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POST TOASTED
DANCE ON A VOLCANO

By Karen Glauber

On Tuesday, I drove to San Diego to do my missionary work at KBZT and 91X, bringing both stations the gospel according to Britt Daniel (aka the new Spoon single), which was received joyously and with the fanfare expected of those who have supported this band for the past decade. Spoon’s first single, arriving 1/17, is the title track of the band’s new album, which, if I believe Pitchfork, is called Hot Thoughts. Spoon has delivered the swagger that has been missing in the absence of recent music from Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age and Arctic Monkeys (although I’ll argue to the death that Bishop Briggs, Phantogram and K. Flay have filled the void rather handily, you know, “for girls”).

Because Spoon is one of my Top 5 bands in life, it seemed perfectly invigorating-not-exhausting to fly to Chicago (and back) the following day to spread the word to Troy and Walt at WKQX and forever-fans Kelly and Marty at WXRT. Running in the freezing rain between the two stations (minus appropriate winter gear), I read a text that Mike Halloran, whose office I had spent an hour in the previous day, accompanied by my girl-crush Hilary and dear friend Garett, had just left 91X. I don’t know the full story, and his response to my text, “Was it something I said?” was vague, but this feels Shakespearean, especially with Garett’s very recent exit from KFMB. Will Garett proceed with his new consultancy (which includes 91X) or be named the new PD of 91X? Even at his most curmudgeonly, Halloran is a rare talent with whom I’ve had the pleasure of sharing countless Iggy stories since we first crossed paths in 1982. The tenure of a 91X PD seems to be around three years (Christy, Capone, Phil, etc., etc.), so maybe it was inevitable.

A belated but emphatically heartfelt congratulations to Jacqueline Saturn and the Caroline team for having the first #1 of 2017 with Judah & the Lion’s “Take It All Back.” The band and the label have worked around the clock to break this song at radio, with special acknowledgement due to Brad Hardin, John Allers and Mike Kaplan (among others) for anointing the song as one of iHeart’s On the Verge picks.

iHeart’s track record in 2016 was impeccable: Bishop Briggs and The Strumbellas were the other two artists chosen. The radio group’s first choice for 2017 is Rag’n’Bone Man’s “Human,” currently galloping up the chart. Brady and Darice have a surefire #1 smash on their hands! Ask them about Lo Moon, whose debut (out this year) makes my heart soar. Jeff Regan is currently playing “Loveless” on SiriusXM Alt Nation’s “Advanced Placement” feature. Among the other songs given the “Advanced Placement” distinction is Sundara Karma’s “She Said,” which we’re currently setting up for a 2/14 add-date. Ask me about them (I’m obsessed).

Last year, we learned two important lessons: (1) Polling methodology, whether it’s determining the outcome of an election or the measure of a song’s hit potential via MScores, is deeply, deeply flawed, perhaps to the point of irrelevance. “There’s NO WAY that man can be elected President” was our outcry, as we pored over polling data that supported our indignation. Nor could your declaration that “Ophelia” wasn’t a hit be regarded with anything other than incredulity. (2) Abandoning the premise on which the Modern Rock format was built—namely, new-music discovery (as many of you did at the advice of the “Format Killer”) didn’t help your ratings. There are 100 million PAID streaming music subscriptions worldwide. The passion for music has never been stronger! I look at the BuzzAngle reports from key radio markets that show the Top 100 streaming songs of that week. There is a definite correlation between the biggest Modern Rock radio bands, like The Lumineers, The 1975 and blink-182, and streaming, but the biggest story is what you’re MISSING. For example, The xx’s “On Hold” is consistently tops in every market (90% of the Top 100 is hip-hop and pop), so where are you??? Their name is at the top of every festival poster you share on FB, and the song couldn’t be more accessible (Hall & Oates—hello!) Failure to support artists who are already THIS BIG is unfathomable to me.

SONG OF THE WEEK: The Shins’ “Name for You” (James Mercer’s female-empowerment anthem for his daughters. The perfect song at the perfect time.)


 
 
WE DON’T KNOW

By Karen Glauber

I sometimes joke that the best music-business employees are adult children of alcoholics (myself included). By nature or nurture, we tend to be perfectionists and are quick to take the blame for anything that doesn’t go 100% according to plan, even if we had nothing to do with the outcome. Schedule a second weekly shrink appointment and give that employee a raise if said parent(s) was also a raging narcissist. The impulse to succeed is unrelenting, and the expectation of approval is nonexistent (although we’ll certainly seek it out, if within our periphery.) For those of us who do promotion, we accept the unacceptable from our radio partners, allowing them to perpetuate their own mythology that it was they who single-handedly broke (artist name) and therefore they are owed having (artist name) play their Xmas show at below market value. Since we promotion people are judged by a real-time report card called Mediabase, too many of us make ridiculous promises to keep the tantrums (from radio and our bosses) at bay. We grew up in chaos and will therefore do almost anything to quell it, even though the economics of the deals we make are nothing short of satanic. But the devil you know…

Even a cursory glance at a BuzzAngle market streaming chart reveals the deep, abiding challenges of breaking Alternative records in 2016: “Our” records are barely visible in the Top 1000 streams in any given market. Our benchmark for sales is now 500/week, which is hard to swallow when the #1 record at the format has an approximate audience of 12 million. But yet, as my fearless leader Lenny always says, there are still “10 records in the Top 10,” some of which are real format-exclusive hits, like The Lumineers’ “Ophelia” and (see photo above) The Strumbellas’ “Spirits,” which is now a GOLD single! Our favorite Canadians (besides Justin Trudeau and the judge on Masterchef Canada who looks like Elliot Easton) have worked tirelessly this year, commencing with “Spirits” being anointed iHeart’s On the Verge up until now, with their second single “We Don’t Know” on pace to be even bigger. Many congratulations to Glassnote and the band for proving to the naysayers that Alternative music can find its audience with (1) a great song, (2) meaningful partnerships with radio, (3) constant touring, (4) the right syncs like Wednesday night’s World Series for “Spirits”), (5) press and (6) great management. Yes, #6 is KEY, and if radio programmers read the interviews/roundtables with managers in this issue, they might leave with some insight that while they are a truly important part of the puzzle, there are many other factors in play when it comes to having a hit…

Gary Gorman is a lock for #1 next week with Bastille’s “Good Grief,” after conceding the top spot last week to Green Day’s “Bang Bang,” which enjoyed a brief one-week run at the top. Will The Head and the Heart leap over Kings of Leon to #1? Will the year end with Judah & the Lion in the lead? Those three records have the “sound” that’s working best at the format right now, and keep an eye on upstarts Sundara Karma, whose “Loveblood” has been called “the best Kings of Leon-meets-Arcade Fire song we’ve ever heard.”…

Despite what the “format killer” has been advising his stations (more Milky Chance/less new music), it’s been a banner year for new bands. Kaleo, Bishop Briggs, Glass Animals and the aforementioned Judah & the Lion are among the newer bands that are selling tickets and having radio hits. Even without radio (yet), artists like Aurora, The Lemon Twigs, Lo Moon, Banks & Steelz and Mansionair (just looking at my most recent Spotify playlist) are inspiring the next generation. All I’ve ever wanted to do in my career is break artists and, by doing so, shift culture. If Alternative radio doesn’t embrace that goal, within the greater context of making these songs hits for the format, then that thing I’ve spent the past three decades doing will have no value. 

 


 
 
STUBBORN LOVE

By Karen Glauber

The endless jokes about sophomore albums are funny because they’re usually true. An artist has their whole life to make their debut record, which, if huge, means the follow-up is usually rushed-to-completion by the record company, eager to cash in on the band’s success. Most bands tour relentlessly, especially when a big record creates the demand for shows. “Tickets and T-shirts” is how they make money, after all. Songwriting is relegated to the back of the tour bus, hence the stereotypical sophomore theme: Being on the road.

This theme can be divided into multiple subsets, such as: (1) Missing family/loved ones. (2) Seeing a million new faces (and rocking them all). (3) The artist’s mission to save the world because they’ve played festivals in multiple countries and have a deep understanding of “people” (file under “Bono”). (4) Falling in love every night (see #2). (5) The artist’s fragile disposition/nervous breakdown/drug addiction (countless examples).  The resulting album rarely fulfills the promise of the artist’s debut (unless their names are Adele or Amy Winehouse), and there are very few examples where the follow-up is universally regarded as an aesthetic and commercial triumph after a break-thru debut.

Since the exception is always more interesting than the rule, let’s take a close look at Cleopatra, The Lumineers’ latest. The first single, “Ophelia” is the most-played song at Alternative to be released in 2016. Although in Recurrent and no longer on the chart, “Ophelia” is #2 in overall audience this week. The song peaked at #1 at Alternative (for four weeks) and #1 at Triple A (for 12 weeks) but was not worked at Top 40. “Ophelia” had 2 MILLION streams this week, and single sales are nearing 400k. This is absolutely incredible, especially for a song that was a hit at two radio formats that supposedly don’t matter. In support of “Ophelia,” the band played a sold-out worldwide tour, culminating in an epic night at the Hollywood Bowl. Early next year (and remember, this is only album #2), The Lumineers will embark on an arena tour, with Madison Square Garden selling out within an hour of the onsale.

Single #2, “Cleopatra,” is #2 at Triple A, with #1 an absolute certainty within a few weeks. This week, it was #1 Most Added at Alternative (#2 Most Added last week), which should be strong enough for a chart debut in the vicinity of Top 30 this Monday. Our friend in the Northwest, Mark Hamilton, bumped “Cleopatra” to Power at KNRK, based on callout with his P1s, and the album sales increased 146%, from #76 in Portland to #24. “Callout + sales = SMASH,” was his quote to me. I know how much you love “metrics,” so here’s another one: “Cleopatra,” which is still an infant in terms of airplay, is already streaming 600k/week. Cleopatra is #17 on the iTunes album chart. Here’s what you need to know: YOUR AUDIENCE LOVES THE LUMINEERS. They are the #1 indie label band at the format! It really isn’t that complicated. As my fearless leader Lenny Beer always says, “People like what they like.” These songs will live in your library forever. You’re welcome.

I was at the scenic Kansas City Airport Hampton Inn late last Friday night, trying desperately to fall asleep before my unfathomably early flight back to LA, when I heard a familiar song intro on the TV (I have to sleep with it on). I lifted my head off the pillow and saw (I also sleep with my glasses on) the Acura commercial that uses Beck’s “Wow” as the music. WOW, indeed. The single best way to break a song at Alternative radio is through car ads: Empire of the Sun, X Ambassadors, Fitz and the Tantrums and, now, Beck! I hope my Alternative radio friends will put “Wow” back into rotation today. Seriously. You’ve been handed a hit song on a silver platter. Don’t fuck this up… Speaking of X Ambassadors, their initial fanbase was made up of college kids—not the early-adopter, blog-reading hipsters, but the not-so-cool kids who drew inspiration from Sam’s incredible songwriting and relatable presence. A band I love, The Arkells, have a similarly fanatical base of support. Their new single, “My Heart’s Always Yours,” is being played on some key northeast stations. Their fanbase is your audience.


 
 
I CAN’T GO FOR THAT (NO CAN DO)

By Karen Glauber

Far more often than my delicate constitution can handle, someone in a position of authority points a disapproving finger my way and declares, “Your format is a shit show. You don’t sell records or break acts.” I could laugh at being held accountable for the current state of Modern Rock radio for the same reason I make fun of my coworkers for saying “We won” or “We suck” when recapping the success/failure of their favorite teams. “We” had nothing to do with the Dodgers’ latest victory, no matter how many games we’ve attended. However, I’ve been neck-deep in the format for 30+ years, so the accusation feels personal.

Yes, it’s a Sisyphean challenge to break new acts at Modern Rock for a myriad of reasons. The only accurate thing an MScore measures is our septic frustration when a PD uses it as an excuse to drop a record. To quote my friend Amanda Dobbins, “I can’t even.” There’s also a phantom menace I call “the format killer,” who, when in the presence of programmers far and wide, advises them that the key to ratings gold is to STOP PLAYING NEW MUSIC. Yes, clients pay to be told that the format that was founded (and has thrived) on the premise of NEW MUSIC DISCOVERY should no longer play new music. Welp. If most of the format decides to take the wait-until-the-song-is-Top-20 approach before adding, then these stations should get out of the concert business. The demand for bands for radio station festivals far exceeds the development of bands that can sell enough tickets for these shows to generate expected NTR. God bless Weezer and blink-182 (and their collective catalog of Modern Rock hits) for bailing you out in 2016. Without them, you would’ve been “totally fucked” (to reference my favorite song from the Duncan Sheik-composed musical Spring Awakening)…

“Playing new music is good business,” said one of the programmers who had been otherwise advised to do the opposite. Indeed, because artist managers and agents aren’t in the habit of giving radio stations their artists at way below market value without a potential upside. Adding a few records a month before a holiday show has appeased labels in the past, since those of us who work records are looking for an opportunity to take a song as high up the chart as possible. It’s a cynical strategy on part of the programmer, but we live in a world of false hope.

My approach (not that you asked) is to reward loyalty and super-serve the stations that consistently support our efforts to break bands, whether it’s John Allers in Philly or Lesley James in Columbus. There have been only THREE new artists to go Top 10 at Modern Rock in 2016: The Strumbellas, Kaleo and Bishop Briggs. All three were chosen by iHeart for its On the Verge program. The Strumbellas and Kaleo had #1 songs, and Bishop Briggs peaked at #3 (and she’s the only female to go Top 5 in 2016.) Clearly, iHeart’s influence on the chart is formidable, and the songs they picked this year have been smashes. Judah & the Lion, signed by Harvest’s Jacqueline Saturn, is the current On the Verge. I’ve already declared to the band and their management that “Take It All Back” is a surefire #1, so that’s that…

How do you measure a hit song at Modern Rock? Let’s recalibrate what we used to believe was the sales baseline: Last year’s measurement of 1,500 singles/week is now 500 singles/week. The Modern Rock audience will pay $.69 for a song, but they won’t pay $.99 (and they’ll pay $12 for a beer at a radio station festival, but, you know, priorities)…

You can’t tell me that there just aren’t any hits. A song needs exposure to measure its true potential. In my perfect world, Glass Animals had the hit of the summer with “Life Itself,” and Warpaint’s “New Song” is the song I want to hear on my favorite station. This week, SiriusXM’s Jeff Regan added “Loveblood” from my favorite new U.K. band Sundara Karma. In my opinion, AltNation is the most accurate barometer of a song’s hit potential. New music is the lifeblood of our format. And, with or without you, there will be hundreds of bands each year that will release music that has an impact on popular culture. Are you in, or are you out? 


 
 
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