— Esquire Magazine (@EsquireUK) February 23, 2015
As some of you know, I work at Slacker Radio as their head of Content & Programming. That means I’m lucky enough to have a seat at the table about what we offer our audience, and why.
About a year ago, we asked ourselves “What would radio sound and look like if it was invented AFTER the internet?”
Look, I used to love terrestrial radio. But consolidation and corporatization sucked almost all the personality out of it. And musical conservatism killed any chance of real discovery. And while I loved Napster’s original promise, and enjoyed the first few years of On-Demand services like Rhapsody, I found the endless search bar into playlist experience tired quickly. I missed the human element. The whole thing just felt cold.
So, “What would radio sound and look like if it was invented AFTER the internet?”
Today, with the unveiling of Slacker Radio’s new design and a slew of new programming and features, you can hear our answer to that question.
Slacker’s answer is to empower talented people. We have created a brand new technologically advanced platform, to serve people who have a passionate point of view, Our hosts
don’t sound like radio DJs. They come from press, clubs, YouTube, podcasting, and are huge fans and experts about their passions. They don’t check time, temperature and the weird news of the day. Instead, they are given the freedom to celebrate the music and culture that they love, and to pull no punches about what they hate.
Our listeners are given even more power than our hosts. Listeners can skip, heart, ban, time-shift, share and instantaneously talk back to us. They can even completely turn our hosts off!
We think this is a better way. A people first approach. Today, we attempt to reinvent radio.
We will get a bunch of stuff wrong. Our hosts will say occasional stupid things, and make mistakes. That’s what freedom brings. That’s being human.
But with personality-driven countdowns like 66 Songs That Changed Everything, Classic HipHop A-Z, The Worst Ideas In Music History, and The Greatest Gen X Songs, Slacker is committed to context, curation and storytelling. We believe what Joe Strummer said — “Without people, You’re nothing” We love music, we love artists and creativity, we love technology, and we believe with people, Radio can be great again.
Please give us a look and a listen. Today is day one.
Try 66 SONGS THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING for starters…
Happy Holidays & hope you dig.
When I was a kid, pre-Internet, I had a love/hate relationship with the radio.
I grew up in New York, and in my teens WNEW-FM was my constant companion. WNEW positioned itself as the station “Where Rock Lives.” Every song seemed perfectly picked, placed, and contextualized — it was music curation at its finest. Listening as a twelve-to-thirteen-year-old, I discovered tons of new music, or at least artists who were new to me. Rock really did seem to live on that station. Its DJs were true hosts. I clung to every word that Jonathan Schwartz, Vin Scelsa, and Scott Muni uttered. After all, in a time before message boards or social media, these people were my friend – intimate friends who turned me on to Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan.
But after a while, I became frustrated with WNEW-FM. I had discovered a whole new world–punk rock –and WNEW wasn’t playing very much of it. I heard an occasional Ramones song, but where were the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Jam, and Wire? WNEW was too busy playing Foreigner, Styx, and Journey. Yuck, yuck, and yuck. (Ironically, I now have a custom-made Slacker station called The Bands I Hated in High School Kinda Sound Good to Me Now–but I’m getting ahead of myself here.)
Eventually I broke up with WNEW. The station had betrayed me. There was just so much Foreigner I could take. It certainly was no longer the place where my rock lived. I abandoned WNEW, and I abandoned the radio.
Years later, Napster came onto the scene, and music listening changed forever. All the world’s music accessible with a click of a mouse. I loved Napster at first but soon grew uncomfortable with both its bad song results and its lack of artist support.
Through the 2000s I drifted from service to service online. Rhapsody, Imeem, Lala, iTunes, eMusic…I tried them all. But somehow, despite the cool music platform that the web had become, something was missing. Some days it was enough and I found treasures, but most days it felt a bit cold, clinical. Listening to music on these services was mostly clean and efficient, but it wasn’t all that entertaining, and it certainly wasn’t magical. These were algorithms and applications…not good friends crafting music experiences. The human element was missing.
For the first time in years, I found myself missing the old WNEW-FM.
Then, in 2011, I found Slacker.
Slacker would have seemed like an impossible dream to the eighteen-year-old me. It worked everywhere. On my computer, on my phone, in my car. Best of all is the curation. At Slacker, I have more than 200 pre-programmed stations to choose from. Sure, there are the expected genre stations — Today’s Hits, New Hip Hop, Country, and an excellent slate of Alternative stations. But Slacker also digs really deep with Eclectic Rock, Great Songs You Forgot, Old School R&B, and Grunge: 20 Years Later. These are thematic stations that terrestrial radio could never dream of.
With Slacker, I can access the biggest hits, or reinvent the concept of formats, on a daily basis. Only people who live and breathe music every day could come up with stations like Dive Bar Jukebox, Broken Heart Radio, or The 50 Most Embarrassing Facebook Songs. No algorithm in the world can put a music mix together like these stations.
With Slacker, I am able to follow hosts like Mat Bates and Scott Riggs, whose expert curation routinely blows me away.
I love Scott’s Indie Hits mix and I find Mat’s New Music First stations invaluable. I really couldn’t live without The New 40, the Slacker station that plays the best 40 songs regardless of genre, each and every week.
Yet as good at turning me on to music as Mat and Scott are, I love being able to overrule them, to have more power than the DJ, to take a good station and make it better. I can fine-tune any station by tweaking the music mix based on related artists, song popularity, and song age. Fine-tune is an extremely cool feature. I can add sports from ESPN, news from ABC, and talk from American Public Media.
At Slacker, I have total control of a music library of more than 13 million songs. I can lean in and make custom playlists. I can lean back by simply typing a band or song name into the Search box and just let the music play. For a guy who spent days as a kid making mixed tapes, this seems unbelievably fast, efficient, and wondrous.
Most important, at Slacker I feel like the human spirit of the old WNEW FM lives, but within a new technological construct. Experts like Scott & Mat make superb stations – they are bringing music curation back. The technology platform makes everything easier, better, more customizable.
So go ahead, poke around, play a station, or enter a song. It’s up to you — with Slacker, all you have to do is listen up.
Over-The-Dial-Radio was a beautiful platform, but one that wasn’t safeguarded and honored by terrestrial ownership, nor pushed and invigorated by embracing new technologies. What Jean Shepard, Vin Scelsa, Jim Ladd, etc. did with live voice, inflection and in-the-moment presence was monumental…but was also of its time. Now, there ARE brilliant storytellers, currators and hosts still out there today. But, most of them are bloggers, podcasters, performance and spoken word artists, technologists and the like. Commercial terrestrial radio has become so anti-art, that it is the last place any young, curious listener (or young soul) would turn for inspiration, beauty, companionship, or the next great tune.
Past, Present & Future of Music Business kingmakers?
“You know why people stay in the music business, Jack?
E. G. O.
Oh, they may start because they love music, or because of some weird happenstance. But they STAY for one reason only — Ego.” – Jane Friedman.
Jane Friedman was a NY publicist, Patti Smith’s manager, and someone who really loved music. She taught me a valuable lesson during my first months in the music business.
“Congratulations, your generation is the first generation in history to rebel by unsticking it to the man and instead sticking it to the weirdo freak musicians!” — David Lowery
Emily White, an NPR Music Intern, is grappling with the moral dilemma of a 11,000 song music library — mostly accumulated through borrowing, trading and peer to peer downloading. Musician and college professor David Lowery (ex-Camper Van Beethoven & Cracker) offers some free advice:
My intention here is not to shame you or embarrass you. I believe you are already on the side of musicians and artists and you are just grappling with how to do the right thing. I applaud your courage in admitting you do not pay for music, and that you do not want to but you are grappling with the moral implications. I just think that you have been presented with some false choices by what sounds a lot like what we hear from the “Free Culture” adherents.
I must disagree with the underlying premise of what you have written. Fairly compensating musicians is not a problem that is up to governments and large corporations to solve. It is not up to them to make it “convenient” so you don’t behave unethically. (Besides–is it really that inconvenient to download a song from iTunes into your iPhone? Is it that hard to type in your password? I think millions would disagree.)
Rather, fairness for musicians is a problem that requires each of us to individually look at our own actions, values and choices and try to anticipate the consequences of our choices. I would suggest to you that, like so many other policies in our society, it is up to us individually to put pressure on our governments and private corporations to act ethically and fairly when it comes to artists rights. Not the other way around. We cannot wait for these entities to act in the myriad little transactions that make up an ethical life. I’d suggest to you that, as a 21-year old adult who wants to work in the music business, it is especially important for you to come to grips with these very personal ethical issues.
I’ve been teaching college students about the economics of the music business at the University of Georgia for the last two years. Unfortunately for artists, most of them share your attitude about purchasing music. There is a disconnect between their personal behavior and a greater social injustice that is occurring. You seem to have internalized that ripping 11,000 tracks in your iPod compared to your purchase of 15 CDs in your lifetime feels pretty disproportionate. You also seem to recognize that you are not just ripping off the record labels but you are directly ripping off the artist and songwriters whose music you “don’t buy”. It doesn’t really matter that you didn’t take these tracks from a file-sharing site. That may seem like a neat dodge, but I’d suggest to you that from the artist’s point of view, it’s kind of irrelevant.
Lowery goes on:
Why do we value the network and hardware that delivers music but not the music itself?
Why are we willing to pay for computers, iPods, smartphones, data plans, and high speed internet access but not the music itself?
Why do we gladly give our money to some of the largest richest corporations in the world but not the companies and individuals who create and sell music?
This is a bit of hyperbole to emphasize the point. But it’s as if:
Networks: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!
Hardware: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!
Artists: 99.9 % lower middle class. Screw you, you greedy bastards!
Congratulations, your generation is the first generation in history to rebel by unsticking it to the man and instead sticking it to the weirdo freak musicians!
Today Billboard, Nielsen and digitalmusic.org, announced the first ever subscription services On-Demand Songs Chart.
This new chart tracks all the on-demand streaming activity on Subscription Music services such as Slacker Radio, Spotify, Sony Music Unlimited, Rhapsody, RDIO, Muve Music, Mog, and Zune. Additionally, this streaming play activity will now influence Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, arguably the most definitive ‘Top Songs” chart in the music business.
So, what does this all mean?
Well, let’s start with the fact that I am biased. I work at Slacker Radio, and have a vested interest in seeing Subscription Music models gain traction. I also chair the Music Subscription work group for digitalmusic.org, so I live and breath this stuff.
That said, I think there are three big takeaways:
1- Streaming counts.
2- Listeners, not gatekeepers, control the charts more than ever before.
3- We are entering a golden era for music fans.
Let’s take these ideas one by one. Streaming counts now, literally and figuratively. While the (rightly) respected Big Champagne has long been quantifying streaming activity, both legal and illegal, Billboard’s recognition of the Subscription Music Services certainly signals a milestone in the ascension of streaming music. With nearly 500 million on-demand weekly streams being generated by these nine legal services alone, a new scale of activity has been reached that is undeniable.
Listeners are becoming the new gatekeepers. Traditionally, Billboard song charts like the Hot 100 were comprised around a combination of radio airplay and single sales. Over the last few years, Billboard has done an admirable job of layering in other data to this mix, including song plays on MySpace, Yahoo and the like. With the inclusion of this On-Demand Songs Chart, Billboard has struck another blow for the idea that the end user, the listener and customer, has tremendous impact in shaping what our conception of a “charting” song will look like.
Lastly, for music fans, this really is the start of a golden era. I grew up in Manhattan in the late 70’s. When I was a kid, every Saturday I would walk from my apartment on 53rd street and 1st avenue to the Donnell Library on 53rd street and 6th avenue to read Billboard. I especially was focused on pouring over the charts, and spent countless hours discovering songs, artists and trends to pursue based on Billboard’s charts.
During that walk I often made up “dream music” scenarios for myself.
I dreamed I had the largest music collection in the world. In my fantasy, I had every song, album and artist at my fingertips. True, in that era, I imagined converting my Mom’s midtown one bedroom apartment, into one enormous record and cassette library, but that’s how childhood dreaming goes…
I wanted my stereo to be able to count every song and artist I played, and tell me truly what my most played songs and artists were. I imagined some kind of song kind of song counter “connected” to my stereo. I wanted the data, even then.
I dreamed of having my own radio station. I wanted to be able to play The Ramones, Smokey Robinson, Grandmaster Flash, Elton John, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, The Grateful Dead, The Talking Heads and Big Daddy Kane all on one station. I wanted no formats. Actually, I wanted my own format. I walked around with reams of paper with all sorts of stations and playlists mapped out, documenting these concepts.
I fantasized about building a Music Clubhouse. I envisioned a cross between a rock club and the perfect mom and pop record store, dominated by a gigantic listening room equiped with a world class stereo and video set-up, so that all my friends could hang out and argue about music all day long.
Naturally, I knew that we would have all the liner notes and lyrics for every album in the world at the Music Clubhouse, as well as an unlimited supply of photos, bio information, and videos — again all at our fingertips.
When I flash back on those music fantasies, and then think about all the experiences available now across these subscription music streaming services, I realize that fantasy has largely become reality. These companies have built these new music experiences from a fan’s perspective.
Think about it — just about every song, album and artist is available at your fingertips. At certain services, you really do have almost unlimited ability to create your own radio stations. You really can an engage with all your friends online at once, and in ways, thanks to technology, that I couldn’t even imagine in my best childhood music fantasies. Lyrics, liner notes, your most played data — all of these things are available.
And I truly believe this is just the START.
This On-Demand Songs Chart documents what has the potential to be a great era for music fans. There are certainly formidable challenges around label licensing, monetization and building economic ecosystems that subscription services face. So, it’s both the Subscription Service employee AND the music fan in me that works daily to have the industry support and reward continuing this kind of innovation.
I think it is really exciting to know that there will undoubtedly be some kid out there this weekend, who will be reading about all this streaming activity in Billboard. I imagine that he or she will not just try one of these services, but also will start thinking about the innovations and experiences that will reshape the fan experience yet again.
Who knows what the streaming music era will really look like. I imagine we have just started.
Martin Scorcerse’s new documentary, George Harrison: Living In A Material World, is filled to the brim with sacred places.
The Beatles rise is so well known, that most Rock fans over thirty probably can recite the stops by heart. The Cavern Club, Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, St. Peter’s Church, Twickenham Film Studios, India, Blue Jay Way, and of course, Abbey Road.
For a Beatles fan, Scorcerse’s biopic adds one more sacred location to the roadmap – Friar Park.
The documentary suggests that George’s most sacred place was his Friar Park home, which he purchased in 1970. George devotedly tended to his home and its gardens,while also recording and filming there. It is depicted lovingly on the front cover of his first proper solo album, All Things Must Pass, and mythologized in his video “Crackerbox Palace”.
All these images got me to thinking about my own musical sacred places:
1970: Record department at E.J. Korvettes department store, Brooklyn New York. I made my grandma take me here to buy Beatles records. First 45’s, then albums.
1971-1977: Lebiush Lehrer auditorium Camp Boiberik, Rhinebeck New York. Camp musicals, Friday night services and Gene Lewin & David Vogel “jamming” on Jumping Jack Flash. Yes, Gene and David played that song for six years straight.
1975-1978: Greenwich Village, NYC. Under the arches of Washington Square Park to be more specific. Walked through the snow on Bleeker street, and made believe I was Dylan on the cover of Freewheeling Bob Dylan.
1975-1979: Madison Square Garden: Floor Seats for Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, No Nukes, and many more. Don’t fight it; there is nothing as powerful as a arena or stadium-sized sing-a-long.
1975-1979: Disc-O-Mat record store on 59th street and Lexington Avenue. $4.99 an album. Great stock, great vibe. It was Tower Records before Tower came east.
1979-1982: Club 57, Tier 3, and the Mudd Club. Trust me, “Dead Rock Star Night” was the PG rated version. Downtown Club Culture and all that it entailed.
1980-1981: 99 Records at 99 MacDougal Street, Greenwich Village. I actually managed to spend $20 there for an import version of London Calling on New Years Day. You really had to work to spend that kind of money on an album in 1980.
1979-1982: On-Air studio and record library, WCDB –Albany. Today (10/11/11) is College Radio Day. Remember, If Al Gore really had invented the internet, he would have run a fanzine and programmed a College Radio speciality show in the early 80’s.
1980-1982: JB Scott’s Rock Club, Central Avenue Albany New York: Everybody played JB Scott’s, as Albany routed well with New York and Boston. U2, The Specials, The Jam, Lene Lovich, David Johansen, plus many many more. (Honorable mention should go to The Chateau Lounge, site of R.E.M.’s legendary 11/23/1982 performance)
1983-1987: Maxwell’s, 1039 Washington Street, Hoboken New Jersey. The Bongos, DB’s, Raybeats, The Feelies, Sonic Youth, Husker Du, and a host of others on-stage. Steve Fallon, Glenn Morrow and Peter Buck at the bar.
1983-1987: The Ritz, 11th Street NYC. The Replacements walk on-stage and ask for Boos. Par for the course. On the great shows, it always felt like that balcony would collapse.
1990: The Melody Ballroom: Portland Oregon, & The Off-Ramp in Seattle Washington. Watching the crowd of teenagers stream out of the Melody after Nirvana’s opening set …with flannel shirts wrapped around their waists, they looked like Children Of The Corn. Watching the Best Kissers In the World bicker on-stage at the Off Ramp. Good times.
1991: First Lollapalooza date in Compton Terrace Arizona. Rollins Band, Butthole Surfers, Ice-T, Nine Inch Nails, Living Colour, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Jane’s Addiction. Who knew?
1997: El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles. As the poster said, Bob Dylan and his band! Tiny room, massive legend. Dylan’s last truly great run?
2000-2001: Howard Blumenthal’s office, Media department CDNOW, Ft. Washington Pennsylvania. Late nights and a too early business model — rich media created before broadband was ready.
2003-2007: Sessions at AOL. Sigma Sound, Sony Studios, and a few more. AOL Music. Sessions with Kanye West, Paul McCartney, Al Green, Kelly Clarkson, 50 Cent, NAS, David Gilmour, Green Day and many more.
2005: Live 8 Concert, Outside of the Philadelphia Museum Of Art, Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia. Hello world, this is live music on the internet.
2007: Smoke Jazz & Supper Club, 2751 Broadway NYC. Jeremy Pelt, Bernard Purdie, Eric Alexander. Quintessential New York City jazz club within spitting distance of Columbia University. It is always happening at Smoke.
2007-2010: Artist Lounge, Warner Bros. Records, Burbank California. Randy Newman, Tom Petty, R.E.M, Jack White all stop by and ask us to listen to their new albums. Uh, “yes”.
2010-2011: Largo At The Coronet, La Cienga Avenue Los Angeles. A few hundred seats and incredible performances from Loudon Wainwright, Fiona Apple, Rikki Lee Jones, Randy Newman, Aimee Mann and the like. Inside the venue, it’s all about the music — no cell phones, clanking drink glasses, and idle chatter. Yet, the vibe is always warm, loose, and all about the music.
These places are sacred to me.
What are your musical sacred places?
I thought I knew drinking, and I thought I knew about music, but truth be told — I knew next to nothing. My idea of drinking was a 17 year olds technique of dumping out a third of a quart of Tropicana orange juice and replacing it with cheap vodka. Musically, I was up on the latest New Wave and Punk, but I wouldn’t know a George Jones tearjerker or a vintage STAX side if it sat down next to me on a rickety Frank’s Living Room stool, and bought me a snakebite.
After my first couple of visits, I was pretty sure his name was Leo, not Frank. Leo poured with a heavy hand. I remembered that he sighed and smiled when we called him Frank, serving us another round of Vodkas and Grapefruits, while flipping over a mixed tape. The tapes were Leo’s. He played them loud. Ear-shatteringly loud:
Get Off My Cloud
The Grand Tour
Holiday in Cambodia
After The Fire Is Gone
Lust For Life
Johnny Hit and Run Pauline (Leo had a thing for X)
Gardening At Night
Cry Like A Baby
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
I’ll Take You There
Color Me Impressed
Time of The Season
Pale Blue Eyes
One For My Baby
Like I mentioned, at first we thought he was “Frank”. After all, he lorded over the place — Frank’s Living Room – a majestically squalid, 500 square foot, literally underground bar in the greyest city on earth — Albany NY.
Leo was my personal John Peel. Although he was probably barely 30, Leo was my elder statesman. He taught me about life, love and loss all through the power of a perfectly sequenced mixed tape. Leo trafficked in classic Country, Rockabilly, Soul, Garage Rock, and the most cutting edge, and hardest new Punk and New Wave.
Without knowing it, Leo changed our take on music.
All genres mixed together.
All eras counted.
As long as it was pure, it was on the Frank’s Living Room list.
Leo created the model for Hipster Dive Bar Jukebox.
This station is for the Leo in us all.
Classic Country. Vintage Soul. Select Punk, New Wave & Indie:
Hipster Divebar Jukebox: http://bit.ly/qalK1m