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LIFE ITSELF

By Karen Glauber

A few times each year, someone will ask me, “What inspired you to seek a career in radio promotion?” The obvious answer is the four-plus years I spent running a college radio station, during which time I was hired as a college rep at A&M Records. The question I constantly ask myself is how I’ve managed to outlast nearly everybody else I started with 30+ years ago. Intelligence is not a prerequisite, and beyond my unnaturally exhaustive ability to “name that tune” in three notes (or less), my social skills are not exceptional (I hate people).

What I’ve come to realize (after decades of therapy) is that a key to longevity in this job, especially for women, is to have been brought up by an alcoholic/drug addict (or two), especially if said parent(s) could answer 10-out-of-10 on the “Are You a Raging Narcissist?” questionnaire that was included in Parade magazine. Or maybe it was the Psychology Today quiz, “How Depressed Are You, Really?” We (those of us who grew up in such an environment) are perfectionists, people-pleasers, and—luckily for the radio programmers we speak to—we are quick to apologize for their irrational behavior. We are the problem solvers, prone to grand gestures of generosity, while asking for nothing in return. Elliot Spitzer made it impossible for us to make demands for reciprocity; now we “hope” programmers will “do the right thing.”

We are at the mercy of the decision makers, whose opinions and actions, no matter how ludicrous and, in many cases, abusive (we’ve all had a Swimming With Sharks boss in our career), are accepted as “the truth.” Those who grew up in chaos are quick to make jokes to diffuse the tension. We might deny it, but we take every business decision that doesn’t go our way personally (you added his record, rather than mine), and as another example of how we need to be more perfect and more in control. To you, we’re accommodating and unfazed by pressure. For me, specifically, I feel an enormous responsibility on behalf of the artists, managers, labels, programmers and employers to be at the top of my game AT ALL TIMES. Thanks, Mom…

The highlights of last week’s iHeart Rock Summit included the opportunity to hear (and see) so much great new music, and be part of the introduction of Bishop Briggs (she made a hugely positive impression, even at 8:50am) and the acknowledgement by KONGOS of the role that iHeart had played in their career by choosing “Come With Me Now” as the first-ever On the Verge pick. Lewis Del Mar singer Danny Miller and Nerf have now been in the same room, at the same time (the resemblance is uncanny), and John Moschitta told me (in confidence, of course) that he’s picking Cold War Kids’ “First” for the next On the Verge. Seriously, it was lovely to see Moschitta, and I told him that the new KONGOS single, “Take It From Me,” should be teed up and ready to add by 2017. The bands we all agreed had smashes forthcoming included Phantogram, whose “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” will be a #1 record (bet on it), plus Two Door Cinema Club, Glass Animals, Head and the Heart, Barns Courtney, Bastille and the aforementioned Lewis Del Mar. Kudos to Brad Hardin for packing so much great music into one day. Let’s hope (there’s that word, again) that every programmer left inspired by the vast array of potential hits…

I was also very happy to meet WRDA PD Aly Young in person, as well as Ted’s bff Todd Violette, plus dear friends Dustin Matthews, Mike Kaplan, Dave Hill and John Allers (whose cheek I kept kissing—and I was sober!)…

I’m obsessed with the new Glass Animals single “Life Itself.” It’s a “modern”-sounding smash—it’s truly “what’s next” in music. Jacqueline Saturn and her Caroline promo squad will break Glass Animals at radio, without a doubt…

Congrats to Nick Petropoulos and the Glassnote team for taking The Strumbellas’ “Spirits” to #1 this week! The song was iHeart’s only On the Verge pick so far for 2016—well done! When The Lumineers’ “Ophelia” goes to #2, the #1 and #2 songs on the Alternative chart will be on indie labels. Has that ever happened before?

 


 
 
THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING

By Karen Glauber

Fueled by insomnia, night sweats and a diet of Peeps (always gluten-free, fat-free—it says so on the box) and Honest Lori’s Lemon Tea (just a tad sweet—says the label), I’ve lost my ability to filter what I say. I’m not quite at the level as the aunt who dares to call the new baby “funny-looking,” but some have been a bit surprised at my willingness to speak out.

When the topmost executives at labels are questioning the necessity of having an Alternative department because the perception is that the format doesn’t sell records, where’s the risk? Everything on Pop and, to an extent, Hot AC, sounds the same, and the only way an Alternative song has a shot at crossing over is if it was an Alternative hit first, like twenty one pilots, Elle King, X Ambassadors, James Bay, The Lumineers, Tove Lo, BORNS (Hot AC), Cold War Kids (Hot AC), Empire of the Sun (Hot AC), etc. This week’s Alternative Top 10 contains seven songs that have already been #1.

Some might argue that the chart moves too quickly—did the Nothing but Thieves and Foals songs have enough saturation in the marketplace to warrant being #1? Well, compared to the airplay of other songs on the chart, they did. If you want to include sales and audience, then the Top 5 would be twenty one pilots, Cold War Kids, Coldplay, Empire of the Sun and The Lumineers.

A PD asked me recently (today) why anybody takes charts seriously. Hey, ask our bosses that question! When stations play so few currents, and a #1 song is in the range of 2,500 spins/week, then it’s completely counterintuitive (that word, again) for a spin in L.A. to count the same as a spin in Allentown (which was considered the “big city” for my hometown of Easton, PA). Ted and I have spent years trying to figure out which metrics the brains behind the chart-that-matters use when they add stations to the reporting panel.

Let’s back up a second—a good chunk (some might say the majority) of the format can be considered “after-market,” meaning they won’t add a record until it’s Top 10. The first surge on the chart is from the “early-adopter” stations, whose audiences thrive on hearing new music, and by the stations in small-to-meaningless markets that constantly add and drop songs, but whose spins can help get a record charted.

There’s usually a “bounty” associated with the latter set of stations—controlled by per-add indies, who can command a weekly ransom of up to $3,000/record. I’m happy to support REAL airplay with marketing that helps a station stay on the air. I’m happy to support MEANINGFUL airplay by setting up radio station shows that gives the act their first “look” in a market, and helps a station bring in sponsorship revenue.

Here’s what happens when the brains behind the chart-that-matters add a new station: The vultures descend. And by vultures, I mean the per-add indies who catch the first Greyhound bus into the new market and make an offer that the GM can’t refuse. We’ve all gotten that Tuesday call from one of them saying, “My station wants to add your record. It will cost (pick a number between $700-$2,000).” For sport, I like to say, “I will give you $500 if you can tell me the name of the band, $750 for the name of the song and $1,000 if you can sing the chorus.” That game is fun, and all, but NOTHING could top the $800 invoice for an add on a station that ISN’T EVEN ON THE AIR. It’s a fucking TRANSLATOR station, where each non-spin counts towards the chart as much as a KROQ spin. I’ve been known to ask for “paper adds” in the glory days, but this is ridiculous! To quote Husker Du, this “makes no sense at all.” And, to quote the Urinals’ seminal punk hit from 1979, “ack ack ack ack!”…

Speaking of punk rock, the best show at SXSW was Iggy Pop. Everything else, even the artists I loved, like Jack Garratt, DMA’s, Aurora, The Strumbellas, Barns Courtney, Joseph, Harriet, Declan McKenna, Lewis Del Mar and Rayland Baxter couldn’t compare…. SONG TO HEAR: BISHOP’s “River.”


 
 
THE LESS I KNOW THE BETTER 

By Karen Glauber

I haven’t written a column in months, not because I haven’t had anything to say—that’s never the case—sadly, the topics on my mind have been far weightier than my skill as a writer… Since the year began, Ted has been in my office every few hours to proclaim, “Well, that’s just how the format is right now,” prompted by the noise my skull makes after being pounded repeatedly on top of my desk. The impact generates a Cop Rock-like visual in my brain, in which Meghan Trainor appears in my office and sings, “My currents are NO, My ratings are NO, My audience is NO, My passion is NO, My show headliner is NO. NO, NO, NO, NO!” Then Ted asks, “What is that word you always use to describe the scenario where a PD books a 20-plus-band summer show, but the station plays less than a dozen currents?” I glare at him through the icepack that my assistant JJ has applied to my swollen forehead, and spell out: “C-O-U-N-T-E-R-I-NT-U-I-T-I-V-E.”

The solution to creating a compelling radio show, one might argue, is to PLAY the bands you’ve selected to perform at your radio show. Use whatever gut instincts that might have been cultivated during the course of your career and SUPPORT NEW ACTS that you know will be MEANINGFUL six months later, when it’s SHOW TIME. Based on the metrics available to the format, NOTHING IS A HIT. So make your own hits. M-Scores, call-out, online research—it tells you that your airplay doesn’t matter, not that a song is or isn’t a hit.

MAKE IT MATTER. When Hot AC is cycling through songs at a faster clip than Modern Rock, there’s something deeply wrong with our format. Let the first Elle King, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness and X-Ambassadors singles take a well-deserved hiatus, and give the follow-ups a fighting chance to be as big. If an add is contingent on a radio show, then you can’t be surprised if your audience isn’t enchanted with the barrage of subpar bands. To refuse to support a band like, for instance, Tame Impala, because they don’t want to play radio shows, is a function of YOUR EGO, and negates the possibility that your audience will love the new single, just like they did “Elephant.”

Nobody OWES anybody anything, except maybe a return phone call and the opportunity to do good business. The labels/managers/agents owe the artists their best efforts on behalf of THE ARTISTS. It is our job to promote and never exploit their talent. Radio programmers have to stop treating artists like they’re Greg Brady in the “Johnny Bravo” episode of The Brady Bunch—chosen because they “fit the suit.” Where did you cultivate your highly inappropriate sense of ENTITLEMENT! It’s tiresome and—there’s that word again—counterintuitive. It will avail you NOTHING when your owner flips the format.

Ted has stopped me on many occasions from sending an email that I wouldn’t be able to unsend.  Lately, it would read something like, “Dear PD in a market with a bus station, whose spins (for some insane reason) count as much as KROQ’s: Go ahead. PLEASE DON’T ADD The Lumineers record. It outsold every other format-exclusive song on your playlist this week, last week and the week before. People LOVE this band. But please, I beg you, PLEASE DON’T ADD ‘Ophelia.’ Enjoy your 1.2 share. Love, Me/President HITS magazine.” YOU’VE LOST THE PLOT.

You’ll be at SXSW next week, right? Let’s see some bands together. Let’s leave Austin INVIGORATED by a passion to share what you’ve seen with the audience you influence. Stop trying to be concert promoters, and stop treating promo people like booking agents. NOBODY WINS. Promoters are extending the radius clauses on festivals because they’ve invested time and money into developing a touring base for their headliners, and don’t want your radio shows taking tickets out of their market.

I was talking to a 28-year-old girl last night at a show, and she told me she had heard about the artist who was about to play on Instagram. Remember when you used to be the NEW MUSIC LEADERS? Now, you’re playing less than 20% currents, the biggest of which was “broken” by a car commercial (Empire of the Sun). A big change needs to happen, or we will become an obsolete format, except for a handful of stations, just like when I started in 1983…

Goodbye to Norm Winer at WXRT. He is truly the greatest.


 
 
LET'S DANCE

...to the song they’re playin’ on the radio… The quiet and unexpected (to most) death of David Bowie, one of music’s most important artists EVER, rattled our Modern Rock community last week. That it happened just two days after his 69th birthday/release of his latest album Blackstar, heightened the sense of loss we’ve all been feeling. I asked my label and radio friends what was the first Bowie song they remembered hearing; their favorite Bowie song, and if they had any personal memories about him or his music that they wanted to share.

LAZLO/KRBZ: “When I was in the fourth or fifth grade, I picked up The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust at a garage sale. I remember putting it on and hearing ‘Five Years.’ I sat and listened to the entire record and go to ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’ and knew my life had been changed.”

TROY HANSON: “My fave Bowie tune is ‘The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell’ from Hours. I have a strong memory of having dinner with David’s guitarist Earl Slick before catching Bowie’s set, David was incredibly gracious and kind with his time afterwards, ever the gentleman.”

JEFF REGAN: “The DJ at the local roller rink would play ‘Let’s Dance’ twice a session back in the day. I had no reference point at that time to his previous work; all I knew was how much that song mattered to me. Only later did I start to piece together his remarkable gift to fuse/bend genres and transcend that which was ‘trendy.’ Plus, his ‘Peace on Earth/Lttle Drummer Boy’ with Bing Crosby will forever be one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs.”

LESLIE SCOTT: “It’s tough to pick one favorite song, so I have to pick two, one that might not even count: ‘Man Who Sold the World’ and ‘All the Young Dudes’ [Ed note: of course that counts!] I was always in awe of Bowie, because he could do ANYTHING. He was beyond an artist and beyond a musician.”

LYNN BARSTOW: “’Fame’ was the first song I knew, thanks to Casey Kasem. Then, after the fourth grade, I graduated to rock radio and heard ‘Suffragette City’ and ‘Space Oddity’ a lot. Ziggy was among the first records I bought, so my fave has got to be one of those—‘Five Years’ or ‘Starman’ or ‘Suicide,’ likely.”

MARK HAMILTON: “My favorite song is ‘Life on Mars’!!!!!”

HALLORAN: “Too many (favorites) to choose from, but ‘Moonage Daydream’ was the first one that transported me. ‘Queen Bitch’ was the first time I remember seeing him—on the Old Grey Whistle Test.

RISA MATSUKI: “I heard my first Bowie song in 1978—it was ‘Changes’—my best friend’s mom was a huge fan and was playing the song one day. I remember looking at the cover of the album, being not quite able to wrap my head around this pretty man with long hair (I was 7), but there was something in the way the song told a story, and his voice stayed with me.”

JON MANLEY: “How in the hell is it possible to pick a favorite Bowie song? ‘Heroes.’ ‘Rebel Rebel.’ ‘Modern Love.’ ‘Life on Mars.’ Endless possibilities, and I refuse to choose! He made it OK to be weird, and isn’t that an even greater gift than the music he left us?”

NICK PETROPOULOS: “First song I heard was ‘Changes.’ First song I obsessed over was ‘The Man Who Sold the World,’ thanks to the Nirvana introduction. That intro led me to dive into his entire catalog, thus becoming just as obsessed with Mick Ronson’s guitar playing.”

LESLIE FRAM: “The first song I ever heard was ‘Space Oddity,’ and then became obsessed. He was so incredibly generous with his time when he came to Atlanta for Breakfast With Bowie on the 99X Morning X show. He did an intimate performance for fans at Smith’s Olde Bar. How often can we use the word genius where it truly applies? Bowie exemplified what it means to be an artist.”

KRIS GILLESPIE: “My introduction to David Bowie was about as peculiar as it can get. My grandparents were my caretakers while my parents finished college, and I would crawl up the stairs in their farmhouse to my uncle’s room to listen to music as a toddler. And somehow David Bowie (along with the likes of Lou Reed and Mott the Hoople) had found their way to the stereo of an 18 year-old rural Missouri farm boy in 1974. I can vividly remember sitting on the washing machine next to my mom in the kitchen on my 3rd birthday and my uncle walking in and giving me my own copy of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars and never being happier in my young life.

“I can’t really say for sure what the first song was under those circumstances; it was definitely a Ziggy Stardust track and I have a very strong memory of ‘Star’ being an early fixation and can still hear why. The production on the album is really vibrant, a bit dry (not a lot of reverb) and tight-mic’d so it feels like they’re playing right there in your bedroom. ‘Star’ has got some really great hooks but weird angles and shifts to it, so it sort of just tumbles out of the speakers.

It would be very hard to overstate the impact of David Bowie on my life and the lives of so many musicians I love, friends and colleagues through his art, his attitude, his life and now his death (the man made great art out of dying—that’s how remarkable he was). If you felt or wanted something different from everyone else around you, he gave a lot of people the confidence to express themselves in new and unique ways.

There will never be another David Bowie as we know it and I wouldn’t want to hang that sort of expectation on anyone. The great thing is that someone will come along and be as inspirational and influential as he was down the road, but it will be something new and different… some might say “alien” to what came before it. Let the children boogie.”

Let’s dance/For fear your grace should fall/Let’s dance/for fear tonight is all.