Exclaim! contributor Matt Bobkin conducted a fantastic and comprehensive interview with Wes Marskell about the new album by The Darcys. For the last few years I’ve been interested in the potential benefits of giving away music in exchange for developing contact list of fans who might later buy other merch, concert tickets and future album releases, so I really appreciated the candid response shared below:

You released the first two albums for free but Warring is seeing a more traditional release. What benefits came out of releasing The Darcys and Aja for free?
Well I think that the thing with putting out a free record, especially when you’re on a record label, is that the record label is selling records so that ideally piques interest. It was just a way of engaging with potential fans immediately and cutting down any obstacles between somebody having some interest in your band and being able to listen to the record. They just went to our website and downloaded the record, which you can still do, and you saw our band growing very quickly because all of a sudden people could hear your record.

I think Warring, in a way, is a very traditional release in the sense that we spent money on it and we toured two records that have done quite well as far as downloads are concerned but we’re not making any money on it and our livelihoods depend on selling some records at some point and there’s sort of an older system with getting grants and stuff. It just allowed us to get into people’s ears and heads quickly. I think it was also a pretty good press story, we’re putting out free records. We just wanted to engage with people and all of a sudden people were writing about it. People seem encouraged to want to buy this record and we’ve been getting a lot of tweets and emails about it. Stuff like “put it up,” and “let me buy it.” “The River” did really well and I guess people felt like they could support us.

The Darcys discuss releasing albums for free

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Revisiting my experiences at CHRW

The Station Manager of CHRW extended a short-term job offer to me in April 2013 after identifying my previous successes at CJAM between 2007-2010. He was planning to allow the music department to be fully administered by students each semester, and asked me to help implement new policies and procedures to help facilitate this shift. I’m rather proud of the following accomplishments over four short months:

wrote a 20+ page training manual detailing all aspects of how to administer a music department at a campus/community radio station.
sorted more than 1,400 unread emails that had accumulated in the music department account prior to my arrival, and replied to the most recent or relevant messages.
created a filtering system that will logically sort incoming emails, which is important due to the high volume of communications.
reinitiated communication with some of the leading publicity companies and record labels after noticing that many were no longer sending music to the station.
– resumed the tabulation and submission of weekly airplay charts to !earshot and CMJ.
– updated and expanded the guidelines for incoming music submissions, and created a Soundcloud dropbox system enabling local musicians to easily share songs with the station.
reviewed more than 700 backlogged albums and added approximately 400 of them to the on-air music library.
actively acquired new music that would be of interest to the on-air DJs (e.g. RLMDL, Cousins, The Courtneys, Dirty Beaches, The Dirty Nil, Elaquent, PARTYNEXTDOOR).
created a mailing list of active on-air DJs and began sharing regular updates about newly added music and interview opportunities.
fixed hundreds of inaccuracies in the music library database to enable more accurate search results.
helped obtain media accreditation to NXNE, Riot Fest and Warped Tour for CHRW volunteers.
– sorted and organized promotional items for future use in a funding drive.
– assisted the Program Director by completing numerous weeks of incomplete SOCAN tracking reports.

Revisiting this post a few years later, CHRW went through a turbulent period where a primary funding source was at risk of being significantly decreased. I’m happy to see that the station is trying to reconnect with the London community, improve their programming, and restore a sense of balance to the staffing. The music department appears to have returned to one consistent staff member rather than a rotating cast of student volunteers.

Based on my experiences at CJAM, I believe it is vital to have a consistent Music Director who can establish and retain relationships with record labels and music promotion services. This helps ensure that new music and other opportunities (e.g. artist interviews) are consistently available to the DJs. Mentorship from the Music and Programming Directors can also help DJs use these resources to create interesting and engaging on-air programming that isn’t always offered by commercial and national music broadcasters.

Thanks for reading!
Christopher White

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Upcoming Live Performances in London

Three years removed from living in a different city where I might have the opportunity to see a good band once every week, sometimes I forget how strong the London live music scene truly is. With a minimum of three excellent shows happening in one night, Friday August 23rd is a fantastic reminder of this.

The Bag Lady (474 Pall Mall St.), all-ages
Doors at 8:00 / performances at 9:00 / $8 cover

EONS is the new project of Bruce Peninsula band member, Matt Cully. Mellow guitar and vocal performances provide the foundation of many songs on his debut solo album (Arctic Radio) and Cully is joined by a variety of his talented musical peers, including Misha Bower (Bruce Peninsula), Leon Taheny (Dusted), and Daniela Gesundheit (Snowblink). Spencer Burton & Andrew Lennox will be appearing as Grey Kingdom and should be performing songs from the album Light, I’ll Call Your Name Out “Darkness.” Recently released on vinyl (yes, dreams come true!), it is easily one of the best albums of the year and The Bag Lady should provide an atmosphere conducive to this collection of songs.

Playground (207 King St.), all-ages
Performances at 10:00 / $5 cover or pay-what-you-can

Having recently signed to Dine Alone Records, Single Mothers are performing at Riot Fest in Toronto on Sunday and the band has scheduled a surprise local show to help get warmed up for it. While this likely won’t be the last time you’ll have the opportunity to see Single Mothers perform in London, it may be the last time that they play such a small and intimate venue. Performing at the Playground just two weeks ago, So Young are back in London after a mini tour to Montreal and Hamilton. Not to mention that they made an appearance in Exclaim! magazine on the monthly national campus radio charts. Speaking of radio play, if you’ve been listening to CHRW over the last few months then you’ve no doubt heard many wonderful songs by both So Young and S.M.

Call The Office (216 York St.), 19+
Doors at 10:00 / $5 cover

With a new album (Exile) scheduled for an October 15th release on Aporia Records, Eamon McGrath is playing a few shows in Ontario in addition to his month-long residency at The Dakota Tavern in Toronto. On separate occasions I’ve witnessed McGrath perform somber acoustic live sets, while other times he has been a kinetic ball of energy jumping around on-stage with full band accompaniment. While it’s difficult to know what to expect, the performances are always great. McGrath’s albums are also quite varied and consistently good, but the song “No One’s Gonna Love You When You’re Gone” is one of my favourite tracks released in the last 5-10 years. Sampling a few songs online is my first exposure to Dead Broke, Toque and Foam, but the music of each band seems to suggest that Friday will be a night of loud rock at Call The Office.

While I’m not sure if I’ll be able to attend all three, I’m looking forward to trying. Hope to see you there too!

Christopher White

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Daft Punk, The Ketamines, and Canadian campus radio


July 3rd Edit: while it doesn’t change my concluding thoughts or wider observations, it looks like I wrote this too soon.

I’ve been fortunate to return to helping out in the Music Department of a Canadian campus/community radio station after spending the last couple years pursuing a Master of Arts degree. While trading emails with a trusted Music Director peer, he confirmed my suspicion that promoters are more aggressive than ever. We can see evidence of this in the national chart positioning of Daft Punk at #1 and The Ketamines at #2 over the last two weeks.

James C. McKinley Jr. of the New York Times recently wrote a very good article examining the pre-release marketing campaigns being implemented by high profile musical artists. Mr. McKinley, with added confirmation from Steve Stout, correctly notes that word-of-mouth marketing over an extended period of time can often be more effective and widespread than traditional tactics such as issuing a single to commercial radio stations or providing journalists with advance copies of albums for review. Of course, it is important to note that these traditional methods continue to co-exist with the contemporary shift to cryptic marketing campaigns.

Financial data tabulating the total cost of the Daft Punk promotional campaign is not currently available, but it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that its total cost was in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Of course, an eight year gap between albums for any popular musical act will automatically generate its fair share of media coverage, but Columbia Records and Daft Punk certainly devoted a fair amount of additional resources to ensure that journalists and music fans would share news and their excitement about the impending release of the album.

Returning to the topic of campus/community radio, Columbia Records hired one of the largest American college radio promotions companies* and an equally respected Canadian promoter to help ensure that the new Daft Punk album was added to music libraries across the country. To be fair, it is important to again note that the name recognition of Daft Punk and the long delay between studio album releases made this a highly anticipated album that would have been added by most stations regardless of the publicity push behind it. Yet, possessing the financial ability to pay for the services of these radio promoters has at least two advantages:

1) Radio promoters communicate with Music Directors on a weekly basis to ask for preferential chart placement when weekly on-air play statistics might result in a tie for the final few spots on a station chart. During weekly “tracking calls” these promoters also attempt to build a rapport with the Music Director to further increase the likelihood of special treatment for their priority releases. While it is a less common occurance, a station could risk losing music servicing if they consistently fail to chart** or to play the music provided by a promotion company.

2) Radio promoters often provide extra copies of CDs as incentives for station fundraising and on-air promotional opportunities. In return, stations are typically asked to reference the promotions company or the associated record label in social networking updates, in website posts, or during on-air giveaways. In the case of contesting, DJs are understandably encouraged to feature selections from the album to provide listeners with an idea of what album they could potentially win. Of course this also leads to extra plays for the artist and increases the chances of its continued chart placement. If my experience is comparable to other Music Directors at campus radio stations across Canada, then 3-4 copies of the latest Daft Punk album likely arrived.

It’s not my goal to position The Ketamines or other emerging bands who primarily self-promote their albums as underdogs in need of our sympathy or additional assistance. For instance, we might look at the current and previous campus radio chart success for The Ketamines as evidence of the positive potential outcomes of making music that resonates with campus radio DJs and touring heavily in support of it.

Rather, I hope to use this opportunity to illuminate how campus radio is increasingly targeted as one component of these wider marketing campaigns for major label-supported musicians. Perhaps it’s important for Music Directors like myself to stop accepting extra promotional items and to reconsider what albums we add to our respective music libraries. It’s very easy to forget that the mandate of most (if not all) campus/community radio stations is to promote music and other expressions that don’t receive as much attention elsewhere.

* Canadian campus stations receive a significant amount of music submissions from American promoters.
** Chart placement is the main currency to radio promoters. While on-air play stats almost always determine chart placement, a Music Director could easily fake chart placement despite low-to-no play for an album and many promoters would happily accept it.

Christopher White

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