Razer’s defence of Triple J: it’s all in the mix, and the kids like it
A hundred years ago when I was very young, the world was different. Women were yet to be freed from the yoke of compulsory pubic hair and everyday people were forced to survive on a bitter diet of a stuff called “sun-dried tomato”. They forced us to eat it on a doorstop-dough amalgam called “focaccia”.
A lot has changed. For example, people now believe the Foo Fighters are a “band” that makes “music” instead of the sound of retching into a corporate void of dread. But, some things are exactly the same. Like a Sunday Age/Sun-Herald piece that could have been written when I were a lad. Only the Names Have Been Changed.
Plus ca change, plus c’est la même complaint.
The piece has been much-discussed. By which I mean “much-discussed by dudes in upcycled cardigans who write dreary songs about SSRI medication who have been so over-parented by their unjustly proud and unjustly rich white families that they possibly never understand that no one is interested in their lazy abuse of a banjo”.
I didn’t want to read to the end of a critique of my former employer, ABC “youth” station Triple J, because there was no need. I’ve read it literally dozens and figuratively dozens of times. From 1990 until the end of the decade, I must have said a weekly “fuck off” to journalists who rang me to ask “don’t you think you’re selling out?”.
I was not selling out and Triple J was not selling out. First, we were paid very little. Second, we participated in the stimulus of a pop-boom that saw some very average independent musicians buy some very nice houses. Third, the organisation that did then, as it does now, serve its young stakeholders with maximum efficiency. Back In My Day, the station represented a tiny portion of the ABC budget and I am pretty sure this remains unchanged. It’s cheap and it’s good.
But every week, someone who earned three times as much as I did called to ask me questions like, “Why don’t you play Mark of Cain?”, or my least favourite, “Isn’t it wrong that Triple J has a playlist?”.
We did play Mark of Cain on Triple J, but not in the breakfast program. This is because Mark of Cain sounded like a pneumatic drill slowed to the pace of a Fitzroy junkie looking for his tram ticket and so were only played after 9am. We called this dayparting. This is an industry term used only by people who know about music scheduling for radio.
But no one participating in the online discussion about Triple J as a result of the Fairfax piece knows anything about music scheduling for radio. So I effing will. Otherwise, all you’ll hear are promoters and venue owners and brats with a banjo protecting their self-interest and unassailable belief that Triple J should be entirely programmed by them.
I know about playlists and how they are made and sustained. I also know that everyone thinks they can successfully build one just as everyone thinks they have great taste. They can’t; they don’t. Successful music scheduling requires diligence and talent.
Triple J’s playlist is immense. There are so many songs in that music database there may as well not be a playlist. A rather funny piece on FasterLouder is the only one to identify a Triple J sound as a confusing “genre clusterfuck”. The data (songs) in the playlist are so abundant they have none of the meaning, or the benefit to musicians, that recurrence provides.
No journalist really ever wanted to hear about the need for a tightly rotating playlist at the national broadcaster. But I tried to explain it in any case.
“No one listens to Triple J for the seven hours a day required to get a real feel for the shape of its playlist.”
Why do you have a playlist? Because, if I didn’t have a playlist I would have just whacked Bikini Kill in the CD player for 15 hours a week. Why do you have such a small playlist? Because if I had a yottabyte of tunes (as Triple J does now) you’d never hear that great banjo song more than once because of maths.
Consider that even the primary listener spends just an average of 12 minutes a day listening to your radio station; usually at the same time each day and rarely for more than a continuous single period of seven minutes (these are rough figures; I haven’t had access to granular Nielsen data for five years). And because you only heard Oh My Idle Whimsical Fancy on banjo only once, you wouldn’t develop any affection for it or remember to Shazam it or buy it. Or go see its under-appreciated authors, Daddy Bought Us A Nice Van With Side Air-Bags.
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