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. icon
    FauxReal (profile), 17 Dec 2012 @ 9:25am

    On DJ autonomy, gatekeeper & major label pop music

    The problem is the ever loving quest for dollars vs. artistic innovation.

    It's hard for monolithic corporations to react to today's faster moving trends. They're too entrenched in demographics and their tried and true methods of market manipulation. Not to mention that for the moment it's still working for them.

    Despite all the great new music out there they still choose to flex their power over the media industries. Music is a powerful medium and when coupled with visuals they still have a huge stick to beat people with. Look at all these music reality TV shows, or the integration of pop music into network television soundtracks. They don't have to listen to the underground... yet.

    They still have the powers of money, market saturation and fame. There will always be artists, DJs and celebrity endorsers willing to compromise themselves for a piece (for some there was never a goal of self expression but to cash in). It all works well with manipulating herd mentality and envy.

    When the underground finally bubbles up to the surface with something that's so intriguing and exciting that the mainstream has to pay attention they can cherry pick what they want, package it and sell it to the masses. (I find great irony in the way marketers can take the DIY nature of punk and hip hop then turn it into slogans like "Be original, drink Sprite.")

    A recent ridiculous example is DJ Shadow getting booted off the decks at The Mansion nightclub in Miami. This high profile club booked him on his broad reaching fame. Then kicked him off 20 minutes into his set to appease their bottle service crowd. They feasted on his street cred and make a few bucks off his fans. This is the 2nd high profile DJ they did this to this year and the word is now out. I'm not sure if their loss of underground attendees and DJs boycotting them will hurt much. But it's a start.

    But all is not lost, their greed is their downfall. If they keep ignoring the creative class, they will continue to become incrementally irrelevant. They can't stop the march of progress, they can't stifle innovation. Technology is leveling the playing field in terms of distribution and publicity.

    I urge everyone to go out and support your favorite musician/producer/DJ by going to their shows and seeing them in person whenever you can. Seeing actual smiles and hearing praise in person can do a lot to keep them motivated. Not to mention keep them fed. Keep spreading the word and welcome new people into your scene because everyone has to start somewhere.

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