Monday, June 11, 2007



The world of music is getting very sophisticated, complicated and driven by dealmakers...

But what if Microsoft had soul? Not the software or systems, but their foray into music. Big monolithic highly successful companies who get into music talk about devices, systems, distribution---but what would happen if they also had soul. Pure non-corporate love-of-music as a component that the public believed in beyond the "brand name". It would be unstoppable. The thing is, soul isn't in the DNA of the business tycoons and technocrats running these companies. Apple comes close---there's a pulse of "getting it" in there, and it's no wonder they are #1 in music. Soul is an unbelievably powerful thing in any aspect of music. From performing it to selling it to distributing it. These big companies have no clue about that, or maybe they research and try to create it, but that "marketed fake soul" is completely transparent and possibly damaging in furthering the perception that they are trying to buy passion instead of...actually having it.. Record labels and even MTV used to have soul. It happened naturally. It's long gone as they traded Main Street for Wall Street. Wall Street is good, but not at the expense of main street...just like "devices" are wonderful but not at the expense of soul. Wanna win? Have BOTH. Soul is the #1 most important competitive advantage that a company even remotely associated with music can have. Just like Truth is in News. I see where Microsoft's ZUNE went over a million units. They'll never touch Apple unless they tap the Soul. If you don't know what soul is---forget it. It ain't James Brown--though he certainly had it! It's an intangible spirit that can't be researched and developed in committee meetings. It's like "it"--you got it or you don't. If you don't...better figure out HOW to get it. Maybe step back from corporate speak focus group conference room elitist Ivy League thinking and get back to the streets...that's where winning happens. SOUL CREATES FANS..NOT "USERS"...and fans sell you, love you and make you...and music isn't hardware or software where soul isn't really a factor. But MUSIC--whether it's being created, dealt, distributed, manufactured or delivered, needs to intersect with the emotional component of soul. Fake it and it's just more junk culture (pop culture's sick cousin). Have it and you possess the key. As the business side of music is getting more sophisticated, it is losing it's soul. THAT IS THE ROOT...THE #1 REASON THERE IS TROUBLE IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY....AND IT IS THE #1 MOST IMPORTANT VALUE IN DEVELOPING THE NEW SYSTEMS AND TECHNOLOGIES THAT PRESENT MUSIC. Without Soul, weather it's Microsoft, Sony or whoever, you're doomed. Someone WILL come out with a cooler moustrap and if you don't have Soul in the company're only as good as your last device or "thing".

Independent is where it's at in music---in terms of image. Independent is cool. Big monoliths with well publicized multi billionaire CEO's and teams of perfectly coiffed executives are not cool...not in the music/entertainment space anyways. Why? A huge reason is that Independent has SOUL.

It's imperative that XM never loses its soul. Soul is SO off the radar at most places, yet it's the lifeblood of competing in this soul-less society that is crying out for substance...not merely" devices or delivery systems"

It’s really all about creating and retaining fans. At XM, our marketing department acquires customers…and programmings job is to turn customers into fans. Subs, churn rate, and other terminology is one thing, but everything comes home when you create fans. Not sure who put this together, but we found it awhile back floating on the internet:

You Know You're Addicted to XM Radio When...
You find yourself humming or whistling the XM "Theme" (those 7 notes you always hear).You find yourself calling AM/FM stations "channels".You don't even listen to FM anymore. You find yourself going crazy when you are stuck with a rental car or your parents car without XMAnytime you listen to FM and look at the radio expecting to find out the Title & Artist Info on the screen.You got to a party and bring your boombox. After you brag it up to everyone for a while they all can't help but wonder if you are really a salesman for xm.You would rather spend money on XM equipment instead of TV.Someone asks you "what's new?" and you start by telling them about something you heard on XM...You quit your job because you don't have a south facing windowAll your presets on your car radio are tuned to the modulator frequency for XMYou're watching TV wondering what you're missing on XMYou officially change your name to "Xavier Mathew Fanatic"You wanted a new Mercedes hardtop convertible, but get a GM car instead because it came with XM built in.When you have the XM 7-note jingle as the ring tone for your cell phone!Stickers on your car/SUV/truck are all about XM... making you a XMredneckXM is the only thing that can help you sleep at nightYour car battery dies because you were listening to xm for too long with the engine offYou buy a new stereo system in home/car to get best sound quality possible from xmYou've spent hours running wires out of your home stereo and up through the walls to pump XM through your entire house with your intercom system. Ah...XM in every room, plus the back deck!You rig a SkyFi car kit in your barn so you can listen while you are grilling steaks. You intentionally switch all the way over to the third lane because you know that the signal does not cut out when going under a certain bridge in that lane.You look forward to the day that AM and FM has to advertise on XM just to have and hope of surviving.You know the XM channel lineup better than what your friends like to do for fun.XM is so important, that you wait to finish hearing the program and you miss the first 5 minutes of the movie in the theater.You call the DJ on your favorite channels and they know your voice and you don't have to give your name, cause you call so often.You elect to go through the drive through (knowing they very well will screw up you’re order) but you risk it anyway because you don’t want to leave you're vehicle You laughed at most of these jokesYou actually get these jokes and pass them on to other friends who are addicted to XM.

The key to creating fans is really inspiring it inside the building. PASSION….Confidence and willingness to break down the walls to AFDI what it takes to connect with people. That’s a big problem with terrestrial radio---outside of the occasional morning show and talk star, radio is used as an omnipresent utility…kind of like the water company. My biggest fear is that we lose that goal. As you become bigger it’s common and easy to focus SO much on the operational and purely business side that you forget what ultimately will drive the success—having a lot of FANS. As always—Balance is the idea. Execute with the idea of building fans…not users.

Was listening to one of my favorite channels, XM175, and heard Grant Paulsen. When we hired him I think he was about ten. He’s now somewhere in his teens I think, and the guy is one of the best sports interviewers I’ve ever heard. He was born with Sports Radio DNA, and oozes knowledge and passion about the game. I’ve heard him tackle tough ones like former jailbird and one time Tigers ace Denny Mc Lain with grace and expertise that betters 99% of the veterans 3 times his age.

Another great Artist Confidential. Perry Farrell and his new band Satellite Party. How could we pass up a band with that name? Perry’s great. Real smart, passionate (there’s that word again) and focused. I was supposed to fly me, Aaron Lee and Jayme Karp up to the show on Sunday, but there was a tropical depression with forecasts of big storms. Thought about the Delta shuttle, but they cancel flights if there’s a stiff breeze. So took Amtrak. They do a pretty good job with the Acela, though three hours from DC to NYC still strikes me as way too long. The entire trip I kept looking at radar on my blackberry, hoping the storm happened so I didn’t have to un-necessarily cancel the flight…Turns out that I could have made it---it was miserable outside, but safely flyable in the high tech “IFR Machine” (instrument flight rules) that the Cirrus is. Kinda pissed me off. And—the return Acela ran an hour late getting me home at 2am. Acela trains seem to be modeled a bit more after the European train. Airline style interiors, a higher speed than Amtrak’s usual 79mph, and trackage owned by Amtrak instead of the host freight railroads which create a dispatching nightmare that Freight traffic wins. The line has to accommodate commuter traffic, but the Acela has route priority so it speeds along pretty well. Lou Brutus hosted this one and opted to train back the next morning. Not a bad idea.

A few days earlier, I had an off day. Got a call from Eric Logan and Sandy Girard (who makes life easier for all of us as she LIKES doing the leg work on projects) who were at a College Sports conference in Destin Florida. They had no options other than to spend about 5 hours getting home with lousy connections. It was a no brainier to fly down there and rescue them. Long flight. Three and a Half hours each way with an hour to decompress in Destin. They were running late which was good. I stopped in Athens Georgia on the way down to pee and check the Destin Weather which was pretty nasty with costal storms. Made it in without a problem. Interesting place to fly into since it’s the home of Eglin Air Force base, and you are mixing it up with the Military guys. I kinda like being the XM Pilot as an unofficial component in my job description. When I was a kid, I was completely focused on Music, Radio and Airplanes. Figured if I became an airline pilot, I couldn’t to music and radio…but with music and radio, I can always fly. Worked out well. Lucky to be able to do media, music…and airplanes.

Chubby Checker visited XM. Not a big deal as every day there are stars of all genres roaming the halls, playing, etc…An oasis for artists’ But rarely have I seen the reaction from the staff toward Chubby. Part of it might be the respect for artists from other eras that are still doin’ it. Part of it is where he came from…part of it is the sheer myth of the guy who popularized the twist and was part of Dick Clark’s world back before it cheezed out. He looked AMAZING. Hardly Chubby…and twenty years younger than his age. And most impressively, his single was really good.

Doing a Boot camp for recently added XMers. A short version—only three hours. Geared to cleanse them from what they are likely conditioned to, and thinking in 2007 terms…as media artists rather than contributing to radio’s component in Junk Culture. Getting them to think---more than anything, rather than simply and blindly accept that the way it’s been done is the only or best way to do things. Some will “get it”...others wont---

IT is coming. IT is a six week playback of about every song that ever reached the charts from the 30’s to today. Kinda makes those Memorial Day “Top 500 Countdowns” that were cool 30 years ago, look lame. Many don’t get IT because IT is so different—breaks about every rule. BUT—It increases credibility via the sheet unbridled completeness of it- It’s SO over-the-top that it is effective. It is riddled with tune out. Big Deal…listeners will tune BACK. Tune out paranoia drives average radio. Be great—ballsy—make crazy moves. It builds listener respect. To be concerned about holding a listener every second is absurd. People DO tune out. Fine. We gotta thing BIG picture…completeness, if you want a channel that LASTS.

Speaking on going way back---The 40’s channel has done a remarkable and historically significant tribute to D-day. Marlin Taylor—one of XM’s secret weapons, and Bob Moke have created something pretty special with their tribute.

Bluesville CD we did with Concord and Starbucks is on the shelves. GREAT graphics…nice package. First Blues CD we’ve done. It has....SOUL.


At 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Lee, what happened to the passion that once made Ethel the best station on XM? I used to be a fan, now I tell my friends to stay away.

At 10:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MTV used to have SOUL? Please! Viacom has owned it from Day One and it started as an outlet for the record companies' promotional videos. How much soul is there in that? You've fallen into the trap of elevating an original business plan into something to treasure and bitch about not being here anymore.

Viacom saw that fewer and fewer viewers were watching 24/7 videos, so the programmers -- the same people who came up with the original concept -- developed new program elements. Guess what? Ratings increased. Ad dollars increased. Target audience happy, Viacom happy.

What's happened recently? Rock is largely irrelevant to a generation that prefers rhythmic to melodic -- the simpler the beat and the more chant-like the lyrics the better. Complete songs? Nah, ringtones are where it's at -- distilling a long, "boring" three-minute song to its 15 essential seconds, to be played over and over and over. That's anathema to a longtime booster of the overblown art-rock of Yes, I agree, but you can't stop the march of time. MTV hung on to the decomposing corpse of rock way too long, and when it finally caught up with the music kids like now, it was too late. The kids had moved on and MTV was left without a core demographic.

But soul? Lee, MTV has just as much soul now as it did when every 14-year-old in suburbia was fantasizing about Martha and Nina -- zero. It's a business, always has been.

At 12:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee, what if Clear Channel had soul?? What if teresstrial radio had soul?? If Clear Channel wasn't the "evil empire" that they made themselves to be would satellite radio even have a fighting chance today??

At 2:02 PM, Blogger The Mighty Favog said...

OK, maybe MTV never had "soul," per se.

But once it was something fresh, sort of, and cared about pop music, sort of, and wasn't so totally about programming to society's worst vices as opposed to its better nature (sort of). Now, MTV (and to a slightly lesser extent, VH1) are the "Jerry Springer Show" producers, and we are the mongoloidal "guests" itchin' for fisticuffs -- or maybe just itchin', period, from a nasty infection we picked up doing whatever it was that got us on Springer . . . or into the MTV demographic.

At what point did "culture" devolve to the point where we think we can only be entertained by being debased? To me, that is the antithesis of "soul."

At what point did we come to think this actually is a *good* thing, even if it has proven supremely profitable?

"Soul" has to do with the raw power of human emotion and the human experience -- ALL of the human experience, including the noble and the divine. "Junk culture," such as what now has been perfected by Viacom, involves only a small, dark sliver of the human experience, and it blows it up out of all proportion.

To my thinking, the extent to which what Lee calls "junk culture" becomes our real culture reflects exactly how close we are to coming to the end of ourselves -- in every way that can manifest itself.

Technology certainly has helped "junk culture" to spread and blossom, but technology also will allow us to fight back -- and to bypass the corporate morass that's decided there's more return from "junk culture" than from authentic "soul" culture.

So that's what I'm trying to do at

It so happens I'm a Catholic sort who's worked in either print or broadcast media for the past 30 years. It bugs me that there's seemingly no room for people like me -- who actually (and highly imperfectly) try to live according to their beliefs -- in mainstream mass media anymore -- particularly radio.

It also bugs me that there's no room for people like me in, say, Catholic broadcasting. Nowadays, Catholic radio in particular is all about hunkering down in some holier-than-thou religious ghetto where everybody is a little bit paranoid, a little too Holy Joe, and where what little music you play is ungodly sh*tty.

Been there, done that -- was a production director at a Catholic radio station. Came to hate it. Almost lost my faith breathing those fumes.

So, now I'm trying to come up with a concept for "Catholics committing radio" as opposed to "Catholic radio." There's a big difference between the two, as big as rediscovering what the poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins knew -- that "The world is charged with the grandeur of God" -- versus hiding from the world because "It's all rotten," we're scared of it and might die of the vapors.

Right now, my version of "Catholics committing radio" is being tried out as Revolution 21's Blog for the People
and as the Revolution 21 podcast.

It's nothing revolutionary, except for the context. But I think it's better than the "junk culture" we can't escape on broadcast radio.

And perhaps little efforts like mine -- an effort I'd certainly like to become a bigger effort and provide a modest salary -- is the way out. I mean, if people are empowered to *create* media in enviromnents that do no violence to their consciences -- and if they're passionate about doing so -- perhaps we'll be on the way to creating a culture infused with both integrity and "soul."

At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The passion has been deflated from The Boneyard too in my opinion. There's way too much song/band repetition, too little new music and songs being played that don't even belong (Love in an Elevator, Tall Cool One). On top of that, with MusicLab being taken off the air, there's been a big punch in the gut to 30 something white males who are passionate about music.

At 2:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The world of music is getting very sophisticated, complicated and driven by dealmakers..."
Geez Lee, what has changed? Ride out bro. Do it just like ya used to do. Fuck the popular.. Music is an ongoing process where musicians strive to become uniquely derivative of the artists that influenced them and they hope guys like you dig them enough to say a kind word. Stop talking and start doing. It comes natural for a man of your talents and for god's sake don't listen to these internet fucks who get their whack off responding to your blog. Jesus is kinda like Elvis.. we've been over this time and time again, Bonanza Zero Four November.. god damn.. What the hell is holding you up? The internet? Forget it.. Any asshole with an opinion can force his will on Al Gore's invention.. Fuck'm. Do it. Just like ya did before. Best regards from you're brother in Science Fiction

At 5:22 AM, Anonymous Joe McKesson said...

Soul, to me, is the fundemental question. Soul involves some understanding of the reason. Reason was supposed to be the content. I was on the original iTunes team and we thought what we were doing was bringing discovery of content to folks. So many methods. Fundementally though, the editorial was let go and the music choices became the demands of label partners, as opposed to free choice. Soul requires soul to communicate and relate the reason for things. Questions that need answers and destinations that fulfill a sense of life. In digital music
profit and a quick buck subverts passion, almost on a daily basis. But in music and all entertainment there is no prize to win, only the satisfaction of a need or understanding that brings
an intimate understanding of what the listener
resonated with in the first place. Currently, I'm working with MTV Urge, and we have been fighting to bring that message to the listener, the editorial is working to bridge the gap, but confidence is low because it is impossible to see the return. This maybe the fundemental problem with has no metric, it just is. Most consumers see that there is no soul, but entertainment in its current form just washes over people, even though it is the soul that makes the journey, yet flashing from channel to channel in the hopes that something will flash, a memory, an idea, a hope, anything to feel alive.
If MS, or any large corporation, took the time to craft their technology to content or content with applied technology that search would be easier. But there are so many of us with different paths, that finding a money model in a short period of time is not possible, so everyone is turning to advertising based on traffic hits, but there too folly will happen, our consensus will lead to less content and time when there should be more and the longtail content embraced. In the final analysis
a new era of education and innovative content should be championed, ideas that require interest and input. A soul responds to nuturing and everyone should be concerned with feeding their audience good food, food that prolongs their lives and makes life easier.

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Puffy McScrote said...

Soul... yeah, that is kind of the key to making aventure such as XM work. You have to instill it with something ethereal, something viceral that fans can latch onto, hold close.
But, how those fans can turn when you reach into that thing they hold so dear and eviscerate it? What happens when you rip that soul away?
Well, you end up with disillusioned, disheartened, and disenchanted fans who would rather turn to their iPods than continue to feed their suddenly soulless machines.
Wouldn't you say that's what happened with the Virus?

At 7:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee, I am a great admirer of XM but I've been spending time this week listening to a bunch of FREE mp3 downloads from All About Jazz and, I gotta tell you, the sound QUALITY is amazing. In comparison, XM just sounds flat out bad and, that, against mp3s.

I'm sorry, but XM lost its soul when it trashed/dissed/forgot about sound quality. When will we get sound QUALITY that matches sound VARIETY?

At 4:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rick Lambert has SOUL.

Would be nice to have him back on Ethel--That channel has gone way south--completely soul-less.

--obviously people who read your blog are big Lee Abrams fans, but it would be nice to have some of your musings put into action--the way it seemd to be in the past.

It seems to me that your posts get more and more compelling, while XM gets farther and farther away from what you are preaching in the blog.

At 9:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Where's the passion on the Boneyard? It use to be a niche channel with a huge playlist for the Hard Rock fan. Now, it's Big Tracks II. The small playlist with a lot of song repetition. I hear the same songs played multiple times in week. It's sad!!!!!!

Lee it's time to get involved!!!!

At 7:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked your "Addicted to XM" post--I have been for the past two years. Here's a couple more for you- my wife and I stayed at a hotel near home out in the boonies to get away. We were on the North side of the building and I could not get ANY SIGNAL from XM. Only one bar Satellite occasionally and not enough to hear a thing. Last year went on a Mexican cruise with my Airware and once we got south of mid-Baja forget it... but then at the docks in Puerto Vallarta, semi squeezed under a building...what do you know??? Got it again heading west from Puerto Vallarta to Los Cabos and then nothing for a couple of days until we were nearing San Diego again.

Another tip: stay on the south side of a plane on East/West flights and the East side of the plane on North/South flights but you didn't hear that from me...although Southwest said I could try it and what a fun flight that was...the first time I've had audio entertainment on Southwest.

One last comment Lee- I love the new Freestyle AM show on Chrome on Sunday mornings and the new wave evening show also on Chrome. Since Chrome is really all about classic dance, I would love to hear some of these tracks in the regular rotation instead of just certain times. maybe a couple of songs an hour of each style...a little bit less than the 80s Freestyle you currently have in rotation...

Great Blog!

Jeff G
Travel Hub Radio

At 9:46 PM, Anonymous Dave Dhillon - San Diego said...

Lee, u r bang on. I realize you are not denying the ‘business aspect’ of music and the music industry, (of course that is a key component), but u r absolutely right - Soul has been soul'd out. And long missing, not only in the music industry but in many aspects of life altogether.
For me Soul is about being real, touching one on a personal level, whether it’s a painting, a conversation, a song, a lover. One on one…is the key component. Today we don’t experience the soulful element like we used too. Can a machine have soul? Look at what we deal with on a regular basis - Bank machines, video games, computer dating/chat rooms, it’s all sterile. The one on one connection is a lost art. A vital quintessential element that puts the feel back in feeling is missing. So if XM’s mantra is ‘let us not get comfortably numb’… strive to embrace and revive the lost art of having Soul - through Soul searching. And work on delivering that in an authentic manner to our fans. Good on you. It’s a very astute observation that needs to be addressed in all aspects of life. Not just music.

At 5:52 AM, Blogger Steve said...

Yup, absolutely, Lee. And the only way to inject soul into your brand? People. It's another red flag for terrestrial radio - take the people out (or not groom/invest/develop them) and you're left with a bunch of boards, computer screens, microphones, and carpeting. The great companies (in and out of radio) find the best, most passionate, quirky, weird, opinionated, positive, creative people. And they win. We "interface" with so many machines (ostensibly because we are so "time stretched") that a great opportunity to connect with people has developed - and that's where radio (terrestrial and satellite) can step in and over-serve. Listeners (consumers if we allow the "business model" to show it's head) are drawn to two things - the truth and humanity. Radio is in the best position to take advantage of this. Unless we just want our computers, microphones, boards, and carpeting to get our ratings and determine our financial success.


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