Some Random Thoughts on the Grammys and Choosing Music
1. On the Grammy changes: Until the release of Many Hands, I hadn’t paid much attention to the Grammys. The winners had never been remotely relevant to my musical interests in the prior 39 years of my life, and, other than being glad for family musicians who got nominations because they seemed happy about it, they weren’t really relevant to my musical interests in the family arena either. So I was vaguely disappointed by the record not getting a nomination, but less about the lack of acknowledgment and more about the additional amounts we could have contributed to the Haitian People’s Support Project. (I’ll have an update on that soon, by the way.) The record’s success with kids, critics, and so on was much more important, along with the clean drinking water we’ve been able to provide for Haitian kids.
But since then, I’ve more or less returned to not really paying attention to the Grammys, and so the announcement more or less made me shrug. While in recent years there have been some family releases I’ve liked a lot getting nominated — and I appear on one of the 2010 nominees in spoken word (Healthy Food for Thought) — they just aren’t very relevant to me. And I have to agree with the comments I’ve seen from Kathy O’Connell and others that there are a lot of releases (not just in the family categories, but certainly there too) that seem designed rather than inspired, with the design oriented towards getting press and, ultimately, a nomination. That’s fine — it’s within the rules and probably smart — but it doesn’t get me very fired up about losing some categories. I’m sad for those great acts that lose some exposure, but mostly I just think it means there needs to be a better way to get exposure and to make judgments.
2. Go read this from Stefan. It’s all worth a read, but I want to write for a second about the “What makes good kids’ music?” part. I occasionally get notes from people disappointed that they haven’t gotten airplay, or who think there’s some sort of kindie cabal trying to promote only a particular type of music. Maybe there is a cabal, but I haven’t gotten my invitation. (If I get one, I hope there are t-shirts and maybe discounts at the Kindie Cabal Museum Gift Shop.)
For me, it’s a simple but somewhat guidance-lacking question: Will it sound good on the radio — on our radio show on this radio station?
On our show, that doesn’t exclude any genres completely (other than pure classical, I suppose, though I’ve played a Smetana piece and Yo-Yo Ma), and it doesn’t exclude low-budget stuff (see: Frances England’s first record, etc.). It doesn’t exclude artists I’ve never heard of (looking over my playlist for this week, about a fifth of the artists are artists we hadn’t played at all before about six months ago, and we’ve been the first show in the world to play a number of artists who are now in frequent rotation on the Satellite Station That Must Not Be Named, among others).
What does that question include? Well, that’s trickier. I’m not as good at articulating that. But if you really want to know what has driven my idiosyncratic tastes: Listen to the show (look, on-demand archives!). Listen to the station (stream it live!). Listen to the Current (Abney middays, Lucia drivetime). Listen to the Replacements and Mates of State and the Hold Steady and fIREHOSE and They Might Be Giants and Babe the Blue Ox and Stevie Wonder and DeVotchKa and Fountains of Wayne and Frank Turner and Girl Talk and Jonathan Coulton and Old 97′s and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings and the Thermals. Read about our part of the world (I like Megan Rubiner Zinn’s blog right now) — it surprises me sometimes how much geography changes what I like on the radio.
I like records that sound like fun, that sound like bands (when they are bands), that sound genuine, that sound real. Unless you’re Mr. Leebot or something where it’s supposed to sound electronic, I like records that sound like real people playing real instruments. I don’t even mind some flaws. (Sometimes I like them.)
If your record doesn’t fit in what I like on the radio, that doesn’t mean I think it’s a bad record (though I suppose I might). It just means it doesn’t work on our radio show in our town. When I was working for Parenting magazine as their music stringer, I often pitched music to them that I’d never play on the show, because I could recognize that it would be appealing to many people — but not to our audience. Since they dropped having regular music coverage, I no longer have that, but it remains the case that a lot of what comes in is perfectly fine music — great for some people — but just not great for the radio (or at least our radio in our town).
Enough of my yakkin’. Your thoughts?