions (2 SkyFi's, one in-car GM, and one XMPCR).

I have been bummed about missing Bob Dylan as it's never on when I can listen, I have got to get me that new Inno, but damn, $400 for a 1GB MP3 player is a little high for me..maybe I can get a good price on the PCR.

Any chance the Dylan shows will be made available over XM+Napster, or Audible like Opie & Anthony?

I wasn't a fan of O&A going over syndication, it seems like it's not worth it just for O&A content to get someone to subscribe to XM.

Finally, I have one more question. We now have Flight 26 and XM HitList. Can I ask why there isn't a 2000's channel in the decades section yet? I really, REALLY think that six years gives you enough of a playlist..one of those 'hits' channels should be in the decades group.

The other satellite channel does the same thing...I just don't understand why we can't have a 2000s decades channel in the decades section.

Sorry if I came across ranting, I love XM!

 

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