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.