GETTING EMOTIONAL ABOUT MUSIC
GETTING EMOTIONAL ABOUT MUSIC
We've been doing a lot of "special" channels recently. Channels that are temporary and geared to support and celebrate a day/days that are emotionally impactful to people. It all started with the Holiday Channels. Pretty obvious and nothing new, however we have the luxury of presenting every flavor of Christmas. From the traditional to the orchestral to the absurd as in "Special Xmas"--my personal favorite. Special Xmas is assembled by Dan Turner. While Dan is a buttoned down operational guy by day, he’s a madman at night, and this channel is all about his madman side...and it works. Special Xmas is actually an offshoot of a channel we had--and I pray we bring back at some point called "Special X". Headed by Lou Brutus the idea here is pretty much the strangest and possibly worst music ever created. So bad it's brilliant. It's still online, but when it was over the air it was pure madness. I think it was a huge mistake to lose the channel but at the time we had to make way for some others. But these are painful decisions that had to be made...some think we have unlimited bandwidth--we don't. Anyways, Imagine a show called "When Hillbillies Go Bad"---an hour of positively awful hillbilly music...usually from the 40's and 50's...or how about a Parakeet Training Record in” hot rotation"...It was Dr. Demento on Acid. Or "learn a language" records--but ones like "Learn English" recorded in 1946 in German, filled with how a German National explains the War In English with lines like "We are so sorry--we are your friends now" A wonderful channel. It WILL be back---don't know when...but it was too good to keep in the background.
Anyways, recently we did a St. Patrick’s Day Channel. The idea was to celebrate Irish Culture in an authentic way, instead of playing drinking songs and U2 records. We ”rented" Ken Aiken one of our executives who is extremely Irish as our consultant. He then turned us on to the Irish Embassy and we were off to the races. No fake accents doing promos...no Irish songs that a person who is as Irish as I am choosing. It was the real deal. It was more about Guinness than Lucky Charms.
Last weekend it was "Play Ball" a complete celebration of Opening Day. Great calls from legendary play by play announcers...Classic Baseball Comedies and Old Radio Shows (like Babe Ruth guesting on Bob Hope in 1943). Baseball poetry...Baseball songs--and a LOT of them not just Centerfield and the other obvious ones. The production was usually processed to sound like a stadium PA...and of course plenty of sound from the greatest cartoon of all time "Baseball Bugs" starring Bugs Bunny as the rabbit that took on the Gashouse Gorillas and won the game thanks to a Statue of Liberty umpire. Smell the speakers and it's cut grass, mustard and $7 beer.
Doing these CAN be easy but we take the hard course because we could just play a bunch of songs and issue a press release...and claim the credit. OR--We can do something REALLY special and deliver the goods. That’s what we do. It takes a lot of people. Lou Brutus, Jim Mc Bean, Ben Krech, Mike "no relation" Abrams and scores of others contribute to making these pretty special.
It gets back to that "honesty" thing--where you actually deliver what you say. Combine honest with imagination, vision, integrity and purity and you CREATE TRENDS....that last. The junk culture trend isn't a trend, it’s a cultural lull that happens in between trends. The junk culture from Katie Couric to Brittney Spears will be trivia questions when the next TRENDS kick in. We're wading in the shit right now, till it hits the fan, then you'll see a new day. Honesty, Integrity, Vision Integrity and Purity will help that shit hit the fan.
Took a commercial flight from Washington to NYC a week ago. Shoulda flown myself...again. I keep doing this--I have a wonderful plane but figure commercial will be less hassle. Not true. This time I was at Dulles Airport at 9 for a 10:30 flight. Flight left at 2:30. If I had flown out of Reagan, there’s a shuttle every 30 minutes, but Dulles has 3 flight a day...that's it. Had to leave from Dulles because friend and confidant Frank Wood flew me back home on Friday in his LARGE private jet (Oh my God--more on that later--I'm still goosebumping) and you cant fly Private into Reagan. Got to NYC at 3:30. Had lunch with Cliff Burnstein at 1:30. We met and decided we should have a hot dog at this place he knew because we didn't have time for the originally leisurely lunch we'd planned. Good hot dog. Good conversation--though abbreviated. One thing that really struck a chord was that he felt Satellite Radio doesn't do as good of a job as it should in “selling" new music. We sure play it, but it often doesn't get the buzz, whereas there are a few FM's that still go nuts and sell a new release. We used to do this better--maybe we've gotten lazy. Rushed to the Joss Stone Artist Confidential which was great…kept thinking about Cliff’s comment though.
I think the purpose of a music DJ is to emote and connect with the music. Otherwise, why bother? It just becomes useless DJ prattle… noise…I’m not talking about “morning shows” or other comedy and talk driven personalities…I’m talking about people playing songs. I DO believe there are a lot of channels where DJ’s are un-necessary. We DON’T have DJ’s on Top Tracks for example—WHAT can a DJ say about Hotel California? Or Audiovisions where a DJ would just interrupt the “spell”. But on most channels the connection to the music isn’t just paramount—it’s the very reason a DJ is there in the first place…to “narrate” you through the experience. Seems there’s this FCC Law that says only eclectic stations can connect with music. THAT is wrong. Connection with music is timeless and universal. IF a DJ is emotionally dis-connected with the songs he or she is playing—that is a BIG problem. That’s where you get the mindless DJ sound that permeates radio today. A bigger issue is that in light of the often soul-less new technologies delivering music—the DJ...Done right, is more important than ever when connecting with the music on channels that require a connection (not all do).
I sent this note to our staff:
Dan’s email about the great job on the Tim Mc Graw World Premier, reminded me of a lunch I had with Cliff Burnstein last Thursday in NYC. Cliff is one of the most important managers (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica etc….) on the planet. One of the reasons is he’s such a straight shooter. He shot straight with me and commented on how XM doesn’t “sell” new releases as well as we used to. By selling—it’s about emoting. Getting crazed over songs you love. SOME channels do this well (and you know who you are). Some channels fake it—and you can hear through that…some channels are on emotional autopilot. He went on to say how he hears BETTER music involvement on a couple of FM’s that we all know. Ouch! The idea here is that unleashing your emotions and TURNING LISTENERS ON to songs that turn YOU on, is an INTEGRAL part of the XM architecture!!! I know it’s easy to get distracted these days—but this is one areas that, well, you GOTTA stay on top of.
Here’s part of a note sent around on January 16, 2002 that covers this. Please get into and AFDI this CRITICAL part of the XM Sound! UNLEASH YOUR PASSION!
……Talk about it. Be in the loop. We have a real staff. We can really get INTO the music---get INVOLVED in it.
Where is it on YOUR chart? (you have one—right??) Call a record store in a cool or offbeat town and chat with the kid behind the register. GET INVENTIVE AND INVOLVED IN SELLING NEW MUSIC. I cannot tolerate or fathom our competition (satellite, FM, or even print) beating us in the sell of new sounds, let’s hear XM clearly dominate the air with information and EXCITEMENT about new and upcoming releases.
IT IS PART OF YOUR GIG TO INSPIRE EXCITEMENT
OLD MUSIC AWARENESS—Old music is just as important as new. We must be the smartest most in touch. No, we do NOT want to talk and talk and talk, but when we DO talk, music passion should ooze NOT from every break…but from every break where you FEEL it! (every break would be phony as you can’t POSSIBLY like EVERY song!)—honesty rules. Holding back sucks.
ANTICIPATION OF UPCOMING XM ON AIR EVENTS
XM-Selling the concept
AMERICA—talking WITH and TO our very big local community
Now, song wise, unless you’re a decade station where the original authentic version is critical, look for imports, live versions, BBC versions…”different” versions of library songs. Some are bad. But some are gems. Again, we cannot let our competitor be cool because they are playing an odd version of a Hendrix song and we’re playing the same old greatest hits version.
THE BOTTOM LINE—our “fans” must know tat we’re out there searchin’ for the BEST MUSIC on Earth and there ain’t no static play list sitting there dictating every song. C’mon—DIG INTO THE MUSIC. Listen to Franks Place….. Among many others—these guys are talkin’ music..Informing..And doing it in a concise and compelling way. In other words, let’s hear ENERGY…SPIRIT…AND! Swagger, Information and “ownership” of your genre. Nothing less will a) be acceptable b) give us a clear musical victory.
TO WIN A MUSIC BATTLE—SIX THINGS-
-PLAYING THE BEST SONGS (remember “neighborhoods”. The BEST songs can be hits or experimental music…depends on your musical neighborhood)
-TALKING ABOUT IT...BEING AN EXCITING AND EXACTING INFORMATION SOURCE
-BEING BLATANTLY FIRST AND ON TOP OF IT
-BUILDING FEATURES TO SUPPORT IT (in MOST but not all cases)
-THINKING LIKE A MUSIC FREAK (rocket scientists may not “get” playing a lost Hendrix B side…we thrive on searching for cool songs to turn listeners on to)
-THE EXTRA MILE. Living your genre. It’s sad if listeners are more aware than YOU…and devastating if FM or another medium is.
-UNLEASH YOUR EMOTION. It’s bad if you can’t emote about what turns you on over the air…it’s REAL bad if you are so disconnected from what REALLY counts (music) that you present music in an automated and disassociated way.
If we do the above consistently…..we win….listeners win.
...a key word is "listeners win". We have another luxury---we don't have to program for advertisers on our music channels. THIS IS WHERE A DISCONNECT OFTEN HAPPENS and 99% of the programmers who join XM have to rid themselves of this key reality. Advertisers don't matter on Music Channels...therefore neither do ratings. It's all about LISTENERS. It's a whole new way of thinking and one that's dramatically different from FM or AM. We are somewhere in the middle--we aren't terrestrial and we're not Internet. We are in our own space and there is a new playbook. We are creating the new model. There is no model to refer to. Gotta remember that!