El-P To Radio: Let DJs Be DJs, And Stop Thinking Of Yourselves As Gatekeepers

from the because-you're-not,-anymore dept

One of the running themes we discuss here is the difference between gatekeepers and enablers, but there's also a third category that overlaps both of the others to some degree, and is more relevant than ever in a media-saturated world: curators. Though recommendation and matching algorithms are taking on some of the curation roles that humans used to fill (or that didn't exist before), nobody has ever suggested that there's no longer a need for hands-on human curation of media.

When it comes to music, the classic curation role is the radio DJ—but, like so many traditional fixtures of the industry, that role has increasingly (though not universally) drifted away from creative personal curation and towards safe, commercially-dictated playlists. Music blogs and podcasts have stepped in to fill the void, and today the best barometer of what's worth listening to is online, not on the airwaves—especially for those listeners interested in discovering the most compelling acts emerging from small, independent scenes.

Perhaps no genre feels this more acutely than hip-hop, which still enjoys widespread radio play as one of the dominant pop genres of the past decade, but where even the most widely acclaimed indie acts with a decade of rock-solid releases under their belts struggle to get onto DJ playlists. Rapper/producer/indie hip-hop fixture El-P (who dropped by with a guest post earlier this year) recently took to twitter (found via egotripland) and gave a straightforward rundown of why so much of radio is broken and what DJs need to do to fix it. The self-proclaimed "rant" was in response to an New York DJ who was asked why he didn't play underground records that had a lot of audience buzz, and responded by saying "you don’t just get a slot, you earn a slot"—but even without context, El-P's points serve as a perfect summary of what it means to be a curator in the modern music landscape. You can view the full set of tweets on the egotripland post, but I've copied the sum of the text below:

if you're a radio station that doesn't break new great records because they haven't "earned their slot" you might be forgetting the point.

unless of course you are talking payola. then i get it.

not to state the obvious but that's kinda why radio is dying. the internet lets you listen to ANYTHING ANYTIME. its a simple truth.

being the gatekeepers of what people hear only works if they actually have to get by you in order to hear it, and thats just not the case.

therefore in order to be competitive with the new paradigm radio programmers need to re-examine their whole approach or what it all die.

*watch it all die, i mean.

just my 2 cents. fuck do i know.

which is not to say radio has lost its power. but to not see that on the horizon if everything remains on the same path is foolish.

personally i feel like radio dj's should have more autonomy to play what they like/not have to choose from pre approved content. might help.

it certainly would encourage the music to grow if everyone wasn't desperately trying to make jams that they think fit in with that criteria.

and that would lead to more and renewed interest in traditional radio broadcasts, which would lead to more money for everyone.

but hey i come from an era where we had cats like @StretchArmy and bobbito launching the careers of people who go platinum now. im spoiled.

look at whats happened to the newspaper industry. no one wants their news a day later anymore. theres a metaphor in there somewhere.

also there are clearly many amazing stations that do just what im talking about and breed serious listener loyalty.

it ain't like i'm speaking some sort of hidden esoteric knowledge/philosophy here. but its worth bringing up now and again.

anyone way its just the opinion of one man. #fuckdoiactuallyknow

one more thought: music is a representation of human consciousness, and like human consciousness it is expansive and varying.

it wouldn't hurt for everyone to consider their role in the purveyance of that consciousness a little closer.

put simply:ultimately the only thing that should be a deciding factor in radio play is if the dj likes your shit or not. trust who you hire.

if the people consistently dont like what he plays hes by definition a bad dj. you should fire him. but he's the music guy. let him be that.

*or she

aight "rant" officially over. WHO WANTS SOME FART JOKES!

Filed Under: djs, el-p, gatekeepers, music, radio


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2012 @ 9:19am

    Yup, this is especially obvious in this part of the year where all radio stations play the same 3 Christmas songs over and over again.

    There's also a national station that has the traditional 'all-time top 2000' at the last two weeks; People get to vote (mostly out of a predefined list, sigh), and they publish the whole list so you can see exactly when 'your' song will be played. And all I can do is wonder why. I mean, it's mildly interesting what the list is (and remember some almost-forgotten songs), but why tune into that channel just to hear a specific song?

    As for the 'curator as recommender' part, I still buy the occasional album, but usually only at live concerts. I do not buy anywhere near as many as back when the record store people knew me and had stacks of albums lying around saying 'you're gonna love these'. If radio shows have any future left for me personally, it is to provide this role. Automated 'similar to' just doesn't quite get there.

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