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SOME THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE OR AFTER READING THIS SECTION


1
 My partner (in the old-school usage of the term) Dennis Lavinthal hired Karen Glauber to work at HITS 25 years ago.

2 I didn’t know Karen at the time. I think I had only actually seen her once before on the old A&M lot. I thought she did publicity. I was with the late, great Charlie Minor, who was then head of Promotion at the hallowed home of Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. I saw her with a group of people and Charlie commented, “You know who that is? That’s Karen Glauber—she runs Alternative promotion. She scares me. She wants me to work this Robyn Hitchcock song, ‘Balloon Man.’ I’m not gonna work that balloon thing. She scares me.”

3 Hence, I was scared of Karen too.

4 I mostly don’t talk to new people in my life, for a while. Maybe it’s natural shyness, or maybe it’s the “goldfish thing.” Karen claims I didn’t talk to her for the first two and a half years she worked at HITS. I think she is wrong and that it was only two and a quarter.

5 Karen is friends with lots of creative people, one being the prolific songwriter Dan Wilson. In his classic Semisonic hit, “Closing Time,” there is a point in the song where it stops for a beat or two and then starts up again. In Semisonic 
drummer Jacob Slichter’s book So You Wanna Be A Rock and Roll Star, Dan said Karen called this the “Clearmountain Pause,” which then inspired a chapter in the Pulitzer-winning novel A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer EganThis pause can be heard in hits by our clients The Bravery and The Airborne Toxic Event, so we now just call it the “Glauber Pause.” I’m not exactly sure why; maybe you will learn or have learned from something said in this section. It’s too long for me to read the whole thing. Maybe she scared Dan too. Maybe there’s another reason. Whatever.  

6 Karen knows stuff about music. Often way ahead of the rest of us. One day she walked into my office and dropped a CD on my desk (you do remember CDs, I hope) and said, “Listen to this.” It was a two-minute folk ditty that was maybe on one public station in Seattle (I think). She said, “Stand next to this and tell everyone that it is a smash. You will look smart.” 18 months later, Z100 and KIIS-FM were playing The Lumineers in power rotation, and a whole generation now thinks Ho Hey is the expression, and not Hey Ho. There are many, many of these examples. My memory is not that great these days.

7 Karen knows stuff about executives as well. She knew and identified Tom Calderone and Joel Klaiman and Lisa Worden and Marc Geiger and Leslie Fram and Pete Galli and Susan Busch and Stu Bergen and so many more of you way before most of us did.   

8 So the point is obvious, if you haven’t gotten it yet. Karen Glauber knows stuff. And people know it.

9 So enjoy the section. I hope I properly introduced it. If you are reading this at the end, I hope I summarized correctly and cleared up some remaining issues. 

10 Ask Karen. Don’t be scared.

11 Read on.


 
 
REELIN’ IN THE YEARS

Thirty years ago today, my best friend Jill and I attended Live Aid at JFK Stadium in Philly. We both worked at A&M Records, and two of the label's acts were on the bill: Simple Minds and Bryan Adams. Given that we worked in a department called “Special Projects” (another phrase for “You Matter Not”), we were allocated one VIP pass and one hospitality pass, between us. Within a few hours, and through the generosity of Simple Minds (for whom we mattered a lot), Jill and I had upgraded our situation to all-access onstage passes. The highlight of my day was cupping Robert DeNiro’s backside in the “Artist Elevator” (it was crowded—he never suspected it was me). Thirty years later, my best friend is married to Elliot Easton from The Cars, one of the musicians we watched from the side of the stage…

My desk is covered with photos from the past 25 years of my HITS tenure; I’m waist-deep in assembling a special issue commemorating this milestone. Besides my shrink, HITS is my longest L.A. relationship. Mike Tierney is a constant presence in these photos—he’s worked everywhere and has done everything; his CV is as impressive as his wealth of knowledge. I’ve always assumed that I was the Zelig of Modern Rock, but I have the photographic evidence that proves otherwise…

Nine years ago, I had a meeting at CBS Radio in NYC to pitch my idea of a “Rock for Girls” format (although not at the exclusion of male listeners—I pitched a 60% female/40% male target demo). At that time, the CW network had launched, providing programming for the consumer demo with the most disposable income: Ffemales 18-25. The ads that ran during Gilmore Girls, America’s Next Top Model, Veronica Mars and later Gossip Girl were for items that cost less than $20—makeup, hair products, soft drinks, with the exception of Honda, which had introduced a line of cars specifically targeting that demo. I wanted to launch the station in the “Research Triangle” of Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, with Leslie Fram as PD, Sean Demery as MD and I’d be the van driver/sales manager. One point I kept emphasizing was how this audience was the first to embrace new artists and, through word-of-mouth, the true “hits” quickly emerged. Death Cab for Cutie and Vampire Weekend could sell out huge venues, packed with high school kids, before they even had radio success. Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly successful in persuading a group of men to embrace the idea of programming rock music for women. Sigh…

With the arrival of YouTube and iTunes, the early-adopters are now even younger: females 12-18. My 14-year-old niece was telling me about Halsey months ago. My 11-year-old cousin is already OBSESSED (her words and emphasis) with Aurora, a new Glassnote signing. Although the Modern Rock format remains targeted at males 25-34, with the proliferation of pop-leaning songs being played, it’s now the females that determine the hits. Halsey’s new song, “New Americana,” was first played by Zane Lowe on Beats 1, followed quickly by KTCL, 98.7, KROQ, Live105 and WLUM. Just as Beck surges towards #1, the Capitol gang has another smash on its hands. Here’s the thing: If you, male PD, heard “New Americana” in your office, you’d probably say it was, “too young, too pop, too this, too that,” thereby dismissing the song that will probably be the summer’s biggest hit. Personally, the mention of “medical marijuana” in the song makes me feel ancient. Why? Go ask Alice. Regardless, I can read the fucking tea leaves (social media) and know how big this will be. Remember, it’s about being right…

How thrilled were we to learn that our beloved Glass Animals’ “Black Mambo” had been chosen as the music for the new iPhone commercial? We were so excited, that we immediately texted Jacqueline Saturn from our flip phone!...

Congrats to Rob Goldklang on his incredible launch of the new Atlas Genius single, “Molecules.” You guys like it, you really like it!! I remain OBSESSED (my emphasis) with Phases’ “I’m in Love With My Life.”…

I’ve kept this column rumor-free, but many changes are afoot in the world of Modern Rock. That’s it, for now.


 
 
WE USED TO VACATION

One of the worst things you can say to me is that I “missed the point.” It would be less hurtful if you called me ugly (whatever), stupid (good luck with that) or stubborn (thank you). Working here for the past 25 years has given me (and my co-workers) a perch from which to view the whole of the music industry, as well as each of its parts. I am also blessed/cursed with the type of brain that can’t remember anything important (like, say, history), but I know every job you’ve ever had and every record you’ve ever worked.

Within a few minutes, today I bombarded Matt Pollack with Baby Chaos, Dambuilders, Happyhead, Mest and Wank, and recalled a random conversation I had with Rostam from Vampire Weekend on the night Arcade Fire won the Grammy for Album of the Year. I am exhaustive, exhausting and, without question, exhausted. Tell me I’m a control freak and I’ll say thank you. It is not my nature to “miss points,” or anything else, for that matter.

Yes, that level of vigilance and awareness keeps me awake at night. I look at the stats, read the room and listen to those smarter than I am. My advice to friends is to be completely, unequivocally RIGHT at least twice a year (cue up Aqualung’s “Something to Believe In”; I’ll wait). Here’s an example: Last year, Dustin Matthews, PD at WRXL Richmond took a chance on X Ambassadors f/Jamie N. Commons’ “Jungle,” and invited the band to play his Xmas show. Subsequently, he spoke reverentially about their performance and his eagerness to hear new material. With the release of “Renegades,” he was a vocal advocate within iHeart, and likely played a key role in the radio group’s decision to anoint the song On the Verge at Modern Rock. Now, “Renegades” has been #1 for weeks, and the album, VHS, is currently Top 10 at iTunes. (I bought the X Ambassadors’ record first thing this morning so I could play “Unsteady”—my favorite of theirs—on repeat.) The point (unmissed) is that Dustin took a chance, was right and his support will be remembered by those who keep track of such things (which includes his bosses, I hope)…

“We Used to Vacation” is the title of the first Cold War Kids song I ever heard, probably a decade ago, played by Nic Harcourt on KCRW. At first, I thought it was Crowded House, until the chorus kicked in, so I called Nic while he was on the air to find out what it was. Now, at last, the band has the biggest radio hit of its career. Mark Czarra at Downtown Records is thrilled, obviously. I know what it’s like to devote a decade to a band without ever quite delivering that career-defining SMASH you wished for them. Being ahead of the curve is often the toughest road to take…

Just as certain songs have “magic”—like Houndmouth’s “Sedona,” which is already performing like a Top 10 smash—there are artists who are also “magic.” Maybe they haven’t had a radio hit (yet), but there is something about their talent that stands out above others. Beck, as I’ve often stated, is a genius, nearly without peer. I hold Win Butler and Britt Daniel in equal regard with Beck, and I’m not wrong in my assessment. Courtney Barnett is next. I heard “Dead Fox” on Beats 1 today, and it slayed me. She is Patti Smith for this generation. Elle King is redefining “swagger” in Modern Rock. Father John Misty, Dawes, Best Coast, Yeasayer, Phases, Coleman Hell, Robert DeLong, FIDLAR, Coasts (love, love, love)—each poised to have the best year of their careers. Playing Leon Bridges is the best programming decision you’ll make this summer. Time to break some records, friends. 


 
 
TOTALLY FUCKED


I’m not one to brag. I don’t spend much time laurel sitting or career coasting. There’s a chipped Billboard Monitor Radio Awards plaque/thing on the far corner of my desk, designating that Modern Rock Live won for Network/Syndicated Program of the Year in the Modern Rock Market in 1997. That’s it for “career recognition.” Now, I wouldn’t even have a shot at a list of the top “60 under 60” executives. It’s more than likely that I’ve made you money or helped you out, and expected nothing in return. “Big ego, low self-esteem” was a phrase I first heard “in the rooms” of AA, although it seems to be a prerequisite character trait for those of us who choose to toil in the quest for and deliverance of airplay.

The demands from our radio “friends” have grown in inverse proportion to their impact. “I broke that band,” they proclaim. “Now they owe me.” Oh, please. What do any of us have to brag about, really? Yes, Muse, whose “Dead Inside” was recently #1 at Modern Rock, nearing a weekly audience of 10 million, debuted at #1 this week. But, sales were under 100k, so that whole airplay = sales hypothesis doesn’t seem to hold true these days.  Airplay = ticket sales is more applicable, and Muse have certainly made themselves accessible to radio programmers/listeners way above and beyond most acts of their stature. The Modern Rock format is 35% current, unless you’re Lazlo, who has turned Kansas City into the mecca for new music.

I’ve hung my hat on this format for 30+ years—I’ve served it diligently—but I’m sure as hell thinking about “What’s next?” for us. Will currents deteriorate to 10%, with a smattering of new music from format superstars? Is your audience going to bail in droves for Beats 1?  The heads of labels spent decades with their heads in the sand, refusing to believe that the Internet was going to change the way they did business. Are you promo types going to follow suit? We’ve all been doing this job for years—how long can we continue, when the songs we champion max out at 5k weekly sales? Modern Rock these days is the artist development “head fake” to Pop radio—a base from which to springboard, which is absolutely mandatory if a rock song has any shot at crossing. So, what is Modern Rock good for (that Beats 1 won’t be)?

Airplay and on-air support definitely sell tickets. This is very important to artist managers. When you’re grinding your label friend about presents/sessions/selling sponsorships, etc., you’re directing your venom at someone who doesn’t have a horse in the race, except for their desire for airplay. Their salaries don’t reflect ticket sales, so yelling at the messenger avails you nothing, except for making their day very, very, very bad. That is why it’s important to cultivate a relationship with artist managers, who, in many cases, have installed someone whose primary job is to be their liaison with radio. They’re willing to pay someone to deal with your bullshit, and you should know that a manager and his money are rarely parted. If we want to keep this format that we’ve built our careers on from becoming a relic of a bygone era, “What’s next?” needs to be beyond what’s for lunch…

As Ted mentions this week, Beck remains the most innovative and important artist in Modern Rock, with “Dreams” certain to be his next #1. I put Beck on the same pedestal as I do Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Neil Young, Pete Townshend, Patti Smith and Neil Diamond. Beck’s discography has had an immeasurable impact on Modern Rock, and he, to quote an album title by my favorite artist, is “a wizard and a true star.”

Other songs that make me believe in something greater than myself: “Sedona” by Houndmouth (this song is magic, I promise), Glass Animals’ “Black Mambo,” Elle King’s “Ex’s and Oh’s,” Cold War Kids’ “First” and Mumford & Sons’ “Believe” (congrats to Nick P. on having both Mumford singles in the Top 10).