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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? 


 
 
YOU DON’T GET ME HIGH ANYMORE

What used to be called “friendly competition” is now outright bullying. If you want to help break an artist I’m working with, let’s make it happen! But please, stop with the threats. I have two concerns at work: 1) Keeping my job and 2) doing the absolute best I can for the labels and artists that pay me (so that I can keep my job.) I’m no longer defined by my job (motherhood took care of that), but I’m deeply proud of what Ted and I have accomplished at the format so far this year. You are a means to that end, and my efforts on your behalf can be boundless when we’re both trying to do what’s best for the artist, which is the basis of every decision I make. I’m sorry if that runs counter to what you believe you’re “owed.” No, I’m not sorry. Given the real “weight” of what happened last week in Orlando, another in a long list of horrific examples of man’s inhumanity towards man, it’s impossible to take your ego-fueled tantrums seriously…

I’m finally in my hotel room in Louisville, 16 hours after I left my house in L.A. Deadline was yesterday, but delayed flights and no onboard Wi-Fi is the reason it’s 1:30am and I’m finally writing this. I packed the wrong toothbrush—the one I just used plays “We Will Rock You” for a full two minutes (to encourage a thorough brushing), except now it won’t stop playing. I smothered it with a washcloth, but the strains of Queen are still audible from the next room…

What will be this summer’s Modern Rock anthem? Bishop Briggs’ “River” is touching Top 10 at Alternative, bolstered by iHeart choosing it to be the second On the Verge artist so far this year, following The Strumbellas (which topped the chart last month). There are only five stations that haven’t yet added “River” (for reasons I can’t fathom), so that’s a clear contender. Beck’s new single “Wow” is a definite favorite—anything he does is exactly what I want to hear on the radio at that moment…

Phantogram (pictured above) has a surefire smash with “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore.” One listen. Done. Republic’s Mike DePippa and Amanda Walk should have two of the biggest hits of the year with Bishop Briggs and Phantogram!... Capitol’s Gary Gorman sent out an email blast this morning alerting programmers that the new Bastille single “Good Grief” would be arriving momentarily. Doesn’t Gary know that radio has been waiting for this record for months? In the summer, I want to hear songs that make me feel buoyant and free (even when I’m tethered to my desk, or stuck in a crowded airport). Thank you, Bastille, for delivering the perfect summer song!...

There’s been much ado (and rightfully so) about Head and the Heart’s “All We Ever Know,” which Warner Bros.’ Rob Goldklang and the C3 team launched last week. Even radio programmers that still ask Nirvana can play their Xmas show (for real) seem to love this record!..

Dualtone just signed buzz band The Rebel Light, whose song “Strangers” has been getting some serious radio love. Another contender in the making!...

If I’m playing favorites, and it’s my column/my rules, I’m giving out bonus points to CHVRCHES’ reworking of “Bury It” with Hayley Williams. This could be a multi-format summer SMASH…

The song I want to hear when I wake up in the morning (besides the inevitable SpongeBob Squarepants theme, now that my son has figured out the TV remote) is Glass Animals’ “Life Itself.” It’s the song I want to hear on my way to work, and on my way home, and every moment in between. It’s my summer’s “Get Lucky.”...

SONG TO HEAR: Zipper Club “Going the Distance” (if Metric and Brian Eno had a lovechild)…

What’s YOUR pick for the Summer Song of 2016? Email me: Karen.Glauber@hitsmagazine.com  


 
 
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.”