College radio vs. CMJ
February 28, 2003 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Most anyone who has been involved in college radio is familiar with the uphill battle faced in injecting something new, different, and cool into the music world when so many artists and labels lack the clout required to get noticed. It is a shame that the College Media Journal, the music charting hub of the college radio world, has admitted to falsifying playlists for their own apparent gain. What does this say about the place of college radio and indie music in the music industry these days?
posted by dytiq (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What does this say about the place of college radio and indie music in the music industry these days?

As one grows older, things seemingly hidden from greed are now driven by it, seen with a new found clarity, garnered from age.
posted by the fire you left me at 10:56 AM on February 28, 2003

When I DJed at my former college, I was asked to play at least two new songs from the new CDs that would arrive. Air PSAs every half hour, and just to follow the basic on-air guidelines.

I never liked playing stuff from their playlist, I think the only songs I didn't hate playing were Solar Twins' "Rock The Casbah", and Big Bad Bollocks' "Guinness" & "Football Song".

I hated CMJ's playlist, still do.
posted by riffola at 11:10 AM on February 28, 2003

What does this say about the place of college radio and indie music in the music industry these days?

That college radio has the same potential to be corrupt as professional radio?

College students areone of the major demographics that everyone is after. It is disappointing that CMJ is falsifying it's list, but not really that shocking...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 11:15 AM on February 28, 2003

People are only figuring out now that they're faking playlists? A little historical perspective: I was doing college radio 20 years ago, and when I started the majors didn't give a damn about us. But then the economics changed. New vinyl pressing plants allowed indie labels to press short runs for little money up front. EPs and 12-inch singles gave new bands a way to be heard without having to spend big money to make an entire album. And so the whole 80s DIY indie scene was born. Bands started selling in local stores, playing local clubs, getting exposure on college radio, and basically ignoring the major labels entirely.

It took them only a couple of years to figure out how to co-opt the entire scene. And so CMJ was created from day 1 for the purposes of corrupting college radio by bringing it back into the major label promotional machine. Their promotional people were "hip" kids in their early 20s who had budgets to ply us with freebies. They were constantly on the phone begging us to play their records. Even if we didn't play them, at least we could list their records on our playlist anyway. That way, we could ensure we would be taken care of, when it came to sending out the next batch of records, getting us into shows for free, and maybe even paying for us to attend the CMJ convention.

The strategy worked. The entire first wave of indie bands got signed to majors, and the whole promotional system that eventually produced the Nirvana juggernaut was already in place by 1986 or so.

If they had been able to figure out how, they would have co-opted Napster the same way.
posted by fuzz at 11:36 AM on February 28, 2003 [2 favorites]

When I first saw this story yesterday, it didn't surprise me much since it's presumed by many that CMJ has been moving more-and-more toward pay-for-play over the last couple years.
what did surprise me, though, was that they were making such a glaring, in some sense, ballsy move with the playlist of UC Berkely and WFMU -- The two tallest pillars in college radio.
I'm surprised it took this long for word to get out.
Considering the massive # of college stations, how difficult would it be for someone to start a web-based, self-reporting site that offers the same sort of peer-monitoring service as CMJ?
posted by chandy72 at 11:36 AM on February 28, 2003

As a music director at a college station in the late 90s, I was reporting to CMJ, and keeping track of what other stations were reporting. I was incredibly disappointed to see that the charts for my format (the now-defunct - I think - RPM format) from around the country contained all of the same junk that we'd get from the labels that had the dough. Our station and perhaps three others out of hundreds were the only ones who would regularly report music that didn't come from a handful of labels. That signaled to me that college radio represented a simple microcosm of the mainstream music industry, not a truly non-discriminate, all-artists-have-the-same-chance environment that I believed it once was and is still meant to be.

Now with CMJ REPLACING unfamiliar artists with some record they're getting paid to chart, we've reached yet a further step in the dismantling of college radio. The major labels have successfully controlled the pool of music that most stations have to choose from, and now CMJ is helping it to suppress those that diverge from that pool.

Well, one can hope. Supposedly dusted magazine at the very least posts unedited play charts.
posted by dytiq at 11:48 AM on February 28, 2003 [1 favorite]

Being very active in college radio convinced me that payola is alive and well in the industry. Hearing our station's music directors talk with the label publicity folks was the clearest definition I've ever heard of "mutual masturbation."
posted by Vidiot at 12:06 PM on February 28, 2003

Well, I remember the radio station playlists were submitted by the program director, who took whatever licenses she or he saw fit to tailor the list so that the station would appearing cutting edge, or to include records which "merited" being listed because of who had sent them or who was in the band, even if the new jocks had played "Melt With You" often enough for the billionth week in a row to keep it at the top of the playlist. So the fudging of charts just shifts focus...
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:25 PM on February 28, 2003

(that's license, not licenses)

Also, lest anyone whose never been a part of it be confused, the kinds of wrangling and inflammation being perpetrated in the emails quoted in the East Bay Express article are normal among music geeks. These kinds of epistles and missives, laden with insults, rejoinders, and complicated reponses to other responses, are so common as to almost be humdrum.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:30 PM on February 28, 2003

When I was working in the program director's office of my college station, we would cater somewhat to the big labels' demands just so that we could get the latest album of bands that we had interest in. It's a trade. We play some of what they want, and they send us the stuff we want to hear for free.

It worked out reasonably well. We'd write up a required playlist - play two of these 30 tunes per hour, and play anything else that you like. We even broke it down into different genres so that each DJ could play songs that fit his format.

We had a couple of timeslots that would play up the stuff the labels wanted a bit more so that we could keep the CDs flowing, but the playcounts of the sellout tunes never got into the realm of what was popular with the DJs. Nonetheless, we were still getting new releases of even popular artists days in advance of the local commercial station.

All of this was reported to CMJ, and we never had a problem with them.

The real question is, knowing that CMJ practices this replacement policy, do the record labels even care? How can they tell that it's their tune that's getting airplay if the disc is listed as a compilation? Better to send a full promo disc and have it listed than to guess whether it was their tune that spun from a compilation disc.
posted by ringmaster at 1:52 PM on February 28, 2003

Thanks for that dusted link, dytiq.
posted by Ufez Jones at 2:15 PM on February 28, 2003

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