A Fly in the Ointment

Every once in a while I think back to my stint as a radio promotions manager at a Christian record label in Nashville. It’s a job that, although somewhat important in your radio-listening experience, is one that most people probably don’t even realize exists. Basically  I would call or email every radio station each week and try to get them to play the current singles by the artists on our label. I only worked at the label for two years, which is nothing compared to the others I know in the field doing the same thing, but it’s a slice of my life that left a strong impact.

The hardest part for me was hearing the music director at a radio station say “No.” I knew it was never personal but it always killed me a little bit because I believed so much in the music the label was putting out at the time. I never had to fake it and I genuinely liked and listened to (and still do) what we were promoting. What was hard for me was they were saying no to people I genuinely cared for, musicians who really were at the top of their game. I still get a little sad when a song pops up in my iPod that I thought was going to tear up the charts but never did for one reason or another. (I realize this makes it sound like we never got any airplay but that’s far from the case. We did have some nice success with some songs I really loved, but like Jerry Seinfeld once said, he could have 999 people laughing, cheering, and applauding but the only one he’ll remember after the show is the 1 person who just sat there. Why do we do that?).

Despite how much fun I had at the label and how many close friends I made whom I still keep in touch with today, there’s one memory that always bubbles to the surface that to this day I still find unsettling/surprising/disappointing. I was on the phone with the rep from a pretty big station in the South. They were a heavy hitter and they knew it and it was always really difficult to get them on the phone (even when I called during their designated “tracking hours”). When I would finally catch him, he always talked to me like I was wasting his time and wasn’t worthy of actually speaking to him. This behavior always sort of puzzled me, especially since the songs they were playing were the ultra-cheesy, snooze-inducing cookie cutter songs most people who don’t listen to Christian music think of when they think of listening to Christian music.

One day I finally caught the music director while he was in his office taking calls and I asked if he’d listened to the new single from (I forget which artist)  I had sent to him. He said he had and that it was nice. I asked him if he thought he would be adding it to the station’s music rotation and he responded by asking me how much money the label was going to give him to do so. It threw me for a loop and sort of took me back for a second, mostly because although a lot of listener-supported stations get a lot of exemptions, I was pretty sure payola was still illegal for everyone.

I honestly thought the man was joking, but he wasn’t. I remember telling him all we had to offer was really good music and he simply thanked me and hung up. He never took a call from me again and it was a long time after that before they would play a song by any artist from our label.

That incident still blows my mind today. It’s still incredible to me that someone saw themselves as so big and powerful and influential, they felt it was completely within their rights to be so blatantly…illegal. And douche-y. It poisoned my perception not of the music industry, but of the Christian music industry and I know that’s not fair.

I should point out this was the only station I dealt with to ever do anything remotely like this. The very large majority of the stations I dealt with were very cool people. Still…sometimes it just takes one person to wreck the fun. It’s sort of a bummer that, of all the nice people I dealt with and were kind to me and played our music, that guy is the one I always remember when I look back. I resent that guy not only for denying airtime to some great artists but also for still having such a strong place in my memory.

Why Is This Photo Moving And Making Noise?

I was browsing the ‘net before going to bed tonight and ran across a website for an upcoming Christian Music Festival. I couldn’t help but chuckle at this little gem on the front page of their website:

What? These are videos? NOT magical moving pictures?

Seriously? Are people actually confusing videos with photos? Was this huge explanation on the front of their website really necessary? This led me to jump to one of two possible conclusions:

1. The people who run this festival think the people who might come to the festival are dumb as rocks.
2. The people who might come to the festival really are dumb as rocks and complained about the fact the photos on the website had “big sideways triangles in a circle” in the middle of the pictures, and so an explanation was actually needed.

Either way, I don’t think I’m gonna go. When you start explaining to me what a Youtube video is, you’ve gone way past condescending and entered into just plain frightening.

Zoo in Space

I’ll be honest: I’m really pleased with the video Phredd asked me to put together for the song “Zoo in Space” from his new album Phreddtastic. He came to me with the idea of compiling a bunch of stock footage clips to put with the song and I had a good time going through old NASA footage and royalty-free cartoons.

Here’s the final product, as can be seen on Phredd’s Youtube page, along with more music to keep your ukulele-lovin’ foot tapping.

Something New for the Resume

Tuesday Dec 8 2009 marks the day I will officially get to add a new section to my resume. That’s right, suckas, I’m almost an actual singer/songwriter/recording artist. Almost.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Phredd, the crazy guy who writes goofy songs for kids like Awooga, Baby Bottle BoomerangIf Coffee Smells So Good Why Does It Taste So Bad, and My Mom is a Pirate. Well, not only is Phredd the mind behind those catchy tunes, but he also happens to be my boss. And I’ll be honest: My boss is way cooler than your boss. Not only does he let me make crazy videos for work like this one

and this one,

but he also lets me appear on his forthcoming album, Phreddtastic.

That’s right. Phreddtastic drops next week and I’ve got two songs on there and a co-writing credit on a third! I know, I know. That’s just messed up. I’ll explain:

Almost a year ago, I wanted to make a video for the station promoting the fact that you can listen online. I asked Fred if he would write a song, something light and catchy, in the same vein as those Free Credit Report ads. But of course, just like in the TV ads, the song would be lip-synched by a guy who didn’t actually sing the song (in this case, me).

Fred came back to me with the idea that we co-write the song via email. I gave him the name of the song and he emailed back with the first line. And then I added the second line. And so on and so on. After we were finished, Fred tweaked it to make it fit the musical phrasing and then wrote the tune and melody. And then when Fred started working on his new album he decided to re-record the tune, Jingo Jango.

To tell you the truth, giving me a co-writing credit is really generous seeing how all I did was make up sentences that sort of rhymed with what Fred wrote. But it’s a co-writing credit nonetheless and I’ll take it. (By the way, you can see the original version of the song in the finished video here. I even let Fred appear as the guy singing backup vocals despite the fact he’s actually singing everything and I appear nowhere in the audio track. Wasn’t that nice of me?)

And then there’re my other two songs on Phredd’s new album. The first one actually shouldn’t count. It’s like 10 seconds long. I was working on a radio ad in Garage Band and heard a ukulele riff and of course, thought of Fred. So I started humming along and 30 seconds later Another Fred Song was born. I realize I’m not a singer, though, so instead of singing I just kind of talk to the rhythm in a sing-songy way like I’m Colin Mochrie in the hoedown game.

The other song I did…well…I’m gonna play that one down, too, because I didn’t actually write the song. Fred did. I just Weird Al’d it. Fred had a song out a few years ago called Floating Zoo, where he went through the alphabet and named animals that were on Noah’s Ark (armadillo, baboon, cougar, dingo, etc.).

Back in the year 2000, I was working on the air at the station and played Floating Zoo and I started singing “Scooby Doo” instead of the title phrase. What can I say? I’ve been listening to Weird Al since I was in Junior High School, 20 years of listening to parodies will have an effect on you. I started trying to come up with a word for each letter of the alphabet that correlated to the classic cartoon and after my shift I went into the production studio and recorded a really rough version of the song. Fast-forward nine years later to Fred asking me if I’d record an updated version for Phreddtastic.

I mean come on, if that’s not flattering, then I don’t know what is. You parody the guy’s song and he turns around and asks you to record the parody for his album? That was cool.

Realizing I still can’t sing, I decided to morph the song from a fun ukulele ditty to a mash-up of styles over which I do this weird pseudo-rap. It’s hard to explain. You’ll just have to hear it.

But don’t pick up the album because of my little contribution. Pick it up because it’s a fun listen and Phredd once again brings the fun for the whole family with a batch of tunes you’ll be humming for hours. In a good way. I just wish you could hear the whole thing. And, whaddya know, starting Dec 8, 2009, you can. :)

Interviewing My Shirt Twin

I work at a radio station and every once in a while we get someone really cool to swing by the studios for an interview. And on even rarer occasions, I get to do the interviewing. Afterwards, I get to play back my stammering question-asking over and over again until my self-consciousness has completely grown back.

Last week, Chris Sligh came in for an interview (Name ring a bell? Chris was a top 10 finalist on season 6 of American Idol). He was a lot of fun to talk to and it was really cool finding out more about who he is and where he’s come from. The interview lasted 47 minutes and I somehow managed to whittle it down to 8-1/2. Enjoy!

Sad or Cool?

I can distinctly remember being in my early 20s and looking down on people in their 30s who listened to the same popular music I was listening to. Who are these sad people, I thought, who refuse to grow up and are trying to be all young and stuff and they’re not and that’s just weird and sad.

Flash forward 15 years and here I am listening to Akon, Daughtry, Rihanna, AFI, The Send and whatever else happens to be playing on my local hit radio station. I’m not listening to Dan Fogelberg or the Rolling Stones or Pink Floyd like people over 28 are supposed to listen to.

I don’t know if that makes me cool or sad or somewhere in between. But the fact that I have to question how cool I am probably pushes the needle closer to the “sad” reading.