“Shhhh-it!”: Idolator’s Super-Secret Music-Biz Interview Series Continues

Nov 9th, 2006 // 8 Comments

shhhhhh_it.jpgA few weeks ago, we launched our AnonIMous Interview Series, in which we anonymously grill a seasoned music-biz veteran; it’s all part of our double-headed effort to get more industry dirt, and to run more pictures of cats (a cute cat, after all, is nature’s little clip art). This time around, we talk to a college-radio promoter, one who’s handled numerous big-name artists, as well as numerous hungover college-radio DJs:

VivSavage1984: so do those college station brats ever drive you bonkers? i can’t imagine having to deal with whippersnappers every day.

CollegeRadioBigWig: Oh yeah, they can drive you crazy. For starters, most music directors were born in the mid-80s. So, to many of them, a classic reference is some thing Stone Temple Pilots or (on a nicer level) Sebadoh. They didn’t listen to Sebadoh, but they know they’re relevant. They probably think of REM as nothing more than a sappy old people band since they were 11 when “Up” came out.

More after the click-through, and while this has fewer cocaine references than our last interview, we think you’ll learn a lot. And if you think you have lots of good dirt to share, email us at tips@idolator.com. We’ll keep that shit on the quiet-like tip! Or somesuch.

VivSavage1984: can you give us a description of what you do? your day-to-day?
CollegeRadioBigWig: Every day has a different itinerary. Mondays & Tuesdays are spent collecting as many adds as possible before the CMJ cut off time of 2pm EST. Wednesdays are spent sending out reports and having conference calls with your clients.
CollegeRadioBigWig: Thursdays & Fridays are spent on the phones with radio prepping for the following week and also trying to prep upcoming projects.
VivSavage1984: so how do bands get added? how much of it is based on musical merit? and how much on politics/dirty pool?
CollegeRadioBigWig: Very little of it has to do with merit. The adds are the silliest aspect of what we do. So much of radio programming is free form, that an add can’t possibly hold water. In commercial radio, an add means it is going to get X number of spins. At college radio, adds are mainly used as favors to keep the promoters happy.
CollegeRadioBigWig: There isn’t much dirty pool involved in adds because most know how little they mean. They don’t even merit the effort of resorting to dirty pool.
VivSavage1984: ha!
CollegeRadioBigWig: Many radio stations have 5 of their favorite promoters and most of the time, they simply add one from each promoter to make them happy. The best way to get good at adds is to be friends with enough stations that you get that add from so many of them.
CollegeRadioBigWig: I think some of the aging record label elders are confused by college radio. Adds are something they can relate to. So, it stays around.
VivSavage1984: can the cmj charts be manipulated? have you seen artists’ chart entries that were fishy?
CollegeRadioBigWig: The Top 200 is pretty much an honor system. Stations type in their Top 30 most played records, CMJ compiles it and gives us a Top 200. But there is no way to prove the honesty of these charts (unless you are also a Media Guide station). Most stations are too lazy or too pre-occupied with pleasing their promoter friends.
CollegeRadioBigWig: Finding out who fakes their chart isn’t that difficult. My guess is there about 55-65% percent chart fakers out there and I bet we could (given the time) expose 40% of them. “Hey Wow. Beck has been #17 for 6 straight weeks at a free form station. What are the odds of that?”
CollegeRadioBigWig: But most of those fakers are tiny little stations with no listeners. The upper echelon of stations (I believe) are pretty darn honest.
VivSavage1984: are there any artists or albums that are regarded as obvious put-ons–anyone who was blatantly maniuplated in the charts?
CollegeRadioBigWig: I’m sure there have been. But it’s really hard to tell who they are. Even if a records gets 50 stations to just put it on, there may be 25-30 more that are actually playing it. The last one I remember was a few years ago. I think it was the last Joseph Arthur record…That record went #1 on the Top 200 and most people in the industry were pretty shocked. Turns out someone was offering absurd shit for stations to chart it at #1. They eventually played the ignorant card and said “oops. we didn’t know. So sorry
CollegeRadioBigWig: I think that happened more years ago. But not as much nowadays.
VivSavage1984: what kind of stuff have you heard being offered as an incentive for airplay?
CollegeRadioBigWig: Boxes of CDs and guest list spots for other shows. “You chart UberMegaBox and I’ll get you stoned with Willie Nelson!”
VivSavage1984: wow
CollegeRadioBigWig: Use your bigger artists to gain spins for a smaller band. I guess that’s not too crazy in this biz. I’m sure booking agents are the same way. “I’ll give you this band, but you gotta take these suck asses too.”
VivSavage1984: so what out-and-out payola? spitzer cracked down on the labels last year for exchanging gifts for airplay; does any of that happen in college radio?
CollegeRadioBigWig: Not too often. Again, I don’t think the majors find college radio to be worth it, in most cases. If anything, this Spitzer stuff (as necessary as it is) has made our jobs harder. Much of my time is signing contract after contract saying that we won’t use payola. I guess that is fine. But sending an extra CD to a station now takes approval from 7 different people at the label. They’re all so anal, so paranoid of doing the wrong thing, that it’s come to this. I just want to send a small station another copy of a CD because their copy was cracked.
CollegeRadioBigWig: What I get is a number of phone calls from people I’ve never met that tell me if I ever go out for dinner with a station, I can only spend $375 dollars on them. Are you kidding me? This is college radio. All you’re getting from me is a slice of pizza. Then, they still forget to send the CD to the station that first asked.
VivSavage1984: that’s hilarious! and sorta sad. so does college radio have an impact nowadays? can it still break artists?
CollegeRadioBigWig: Sure it can. It totally has an impact. I’ve worked a few artists that I have seen go from nobodys to selling out club level venues. This is success in my mind, by the way. I don’t expect my bands to explode to commercial unless Zach Braff puts them on a soundtrack. I would actually love to see it join forces with the blog world. I’ve heard a Gorilla vs Bear show on Sirius and loved it. Maybe there could be a “buzz chart” that combines college radio spins with blog hits and a few indie store sales.
CollegeRadioBigWig: With the decline of commercial radio, I expect to see college and public radio becoming more and more powerful. I download podcasts from a number of stations to stay up on what they playing. It’s easier to find this stuff now. Commercial radio plays very little, very predictable stuff, right? This is obvious.
CollegeRadioBigWig: Kids can just as easily grab these songs from itunes or for free. College radio still provides a service, though. It’s exposing something new to the listener. You can’t just steal it off the internet because you don’t even know what it is yet.
VivSavage1984: true. but what about downloading? we’re always told that’s killing everything. has it affected college radio?
CollegeRadioBigWig: I’m sure it’s affecting some of the bands. The Shins leak has probably hurt them quite a bit.
VivSavage1984: you think?
CollegeRadioBigWig: I don’t really see it hurting radio as much as it may hurt promoters. If the labels think they’re losing money, they’ll spend less on promoters. But college radio isn’t going anywhere. What we often forget is it is still a learning tool at universities. It’s not just about us pseudo-hipsters.
VivSavage1984: so do those college station brats ever drive you bonkers? i can’t imagine having to deal with whippersnappers every day.
CollegeRadioBigWig: Oh yeah, they can drive you crazy. For starters, most music directors were born in the mid-80s. So, to many of them, a classic reference is some thing Stone Temple Pilots or (on a nicer level) Sebadoh. They didn’t listen to Sebadoh, but they know they’re relevant. They probably think of REM as nothing more than a sappy old people band since they were 11 when “Up” came out.
CollegeRadioBigWig: But what’s funnier for me is how many of them don’t realize that there are many people whose livelihoods depend on them. Your record might have been #1 at their station last week, but they won’t report because they are so hungover dude. “You’re what! I needed that #1 to help my record out!” I don’t think some of them know that we’re sitting here at our desks waiting for their charts to come in.
VivSavage1984: that would drive me batty what about artists? do they understand what you do? and do they help or interfere with the process?
CollegeRadioBigWig: Typically, they help. They’re just waiting for us to tell them what to do. “Can we call stations and that thank them?” I’m a fan of things like this. What I hate is when they post call letters on their myspace pages and tell everybody to request their band. This is fine if you’re listening to the station. But if the kids are doing it blindly, it’s really annoying. The DJ of the reggae show gets a request for The Decemberists, they will not be happy. and you’ll eventually hear about it and your record will most likely get less play because of it.
VivSavage1984: “hey mon, wot is dis decemberists?’
VivSavage1984: so…what are missing, job-wise? any other headaches and highlights?
CollegeRadioBigWig: CMJ, as a whole, is pretty frustrating these days The festival [this year] was pretty under-whelming. The schedule left a lot to be desired. [and] the lineup was poor. Then, they extended a day which only watered down the lineup even more.
CollegeRadioBigWig: So, when there was a good show, everybody and their intern wanted in and the good shows got packed out.
VivSavage1984: does the festival still matter these days? or is it just a big shmoozefest?
CollegeRadioBigWig: I hope it still matters. I guess time will tell. Will any band truly benefit from playing CMJ this year? If so, then I guess it still matters. But it’s not in the same ballpark as SXSW in terms of band breaking potential.
VivSavage1984: how has it changed in the last few years?
CollegeRadioBigWig: It’s really only this past year that I noticed an extreme drop off in quality. On the upside, it seems to be more about college radio again. The panel discussions (though I only attended a few) related to college radio and had numerous radio station staffers in attendance.
VivSavage1984: alrighty. so, any closing thoughts/frustrations/etc?
CollegeRadioBigWig: i think that should do it. Time for me to start pulling charts.
VivSavage1984: cool. well, thanks again!

Earlier: “Shhhh-it!”: Introducing Idolator’s AnonIMous Music-Biz Interview Series

  1. Bob Loblaw

    This is the best feature on this site, hands down.

  2. roochball

    it’s funny. as a former music director of a pretty big college radio station, I remember having just about as much love for radio promoters as them seem to have for us. that said, the statement about “the kids these days” totally rings true. in my last year of undergrad a couple years back, the gap in general musical knowledge of the poeple involved with the station dropped off a ton.

    great interview, though.

  3. iantenna

    can we now get an interview with a md from a college radio station to talk about all the totally out of touch douchebag promoters out there? if i had a nickel for everytime i was called “brah,” or told that x record was “mind blowing.”

  4. SilentSid

    Back a few years ago, my friend was working at a small NYC college radio promo company. He was able to get a non-existant album by a non-existant band to be #6 most added. It was Christmas time which is usually slow for adds anyway. He called a bunch his stations and told them about this band and how there was a mailing mixup so they wouldn’t be getting the cd till the following week, but asked them to do him a solid and add it anyway. Enough stations added it that it got #6 most added for the week. So there’s so proof as to just how worthless adds are.

  5. Catbirdseat

    “It’s really only this past year that I noticed an extreme drop off in quality.”

    That’s because it’s really only in this past year that there’s been such an extreme drop off in quality in indie music in general.

  6. shallowrewards

    I was sent pot, porn and cash to chart records in 1997, at a 3 station.

  7. Matthew Perpetua

    I don’t think it’s so much that the number of quality indie rock acts has plummeted so much as in the past few years there has been an explosion of lame/middling/amateurish indie rock acts, and that is a development that has most certainly been enabled by the opportunities created by the internet. I mean, in the old days, a lot of these bands would’ve just been “local acts,” but the internet gives them a greater reach.

  8. brianp

    I already love Idolator and find this feature particularly enjoyable. And I agree with Matthew above regarding the proliferation of mediocre indie-rock acts. In my opinion, only a handful (if that) really lived up to and justified the hype generated by the bloggers and critics over the last few years.

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