Friday, March 06, 2015

What is CMJ? An Uninvited Editorial That Dares to Finally Tackle This Annoying Question That Will Not Go Away.

(Yesterday on Twitter there was a quite lively discussion about the CMJ/Promoter/ Station relationship. Feel free to revisit It prompted this fantastic response) 

Thank you to Hannah Carlen Radio Director for Secretly Group   For the following. 

CMJ is not a scam.  

CMJ is not a vast conspiracy or even a minor one. It is not an exploitative instrument of payola.  It is, in short, the most efficient system in place to determine which student-run stations have what is known as “their shit together.”  It is an accountability tool that both drives and reflects a station’s organization level, which in turn drives and reflects how many people might be listening to that station. 

Because here’s the thing: there are more college stations out there than any of us — labels, promoters, artists — could possibly get music to.  My four year old database yields 650 stations.  My guess is the actual number is much closer to 1,000 or more. 

SO MANY of these stations are in disarray. Their libraries are long-since ransacked, and they have no reliability to whether/when/how much they even broadcast.  They have no one even opening the mail or the even their emails, and have no system for sharing new music. We cannot send music to stations like this.  The reasons are obvious and not worth explaining. Suffice to say: it is a total waste.

So we have to decide: Who gets music?  We can’t send music to 1,000 places and we certainly can’t talk to 1,000 people, so which 400 do we talk to?  We use our brains and CMJ to determine the answer. 

There are about 100 stations in CMJ’s general orbit that have proven they have a demonstrable legacy of real listenership, of ties with their community, of a commitment to making new music a part of their programming. They have a system for sharing it with their DJs, their listeners, or both. These stations will always get music from us, regardless of whether they report to CMJ.  They are the high water mark of this funny little ecosystem — we feed them music, they expose it to new ears.  They have listeners hungry for the most adventurous side of the airwaves, and we give them the music they need to feed those hungry listeners. It’s wonderful.  When it’s done well, it makes radio a joy. 

But what of the other 300? Who stays and who goes?  If there are 900 remaining stations and 600 of those are small, shoe-string stations with about the same social media presence, and with the energy to ask for music, how do you choose?  That’s where CMJ comes in. A station that reports to CMJ is sufficiently organized that it can add new music consistently, if not every week. CMJ reporters have enough shows to justify someone’s labor to make that music available.  They have enough going on that their student body or student government said “OK, here’s a few hundred dollars for a thing.”  They are ready to field some calls about what records are out for play, and how those records are doing. And sometimes they have enough money to come to the CMJ Music Marathon, where they meet other like-minded station staffers, and bring back more insights to run a better station.

THAT’S IT. IT’S REALLY THAT SIMPLE. THAT IS THE WHOLE STORY.  It’s not the CMJ subscription, it’s what a CMJ subscription signifies. Accountability matters, and CMJ provides it.  

It’s a tried-and-true, thoroughly tested methodology.  I’ve tested it myself.  For years, whenever I encountered a new station requesting music, I’d send the same reply: I can happily start digital service immediately, but in order to start hard-copy servicing I’d need to know more about the station, and I’d need them to start by being pro-active about providing feedback or a chart, regardless of whether it was submitted to CMJ.  Eventually, I said, servicing would kick in and we’d be on a regular cycle of records, calls and emails.  But with only a handful of exceptions over years and years, it never got that far.  I might get one reply, and maybe even one email after that. But inevitably the self-directed stations would fall back off the map in less than a month, so it’s a pretty good thing that I didn’t send them a dozen records in the mail. Again, there are exceptions, but here the exceptions prove the rule.  

Which is to say: Nobody’s claiming that CMJ is the best system because we have some biased interest in supporting CMJ.  It is actually the best system available. 

Can we go back to arguing about ADDs now? Or Digital?  Something fun, please. 

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