Top 50 JAzz Blog

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tweaking the Jazz Stream

Jazz radio doesn't stand a chance unless DJ/programmers can attract listeners in the new mobile-device-dominated listening environment. 

A group of Boston jazz people have organized to try and snag this growing audience by developing the JazzBird app. I'll be one of the "curators," tasked with trying to set and maintain some standard of quality (which does not involve trying to define "jazz"). 

Jazz DJ/programmers who cut their teeth on "old" radio can't assume their approach will work on smart phones, Androids, etc. They may want to look closely at how people, especially young people and tech savvy elders, now listen to music.

For 70 or so years, bulk/mass was associated with a higher quality of sound, and portability with mere convenience.
Over the last c. 40 years, technology changed all that, delivering hi-fi in small packages. 
At this point, sound in digital form, usually MP3 files, dominates. This is part of a process that's given people access to millions of songs. At the same time, these files come with much less information than LP's or CD's; both musical information (because of compression) and historical information (no liner notes). 

How does radio stand in relation to this? 

I know from experience that the vast majority of young people who do listen to music on the radio tune to a small number of commercial stations, where almost all the talking they hear is ads and other "load," not information about the music. DJ's speak very little, if at all. So, people who have grown up in the digital sound era can either accept a de-contextualized listening experience or go to fan web sites to find out the details they want to know.

Jazz radio generally plays out in a very different way. Jazz DJ's are likely to program several tunes in a row, often long ones, and talk for at least a couple of minutes between sets, telling listeners who all the members of a group are and providing deeper context for the music.

This begs the question: Do DJ's/programmers need to change their approach to keep the streaming audience tuned in on their mobile devices? How much talking should DJ's do and what information should they deliver? 

There's no right answer, of course. People spin jazz because they're emotionally invested in the music and its history. They also tend to be vaguely monomaniacal, with a trace of the didact (mea culpa). Catering to decreased attention spans or dumbing down the music is a non-starter. BUT:

  • You can bear in mind the channels of communication that the mobile audience uses: Twitter, Facebook, etc.. Use them to promote your show and announce your social network handles often to allow listeners easy, quick feedback.
  • As part of this, you can use more "blindfold" tests and ticket offers-this also helps support live music.
  • If the technology really does make it easier for people to find jazz, there will probably be increasingly disparate audiences with varying degrees of familiarity with the music. Finessing that will be tough, but bear in mind that some people snap to when they hear "Jug," while others need to hear the name Gene Ammons. Try to find a balance that doesn't bore one audience and mystify another.
  • Have a web site or find space on the station's web site where you can share supplementary material and links with your listeners.
  • Make sure your program is archived. You may want to edit it after the fact to eliminate dated material (along with your mistakes).
  • Make sure your station's technology allows listeners to choose a bit rate stream that works for them. Paying to make sure you have a wide range of choices is probably worth it.

Readers with ideas about establishing parameters for jazz presentation on mobile platforms, please feel free to share. 

I hope we can make this work.

Make sure to have a nice photo of yourself that people can relate to


rob chalfen said...

nice photo, I can relate!

Anonymous said...

This is a great article! I would also add that switching to accepting mp3 delivery via such sites as Airplay Direct should be considered. This will help keep the artists in business. More and more CD format is being produced soley to service radio. Also, the return of the "single" should be considered. The requirement of the artist to deliver only a full length CD has rendered the artists ability to have a particular song become memorable (due to constant play) virtually impossible. Perhaps it is time to not only consider what will keep jazz radio healthy, but what will also keep jazz artists in business.

Steve Provizer said...

Anonymous-Very glad you liked the post...As I noted, the delivery of files without info makes it hard to provide a context for the music. That's where cd's and lp's confer an advantage to jazz dj's.

If files were sent with all the relevant info, that would be a help, although it's a challenge to maintain a system which makes that info easy to access.

A possible compromise would be shorter cd's and more frequent releases. Packaging and mailing cost money, yes, but cd duplication costs are low and modular packaging with minimal changes of art would also help mitigate the cost.

Another issue, which I didn't mention, is that stations vary in their playback tech. For example, to play files at my station, you need to bring in a laptop-which I don't own. I don't know any station without cd players.