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
    anon, 17 Dec 2012 @ 9:55am

    arrrghhhh

    I was thinking about the radio stations earlier this morning and made a simple comment, this sort of takes it to the next level, but misses the big point very clearly other than mentioning one word payola.

    The music we listen to on the radio is all pre approved by those who shall not be mentioned it seems, the bigger studios, yes they are big, send a playlist to the radios and it is then passed onto the DJ, who has no say of what will be played when. ANd this si the crux of the problem, given the chance there are many many artists who are just way way better than what the studios take under there wing(but the rights for there works)

    Now in a free fair system the dj would be trolling the internet or he would have a few fellow employees searching for what they think could be the next thing or what they think just sounds good, the dj could then start playing them and stop half way through if he thought it was crap and play something else.

    But once again the message is very clear, the monopolists have control of what we are allowed to hear on the airwaves and on tv all the time, no or hardly any exceptions.

    As i have said before and will continue saying, the lawmakers have always made good judgement eventually, allowing tape and vcr and many other disruptive innovations even though the monopoly has cried out that it would destroy the industry, eventualy they will have to stand in again and show how free distribution that is not done for a profit will increase content available to all, lock it up and the studios will try to lock it away , or even the artists for some reason, just look at how lont it took for the beatles music to become legaly obtainable from the interent, many mnay years after others had decided to release there music online.

    The industry is one big mess at the moment with artists nto gettign what is owed to them unless they sue and even then the studios try to use there accounting methods to rip them off even more.

    I doubt there will be many people who miss the way the system has been played by the monopolist, it is just taking too long and needs to be changed soon, before more innocent people are found guilty of sharing and there lives are destroyed.

    Lets start pressurizing them, lets all send a simple email or letter to our local representatives and demand that the monopoly be removed and copyright be removed from every bit of video and soundtrack, lets demand that if the industry wants to play the game they have to do it fairly, where there control is balanced with rights for the citizens, where music is free for all and nobody can stop you playing it or listening to it, where radio stations are allowed to play music for a very small fee that is sent directly to the artist. Lets get this sorted once and for all, and if you say you dont have time, well coming on this site and reading a comment would probably be enough time to email a few people.

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