CAB Minutes: April 2009

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY

Moderator: Dalia Ratnikas
Panelists: Joe Ahearn: Showpaper, The Silent Barn, Alec Bernis: music critic, Anat Cohen: musician, Helga Davis: vocalist, host of WNYC Overnight Music, Alison Davy: vocalist, Lisa Karrer: chair, Manhattan New Music Project, Dave Mandl: host, WFMU

The meeting, which was in the form of a panel discussion, ran from approximately 7PM-9PM. The topic was "Music in the Media: WNYC's Place in the Evolving Music Landscape."

Basya Mandel introduced the CAB and Dalia Ratnikas.

DR: How can WNYC maintain relevance in this decentralized music environment? I'd like to ask the panelists to introduce themselves and to answer this question: What is your first go-to source for new music?

LK: I'm representing the Manhattan New Music Project. We're in transition, building our build. I'm a composer and performance artist. My first go-to? The people in my community who are creating.

JA: I live in Ridgewood, Queens. I organize performances in my house and in others. I also produce a newssheet. For new music, I go to friends' houses & MySpace.

AC: I'm a musician & composer. Often friends are the best introduction to new sounds. And sometimes YouTube.

DM: I'm a WFMU show producer. I'm also a music editor & writer at the Brooklyn Rail. Also at The Wire and other publications. WFMU gets hundreds of new releases every week. That accounts for 90% of my discoveries. Also from listening to FMU, WNYC & others.

AD: I'm a singer...opera, oratorio, crossover. I live in Riverdale. I teach music, including opera, to high school kids on Saturdays. I have lots of sources, as others have said.

AB: I used to be a journalist, now I'm more in the music business. I manage, I have a label, and I consult for a British company. WNYC is interesting to me because everyone in my world goes through them. Like others, I get turned on by friends. But I don't just consume new music; I also listen to WNYC for different things than I might purchase.

HD: I host Overnight Music. It's funny, I've performed in this space about 10 times. I've also performed in the space downstairs. I'm just back from Italy where I was working on a multi-media theater piece written by Peter Greenaway. I was invited to WNYC about a year ago to program music. It's an exciting way to continue the musical conversation that I feel I have all the time. It doesn't start or stop on stage. Working at the station allows me to continue that conversation and to continue developing my ears. WNYC is fertile ground for anything aural. Where do I find music? I cook dinner on Sundays at my home. My friends bring their ipods & we share music, what people are connecting to at the time. Lately there's been a lot of Mahler. I'm in a Bach phase. That's been my way. Also, we get a lot of music sent to the station.

DR: Who has found something fantastic in the last week or two?

JA: Psychedelic Horseshit will be playing at my house in June. They do lo-fi garage, distorted. I just heard them yesterday.

AD: Guretsky's third symphony. I got it sent to me via email. I first heard it on a friend's iPod.

DR: Who listens to WNYC mostly for news?
Two panelists raise their hands.
DR: Who listens mostly for music?
Two or 3 raise their hands. The others say they listen for both, except for JA, who doesn't listen to it.

DR: What are your expectations for WNYC? Do you listen for exploration or for refuge?

DM: The first.

AB: I think it represents a certain community of musicians who live in NY.

AK: New Sounds. Often John Schaefer will play someone very obscure, like this Alaskan throat singer. He also plays a ton of NY artists. John Schaefer is a bit more wide-ranging than (DK?)

DM: That throat singer is almost more NY than Alaskan, because of the audience.

DR: JA, what is your understanding of the local music scene? Did you say that WNYC doesn't play enough local music?

JA: In NYC, local is global. But that's not my local scene. The age of the dj is going to be similar to the age of the audience. Like at FMU, Kaylee Hamilton. She's young, she started her show at 15, now she's 16. She plays music I know & like. Kaylee has a terrible slot—Sunday from 3-6AM—but it doesn't matter, because they're not listening on the radio. The listeners are in all time zones -- people in Europe, Asia.

DM: That's true. And most of our shows are archived.

AB: My friend NS has an overnight show. They're put together in advance. Is that the case with all overnight music?

HD: Yes. I put my show together at a different time than it's aired, and about 3-4 days in advance.

DR: Live music. Is the idea of live broadcast more appealing? Anat, you had your shows at the [Village] Vanguard...what was that like?

AC: I think it's great. Live music is completely different. It's so much in the moment, especially jazz. You cannot get the same feeling in the studio. So when a live show is being recorded, it's sort of a combo of the two. I'm comfortable with my quintet and I like to take risks.

HD: I love when I go out with WNYC on the road. We do a lot of coverage of live events already. I would love to do more & personally be a part of it.

AK: Gamelan is so problematic live, for example to mike it correctly. And it's not very portable. WNYC & FMU are both good about getting it played when we do undertake it. Media is changing. CDs are becoming obsolete. What JA is saying is blowing my mind. You have constant access. We didn't.

JA: Whether the radio host is live or not is irrelevant, unless someone is performing. Or unless there is some sort of interaction with the host, online or by phone.

DR: How important is the host's personality? Do you listen for them?

AD: I love the 2 hr show on WNYC [Danny Stiles]. The guy is a walking encyclopedia. He's also quirky. He plays wonderfully old stuff you've never heard before. There's something to be said for keeping the oldies on the radio...for a small time slot.

AB: I find myself listening to Jonathan Schwartz, and it's perfect. I feel like I'm listening to some relative or something. My reaction to John Schaefer is very different.

AD: We need the little corners, the little touchstones of familiar, corny stuff.

DM: I can see it both ways. What we've found at FMU is that we overestimate the importance of personality. The station manager has been insistent in letting us know that a lot of listeners have no idea who you are. And a lot don't card.

AK: Did anyone hear when Ute Lemper was hosting? She played all these old pieces I'd never heard, multiple variants sometimes, and it was really great.

DR: Is WNYC music more or less obscure?

(Variety of answers. Eg DM says that Dave Garland plays a ton of unfamiliar stuff.)

AD: I mostly listen to AM. I'm not that familiar with with to go. Is that QXR? It's stuffy...they're gonna kill it for those under 40.

AB. Yes. If WNYC tried to represent NY and played all manner of music, it would fracture the audience. It's more like territory has it staked out. They cover it well.

DR: I find Evening Music and Overnight Music to be very tolerable.

AB: My background is punk and hardcore. I can listen to aggressive, crazy music, but a lot of people can't.

JA: I agree about not fracturing the base. Radio can be like a friend you trust. It's not the individual host, but the radio station as a whole.

DR: Like a brand?

JA: Yes, like the personality of the station. Of course the internet is different. Maybe if you allow a bit more artist programming. Not to take over, but a bit more.

AK: Women composers are not well represented. They play all the guys.

DR: I'm getting the sense that the station uses music to serve the current listener base, rather than to reach out.

HD: No.

DM: No, I disagree. WNYC is more eclectic than that. Most people can find something they like there.

BA: It targets a very informed audience. I like Dr. Seuss books, but I'm not reading them anymore. I bet a lot of punky bands listen to WNYC. It's a natural evolution, and musicians understand that. A radio station doesn't have to play the whole spectrum of music to appeal to the whole spectrum of the audience.

DR: WNYC had a slogan, "500 years of new music." But there seems to be a focus on the 20th century. Do you feel there is a 20th century bias?

DM: Probably. I love early music and you can't hear much of that on the radio in NY. All stations could try harder. Unearthing older stuff...whether it's 20 years or 200 years important.

AB: The history of recorded music is about 100 years old. I'm never going to hear "early" music.

AK: DM, does FMU have mostly music? (DM says yes.) There are only so many pieces in the pie. People go for a variety of reasons.

DR: Do you use WNYC differently than other sources?

AC: The idea of having someone tell you about the's nice. It's important to me to know about the musicians or when they themselves are talking.

DM: Radio is more passive than other mediums. [Note: missed a couple of minutes here...was escorting attendee to elevator.]

JA: You have to keep reloading YouTube or whatever you're using. Radio just goes.

DM: There's a higher level & a lower level. The highest is when you program yourself. The next is when you choose the station. It's nice to let go for a few hours.

AK: Whether you're looking for familiar or the mind-blowing, there's a comfort to knowing you'll be safe.

DR: I'd like to open up to questions from CAB members.

John DeWitt: I have a question which may be unfair. (To Helga Davis) Does the station have an overarching philosophy of this music?

HD: I'm not here to answer questions about the station. I can discuss my show. My apologies.

JD: I understand. I thought I'd ask anyway. I started listening to WNYC among others in 1947. There were more stations. Some played listener requests of classical. There are very few places for opera. Most of the music is more contemporary than stuffy. I think I'm in the stuffy crowd. Competition seems to breed innovation, and I feel that's missing.

HD: What would you like to hear more of?

JD: Less Glass & Reich. It's boring. Lots of music seems to lack imagination. I grew up with melodies, harmony, rhythm. A beginning, a middle, and an end. I don't hear that now from contemporary music. I listen mostly to QXR. It's not annoying. Fuzzbox guitar puts me on edge.

David Tereschuk: I come from a country with the BBC, channel 3, 500 years. I found interesting what you were saying about trust, being taken care of. What would you suggest to become a trusted friend of the NY city community?

JA: More artist curating. Musicians are considered friends, you have a built in audience. They're possibly less informed than archivists, but the audience would latch on.

AB: It's dangerous to come at WNYC as not radical enough or too conservative. WNYC does what it does well. We could use more stations, but it can't be everything. Sure, there is room for improvement, but it's very strong overall.

AK: Re: the friend concept, I like to be drawn in, not overwhelmed. Radio is not passive; listening can be active.

JD: Terrance McKnight's program has become much more interesting in the last few months, and John Schaefer brings new listeners in. The fundamental issue is the lack of stations—and what about WNYC?

AD: How about an hour or two of call in during music shows? Like a Brian Lehrer for request.

JD: Didn't FUV do that in the '50's? (Someone says that they still do.)

DM: I don't like it, but FMU has a listener hour. People come in and dj for an hour. A lot of the programming isn't that great. But sometimes it is.

AK: How about an apprentice hour?

GL: It might be interesting to try something like Radio Rookies...young people with some musical background. We need to cultivate a younger audience.

JA: I'm not a big fan of the listener hour concept. It serves the host better than the audience. The audience has no idea what to expect. Why would they go there to listen? You'd need to limit it to certain genres.

DR: Let's hear from non-CAB members.

Male audience member: I'm a long-time listener, mostly daytime. I'm an artist, and I'm out at night. I think WNYC does a good job of covering the 500 years. There's no other place to hear such a wide variety of work. QXR is heavily skewed to the 18th & 19th centuries. Not everyone's going to like Philip Glass and Steve Reich but it has to be played.

Male audience member: I'm a 24 year old trained musician. I want to discuss Pandora. I don't listen to radio; I don't like it. You can click on a link and find out about the musician. With radio, sometimes you have to wait. I want to know right away. Things are moving very quickly now.

AB: I've dj'd on East Village Radio. They do it there and they're not fancy. Perhaps WNYC can be made more Pandora-like. Personally I think Pandora is awful. WNYC educates me. iTunes Genius does a better job than Pandora, but I have like 250 GB of music.

DR: When you stream WNYC online, it tells you what you're listening to.

Alfred Friedland: WNYC used to publish the Masterwork Bulletin. It was a month of music, planned in advance and mailed to you.

Male audience member: I like not knowing what I just heard. It's fun. (Discussion of people with limited listening genres.) I grew up on KBOO in Seattle. In contrast to commercial radio, they assume you're going to be interested, that you want to go on a journey. Public radio is a gift to ourselves. Is new technology putting a squeeze on it?

AB: It's putting a squeeze on bigger things, for example album sales. You can't chase the audience must cultivate it.

Male audience member: I disagree with the person who says that WNYC covers a lot of ground. There seem to be some big gaps, such as indie rock, pop. WNYE has begun to do that. It has uptown middlebrow, like Jonathan Schwartz & Danny Stiles. The rest is downtown highbrow—where music is "sound" and dance is "movement" and architecture is "space." It's so eclectic that I don't feel the presence of a trusted guide. I have no idea what John Schaefer is going to play. I would prefer genre-based programming. There is no recognizable genre except for downtown highbrow and Jonathan Schwartz. It seems to be for musicians and insular, not for average listeners. Having musicians program would not be an improvement. I wish they addressed a broader audience. Why isn't there a time slot for jazz?

AB: There are so many artists here. I'm not sure that we should try to attract a KAXP audience. I don't think genres really exist like they used to. They served music stores, which are now gone. Musicians cross wildly now.

Female audience member: I'm a former board member at the time the switch was made to less classical. The station does live broadcasts very well. There should be more, especially here in NY. Also, I would love WNYC to bring back the Masterwork Hours...early Sunday mornings.