THE ART OF THE LOGO, BOSTON, HOT GENRES AND 2007!
THE ART OF THE LOGO, BOSTON, HOT GENRES AND 2007!
My New Years wish to the programming staff is better use of the XM Logo. Throughout the holidays I was in a lot of stores and restaurants and damn, if that five note “audio signature” didn’t cut right through. Without it, I would have had no idea that it was XM being piped in. The signature is part of the XM audio DNA. It’s a way of saying XM without saying it. A lot of people didn’t get it…I’m sure I was beyond annoying about it, but I pounded home that the benefits will come over time…and they are starting to come.
Some people listen to radio as a foreground thing—crankin it to 11. But more listen as a background source. Often a DJ or spoken word is a muffled mess. That’s where a logo can cut through and identify you without words. Sort of like the TV being on in the den and you are in the living room. You can usually tell what channel is on without being anywhere near the screen—via the channel's audio logo. You know--"Hurry up, the movies going to start" because that HBO intro music is coming on. Years ago I did a “hitchhiking study” where I’d leave in the morning and get picked up…hitchhike all day with the idea of ending up close to home that night. Dangerous work, but in 1970 it was an effective way to study in car listening among the kind of listener that would pick you up—which was the kind that I wanted to know more about as was putting together the FM Rock idea then. Without going into the gristly detail, two things really stood out:
--Many Listeners listened in the background then cranked it when a song they like came on. Some DJ’s had something to say and the volume stayed up during the breaks, but most DJ’s offered nothing more than muffled noise as the volume came down during the break. The point being that the kind of station I was working on had to be “background” friendly and have some kind of Identification happening when listeners were not actively tuned in. Sonny Fox at WRNO came up with an idea to have wind chimes in the background whenever the mic was keyed—same effect. Walking through a mall, or hanging out talking to friends, you knew what you were listening to even if you couldn’t understand a word that was being spoken. Of course, audio logos are nothing new...NBC had the chimes and every pop station in the world drove home their jingle, but somewhere in the 70's or 80's the idea of an audio signature seemed to get lost on radio.
--Talking over music sucks. These listeners thought that a DJ “talking up” a record was incredibly lame. Sure, the DJ would be SO proud when he “hit the vocal” with perfect timing. But listeners (at least the ones I was studying) absolutely deplored the audacity of the DJ to think he’s more important than the song and favoring “tight mechanics” over music.
OK, back to the audio logo--
Some of our channels do exceptional work with the logo. Our Jazz channels religiously ask artists to play the logo, and it sounds amazing to have a sexy trumpet playing it in between Jazz songs. Or then there’s Bill Kates our sound madman in New York. He will take guitar riffs from Dick Dale’s recent XM Performance, jockey them around and get a Surf inspired logo out of it!
The magic of the XM logo isn’t the notes, though Synth Wiz Larry Fast did a splendid job of creating it, but the magic is in the treatment of it so it matches the vibe of the channel it’s on and gives XM an added dimension of system identification.
Kinda slow as the year wound down in terms of Artists dropping by, however, Vince Gill dropped in for an ARTIST CONFIDENTIAL. Actually a COUNTRY CONFIDENTIAL. A different twist on the concept much like Martin Goldsmith’s CLASSICAL CONFIDENTIAL. In this case, Country legend and true Gentleman Bill Anderson hosted. It was pretty magical as the two had so much in common. Plus Bill already hosts an XM show where he interviews Country legends, so it was a natural. Vince, like most of the Country guys, was such a pleasure to deal with as was his manager Larry Fitzgerald. Some of the Rock guys can be assholes…haven’t met an asshole Country guy yet. Vince was another XM first as we’ve done Confidentials with him and his Wife Amy Grant...maybe Family Confidential is next.
New Years Eve brings back memories. One that is especially prominent is New Years 1969 going into 1970. I was involved at WQAM in Miami at the time. WQAM was among the Nations most influential Top 40 stations. As a result, many of us got invited to a party at Jerry Wexler’s house in Miami Beach. I went there with Paxton Quigley, aka Cleveland Wheeler who was WQAM’s night DJ at the time and the first PD of XM’s Sixties on Six Channel. What a scene. Right out of Hollywood. Exactly what you’d expect from a record mogul. I knew NO-ONE there but soaked in the buzz. It was a star studded, well catered evening in a very expensive Mansion on Biscayne Bay. Later that night I got introduced to Jerry by someone who I bonded with. I was only about 17 so I stood out quite a bit. I could have said I was Jimmy Page and probably gotten away with it. Jerry and I talked for a good 30 minutes. That was cool. We left and didn’t think about it beyond that it was a memorable "what the hell am I doing here"? type evening.
Much to my surprise, a week later I get a letter from him asking me to call. I did. He offered me a job. At this stage I was so into riding the FM boat, I declined…but I always wonder what would have happened if I took him up on it.
Right before Christmas took a road trip. Went with XM Producer John Stevens. John looks like a cross between Rob Zombie and some Middle Eastern terrorist. It’s always fun flying with him because he usually scares people at airports, but good heartedly engages people who figure they met a Rock Star. Back last summer when we flew to Savannah, he engaged a group of Navy F-16 pilots. Now THAT was a scene to remember....Anyways, Took off from DC and went to White Plains New York where we picked up Randy Ezratty and his lovely Wife Jon Ann. Jo Ann wants to become a pilot so she sat up front. She asked a LOT of questions…very enthusiastic. Answering questions and flying through the busiest airspace in the World was challenging…but no prob. We then flew to Beverly Massachusetts, just north of Boston where we were met by two of Randy’s friends who both were high up in the U2 organization during their early years. They took us to a restaurant on the shore for Chowder and Clams. Authentic New England thing... My plane had just come out of its annual inspection and the mechanic forgot to hook up the landing light so we tried to beat the sunset so I could taxi ok. Imagine no headlight. No sweat in the air, but tricky on the ground. The flight back to White Plains was incredible. You could see the lights of the metroplex on this wonderfully clear winter night. We landed at White Plains and the airport is well lit, so no problem getting back to the terminal. Took off again and headed back to DC…again pure magic as the East Coast unfolded in a blaze of light. Approaching DC we hit the arrival push into Dulles and large jets were everywhere you can see. An uneventful landing, a dark taxi and we were home. A fine day for all.
A good friend asked me for a very short overview of what’s hot---random thoughts, from a PURELY commercial perspective... Always an emotion packed argument starter, but here’s what I told him…
On the 12 “Hot” genres, it’s a very complicated issue that really requires a face-to-face discussion; however, here is a basic list. PLEASE NOTE: These do NOT reflect what terrestrial radio is delivering as they are motivated by Arbitron/Ad Sales rather than truly reflecting tastes. If a music genre doesn’t hit the sweet spot ad sales wise, you won’t hear it. Also—some of the genres don’t translate well into the current CD distribution mechanism, though the genre’s importance nonetheless exists. Take Classic Rock. Don’t see the CD sales, but concert attendance is off the scale with the big names. It’s scary that the “Industry” and media in particular are out of sync with what is REALLY happening and opting for the big catch. But in broad strokes National picture that is also kind of obvious…, here we go: (not in order of importance)
CLASSIC ROCK (EARLY ERA): The generation that was 16-20 during this period is grown up, but this genre remains a powerful sound icon in their lives, more reflected through touring.
CONTEMPORARY COUNTRY: The voice of the Red States
URBAN A/C: Mainstream music for the African American new mainstream of adults
HIP HOP/RAP: Very polar as it can be “dangerous” to some...…but the fans buy a lot of CD’s…and it ain’t going away as the music you like between 16-20 is almost universally the blueprint for your musical future
TRADITIONAL COUNTRY: One of XM’s leading music channels is Willie’s Place. New respect for the Johnny Cash types. REAL Americans playing REAL music.
SMOOTH JAZZ: The new “Beautiful Music”. Audio valium for the stressed.
ADULT CONTEMPORARY: A catch phrase for ultra mainstream song-driven big melodies.
CLASSIC HARD ROCK; should be bigger but fewer places to expose this. Rush and Aerosmith define this
HARD ROCK (NEW): Again, not a lot of exposure, but there’s a potent group of Rockers. However---PROGRESSIVE HARD ROCK---Coheed & Cambria, Mars Volta is the thing –not the mindless stuff.
INTELLIGENT ALTERNATIVE: Maybe “progressive alternative” is a way to put this. Radiohead for example.. and those following more of an early U2 thing…and a lot that are bubbling under the threshold of the mainstream...Artist with a cerebral edge and a modern message.
SINGER/SONGWRITER: The trick is a great song by someone who can sing. That great song is the illusive part.
LATIN: A huge emerging market!!! Massive.
CHRISTIAN: Another emerging market.
Then there are the XM Holiday Channels'06. They rocked. I heard them everywhere. My favorite is the sicker-than-ever Special Xmas. Modeled after the old Special X Channel, this gem assembled by Lou Brutus and Dan Turner re-defines Holiday music. So pathetically bad…it’s brilliant. The worst and strangest Holiday music ever recorded. Then there’s the Hannauka Channel. It was Hugh Panero’s idea, but Mike Abrams (no relation) put his heart and soul into it. It WAS brilliantly put together.
Christmas Day was quite the Drama. James Brown died the night before. We were operating on a Christmas Day staff schedule, but the group came together with the precision of well oiled madness. Bobby Bennett, Dion Summers, Pat Clark and B.K. Kirkland all went into high gear and assembled some pretty amazing tributes. Beyond the call. E-mails, phone calls and airline rebookings all came into play as XM reacted on a dime at a time when our competitors were on autopilot….
…and now its 2007…so bring on the logos!