Trying To Get To You

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Radio Deliver Me From Nowhere

I’ve been listening to the radio for the first time in years. Specifically, I’ve been playing New York’s new rock station, 101.9 WRXP. It’s a reasonably interesting concept – a mixture of classic rock and indie rock/alternative. (Thankfully, the classic rock played so far hasn’t been that predictable.) Certainly, it’s the only station I’ve ever heard where the Hold Steady follows Billy Joel and Ra Ra Riot follows the Rolling Stones. It’s not a Jack-FM concept (radio as iPod) – it’s a simply a station that makes the claim that rock is a long continuum, one in which pre-punk and post-punk rock can live harmoniously with one another.

Unfortunately, it’s a continuum that excludes great soul and r&b. Following a decades old tradition, the number of black artists recurrently played on rock radio amounts to one – Jimi Hendrix. It’s too predictable to be dispiriting – but the station would sound a hell of a lot better with some James Brown, P-Funk, Marvin Gaye and Al Green.

That being said, I’ve been enjoying hearing the juxtaposition of newer artists next to the classic rockers. What jumps out at me when listening to the new stuff is that they don’t seem to be writing singles. Perhaps it is because for most of the indie bands (American ones more so than British ones), being on commercial radio is never even seen as a possibility. But while most of the new stuff sounds good and has a cool vibe, it doesn’t leap out of the speakers, make you stop what you’re doing and wonder, “Who IS that?”

There’s one exception: The Hold Steady’s “Sequestered In Memphis.” I’m still not quite sold like others are on their new album, but the vibrancy of the song jumps out of the radio and has me turn it up every time. In a never-ending era of detachment and cool, Craig Finn and company’s passion remind that there’s still a vociferous crew of people out there that still feel about music the way I do.


Anonymous said...

Hey Ben -

I've been enjoying your blog for a while now and always appreciate the context you provide in your posts. I love that you mention the low occurrence of "singles" because it's true and I think a great sign that the record industry is dipping back in time to an older model of truer artist development. In fact, I was at a Triple A RnR conference a couple of weeks ago where a number of reps from large labels noted this changing trend from pop explosions to steady, career artists they can invest in and foster over time. Of course, there are major financial benefits for them out of this, but it's still better for all of us indie musicians who are developing our craft over time to feel that we can be valued by a potential label for long-term artistry and not just presenting a slick, shiny, package.

Thanks for the great blog!

sultry indie jazz/pop/soul

Ben Lazar said...


Thanks for writing in and your compliments.

I will tell you that I have a different perspective than you in regards to singles - I love singles. Rock and soul were originally a singles format - each song was an artist's new statement. In the late 60's that shifted, and the album became the "artistic statement," at least in rock. I wish there were more artists that thought and released songs in terms of singles more often - trying to get the best they possibly can in three and a half to four minutes.

Also, I don't think the record industry is dipping back in time to a truer model of artist development. We live in a whole new world, and whatever is being built, I assert that it's much more about creating anew than it is going back to an older model. Besides, artist development at major labels has always been some what mythological. The only difference is back in the day, artists got a couple of more albums to prove themselves than they do today.

In addition, given that for indie artists, the first time most people are going to hear them is on their MySpace page, you better be bringing the heat!

Thanks for writing Heather!