‘New Music Radio’ in years gone by seemed to only exist as rather poorly produced local radio shows by people with strong regional accents or on national radio in the wee hours because obviously that’s when listeners want to enjoy new and exciting music and no, Zane Lowes ‘In New Music We Trust’ bollocks doesn’t count. The internet brought with it an opportunity for radio producers to do it themselves and whilst this may have solved the issue of sleep deprivation with thousands of new music shows being broadcast 24/7 worldwide, a lack of quality control has made many of these stations a rather challenging listen. So when we came across the Cardiff based ‘The Waiting Room’ we were incredibly relieved to hear a well-produced new music show that was unpretentious with playlists that would make Zane Lowe grow a proper beard, build a hut somewhere desolate and stay there – wishful thinking.
Cat On The Wall’s Jo Whitby caught up with the radio show creator and host DC via email for an excellent in depth interview. Make sure you check out the free tracks to download from the TWR live sessions at the bottom of the interview!
Cat On The Wall: I checked the history page of your website and it advises that all will be revealed in a few weeks… that was back in 2009. How and when did The Waiting Room radio show come into being? Was there a specific purpose behind starting it?
DC: The Waiting Room began life in 2006 as Mind The Craic — a comedy based radio show on Leith FM, hosted by stand up comedian Hope Eternal. The show evolved into a music-orientated show and was renamed Mind The Crack. At the end of 2006 MTC left Leith FM to join freeform internet radio station ErrorFM. The move also prompted one final name change and The Waiting Room debuted on 3rd January 2007.
Around this time John Mouse and I were recording oddball acoustic music under the name Drunk Country. Hope contacted and requested songs for airplay and an interview for her website, the result of which gave birth to the moniker(s) I still use; John had released his debut LP It’s A Universal and wanted to avoid any confusion between the two projects, so requested his name/alias wasn’t used. Coincidentally I was about to have a book published and also wanted to separate the two, so the pseudonyms one half of & the other half of Drunk Country were adopted as a means to remain anonymous. Hope eventually shortened me to DC and it stuck.
Hope and I became close friends (we share a very black humour, a passion for early Prince and obscure cover versions) and she suggested I compile a playlist of covers for her to air on TWR. However, she asked (read: demanded) that I co-host because she would never remember all the information I’d sent on each song. On 7th February 2007 I made my live debut, broadcasting from Cardiff, with Hope producing/broadcasting from Edinburgh, via Skype. The show was well received and I was asked to become the regular co-host and, inevitably, playlist compiler — a time-consuming task that Hope didn’t much enjoy, but I loved.
My transition into a full time accidental DJ was completed when, at the end of 2007, Hope quit the show in order to concentrate on a Radio Production degree. She offered me TWR to do with as I saw fit and I jumped at the chance, recruiting friends to occasionally co-host — musician John Mouse; Cardiff poet, publisher and Stone Roses obsessed nutball Nick Fisk; Cardiff author, audiophile and all round pain in the arse (his words) Lloyd Robson, and my good lady companion The Woman of The House, or TWoTH for short. The latter chose to use a silly pseudonym as she works in local TV and didn’t want the two connected for “career reasons”.
We left ErrorFM in October 2008 and produced podcast versions of the show until we were asked to join the (now sadly defunct) cult station WOXY. We debuted in February 2009 and the show ran twice-weekly until WOXY’s closure in March 2010. I then approached a number of on-line stations with the idea of syndicating TWR and to date we are extremely proud to be broadcasting on Houndstooth Radio (Los Angeles, CA), Radio Phoenix (Phoenix, AZ) and (having been asked to rejoin) ErrorFM.com (Portland, OR).
In addition, we also broadcast (every Wednesday 7-9pm during term) live on Cardiff University’s Xpress Radio as TWR 2.0 — focussing, but not exclusively, on local/Welsh new music and the Welsh music industry in general. TWR 2.0 is co-hosted by Gareth Chorus, or GC, the founding member and lead singer/songwriter of Cardiff’s Evening Chorus, and is produced by Student Radio Awards Producer of the Year 2009, and rhyming couplet, Sean Thorne.
As of 7th February 2011 I will have been pretending to be a DJ for 4 years and the historical and future purpose for continuing, let alone starting the show(s), is to present superb new music and bands/artists to new ears and to encourage the owners of those ears to physically support the artists by buying their records and going to their gigs. It’s a simple aim, but I love doing it.
COTW: What goes into the making of a show? Where is it recorded? Is there much preparation involved? Do you have any specific criteria when choosing artists to play on The Waiting Room?
DC: I receive about 200+ submissions every week and I’m always checking Hype Machine/blogs, Myspace, Bandcamp, etc.and receiving listener tips on a daily basis. Every Saturday afternoon I begin the process of listening to as many records as I am humanly able before the following Monday, but I’m usually still listening well into Wednesday evening/Thursday early hours. I have a policy of listening to everything I get sent, so there’s usually a huge backlog to get through.
Once I’ve filtered out approx. 60 songs I like, from however many records it takes to get to that quantity, I begin building a playlist. This can sometimes take 2 or 3 days to complete, simply because I am very, very particular (read: anal) about how any playlist should be sequenced and mixed — I can spend hours on this and have been known to scrap an entire playlist at the last minute and start again. Each show contains approx. 1½hrs of music, which is around 24-28 songs.
I begin by choosing suitable opening and closing tracks before pairing off songs that work well together — again, this can be painstakingly slow for anyone visiting at the time — and these pairs will eventually be put into sections of 4, 6 or 8 songs. To complicate matters I sequence symmetrically, which means a running order can be 1+4+4+6+4+4+1 songs, or 1+8+8+8+1. Anal, yes, but it makes an awful lot of sense to me.
We record the show ‘as live’, at my home studio in Cardiff, but we generally overrun and so I have to edit the chat breaks to bring the show in at 2hrs. Each station in the syndication has their own imaging/edit requirements so, including the generic podcast version, I produce 4 shows a week — Radio Phoenix, for example, receives the show split into 2 sections in order to accommodate their underwriting commercials aired in the middle of our broadcast.
I only have one rule, really, when it comes to deciding who/what we play; regardless of genre or language, if I like it then I play it. It’s a very simple rule and appears to have worked very well so far. However, I have a strong dislike for needless over-production, which in my opinion tends to serve only to mask bad, humdrum or formulaic songwriting. I tend to avoid that type of polished ringtone fodder, regardless of who it is.
COTW: With the broadcasting of material via podcasts and internet downloads, do you think that radio and radio programming is still relevant today and why?
DC: The word relevant in this context is a bit of a problem for me, especially when discussing something that is highly subjective and, to an extent, abstract. The internet is really only a platform, as are the AM/FM bands or the BBC or an album or a live gig venue. It’s what you put on that platform that determines everything else and, contrary to what a lot of people may think, that content should somehow be managed. As I’ve said before, there’s more than a subtle difference between doing a podcast & producing a podcast — and that applies to all aspects of web 2.0 and radio in general.
Since the internet is a free for all its very nature suggests that the slowly mounting piles of (amateurish/half-hearted) dross out there will eventually overshadow and block out the oases. Podcasts, Mixcloud, Bandcamp, Soundcloud et al are excellent sub-platforms, but their use and application are becoming alarmingly plague-like. I fear this over-saturation may eventually lead to a complete dismissal of quality control, which will lead to the ‘audience’ becoming frustrated, bored, often angry &, inevitably, moving on. Myspace is a perfect on-line example, while the BBC have experienced this kind of see-sawing loyalty for years.
This question also throws up what it is people mean by ‘radio’ these days, what with on-line only/freeform stations fast becoming the norm. Programming, therefore, has never been more “relevant”, then, for either side. Especially as both sides of the divide are continually learning/appropriating from each other.
I’ve been listening to non-profit radio stations for almost as long as such a thing’s been available on-line. It’s struck me how, in the days of digital vs. traditional, these endeavours seem to be surviving (and appearing) in far greater numbers than their commercial/charter controlled equivalents. I put this relatively new-ish phenomenon down to (a) the grassroots passion that drives their existence, which (on the face of it at least) takes priority over commercialised stability, and (b) their willingness to support and champion their on-line counterparts — the Backyard Party Radio Network in the US is a great example.
The way in which these endeavours foster listener relationships/loyalty, through this kind of active cross-pollination of local audience engagement, ‘brand’ awareness/fund drives etc., seems to produce a far higher level of listener satisfaction. More so than, say, the equivalent ‘standard bearer’ station repeating the same anodyne rubber-stamped, people-friendly Song-U-Like playlist during any given 24hr period. Of course, the on-line independents are always walking a financial tightrope (RIP WOXY), but I’m happy to send $10 a month to a broadcast fund to listen to someone who has genuine investment in their role and my listening experience.
In my view, traditional radio really is its own worst enemy. It and it alone has created the problem it now finds itself in by historically allowing advertisers and station policy makers etc. to dictate (by stealth and implied threat of abandonment or closure) the content of playlists. It seems to me that this leads to stations/shows becoming so fixated on the lowest common denominator that their (broad but shallow) spectrum of output drives even the most loyal of their age-bracketed demographic to switch off. The problem then is the reactionary way they sometimes try to rectify these situations.
The Save 6 Music campaign was a wonderful exhibition of solidarity in the face of paste another twibbon on the old oak tree. It was a genuine public reaction to a problem created by an institution unschooled in the very medium it purports to champion. But, at what cost? The BBC is now facing up to the fact it’s overstretched its abilities to compete on any level pitched against it. Rather than delete a station that, let’s be honest, could easily be disseminated into the schedules of Radio 1 and 2, they’ve instead taken a deep bite out of the one station (BBC World Service) that is not only enjoyed by millions worldwide but is also a lifeline to sanity for many. It seems the BBC repeatedly confuses ‘instinct’ with ‘pandering’ when trying to compete with a medium it more or less invented.
That said, we’ll never lose traditional radio, at least not in its entirety, in the same way as we’ll never fully lose public telephones; who/whatever is ultimately overseeing such things is certainly aware there are a lot of people who may not use the service, but are comforted by it being there anyway. You know, just in case.
COTW: You are not afraid to voice your opinions online, why do you feel it is important to make a passionate stand about the music that you love/loathe?
DC: Everett True, someone I admire greatly for his straight down the line attitude, sums it up perfectly: “I am a music critic. This is what I do. I criticise music… I criticise people and in return I am not surprised if other people criticise me. It is part of the whole deal of being in the public arena… Believe in me and I have power like a God. Quit believing in me and I no longer exist.”
I’ve been listening to music since I could piss standing up. My family was drenched in music — my father, all my aunts and uncles, my grandparents, sang or bothered instruments in a band of some kind. I was incredibly lucky to have a diverse range of people around me with equally diverse tastes in music, and I naturally magpied these tastes. So, without sounding like an arrogant dick, I do feel my 30yr+ listening habit, and 20yr on/off involvement with the music industry, allows me some grace and insight into the potential of the odd record or two. The same can be said of anybody who has spent their life obsessing over something.
So, I don’t feel it is important. I feel it is my right, as it is anyone’s, especially as a consumer/marketing target, to voice an opinion. If I feel something is worth getting other people to listen to/buy, then I go out of my way to make them aware of it. It’s the natural extension of caring for and being passionate about something. Passion is why I produce TWR and producing TWR further ignites that passion. Hell, music is all about passion; it can’t exist without it. The creation of music and the (public’s) need for its creation are more or less one and the same. To talk about it, in terms of praise or damnation, then, is only natural, healthy and useful for all concerned.
However, what people have to always remember is, it is only my opinion — particularly when it’s a ‘negative’ opinion. This is another element of the internet that many people don’t quite understand: it wasn’t created with the thin-skinned in mind. If I grievously offend some chap by pooh-poohing the latest Made Up Band Name release, then I’m glad he’s that passionate about what he likes. I wouldn’t want to share a cab with him, but I’d happily barter the toss and engage him in music-porn chunter on Twitter.
The big bonus, of course, is when bands tell you so and so bought their record after hearing it on the show. Conversely, negative criticism can also drive people to check out (and purchase) the very thing you’ve denounced. It’s exposure either way you look at it, and if I scuff a few egos along the way then so be it.
COTW: What is the most memorable live session you’ve put together? I can imagine them being quite chaotic at times…
DC: We’ve hosted some truly brilliant sessions over the years, most of them running like clockwork, and it is very hard to choose one that maybe sticks out, for whatever reason, more than the other. However, there are a few which feel like fresh memories because they were either landmark sessions or a personal connection was made.
Sons Of Noel & Adrian (our first session proper), a band I adore and never tire of seeing live, crammed all ten of their members into Offshore Music Studios and produced a mesmerising set that frankly stunned the engineers and the visitors I’d brought to the studio to witness this, then, almost unheard of band. Jacob & Danny (also in Laish, another excellent http://www.willkommenrecords.co.uk/ band who recently recorded a beautiful session for us) are two of the nicest people I’ve ever met in this whole business.
Mumford & Sons recorded their first ever US session (+ one of their very first UK sessions) to fulfil a promise they’d made to WOXY after missing their scheduled SXSW session that year. They were a joy from start to finish, incredibly humble and, to some extent, ignorant to just how big they were about to become (I did tell them, they wouldn’t believe me). The session was, to use a cliché, a tour de force. Up until that time I don’t think I’d witnessed such a perfectly formed new band; the Offshore Studio engineer has since remarked that session is the best they’ve ever had go through their doors.
Alcoholic Faith Mission, a band I fell in love with a few years ago, made the journey to Cardiff, on a day off during their UK tour, to record a session as a thank you for our support. The session was extraordinarily good. Simply stunning. That evening they played a brilliantly surreal free show that I’d arranged for them at the Revolution nightclub. The next day, after running around music stores looking for a particular type of drumstick, they drove to Manchester for that evening’s gig. Later the same day I received a call from their guitarist Gustav explaining he’d left a bag of effect pedals at the nightclub. He asked if it would be okay for them to drive back to Cardiff after their gig, pick up the bag and stay the night, before heading down to London the following day. Of course, I said yes and it all worked out perfectly in the end. We’ve become good friends since.
Dan Michaelson & The Coastguards are a band I have followed since their inception and I interviewed Dan a few years ago. The band later recorded a session for us while I was away in America and TWoTH was in charge of organising it and conducting the interview — her first. The interview was hilarious to edit (TWoTH’s not the most natural of interviewers) but the session, oh man. It captures a band right on the edge of genius and is truly beautiful. It’s the one session that has turned more listeners onto a band’s music than any other we’ve broadcast. Dan is also one of the humblest people I’ve met.
Possibly the session that’s the most memorable, then, is the one we recorded with Evening Chorus. I asked them if they’d like to record one immediately after I saw them play their first ever proper gig — they’d only been going about 2months at that point. It is a wonderful testament to a band in its infancy, working out their sound and direction; it’s fragile, wracked with minor flaws, but ultimately beautiful and timeless. In its vulnerable way it’s possibly the most perfect session we’ve recorded. I’ve made lifelong friends as a result of this one and it doesn’t get better than that.
COTW: How should an artist or band submit music to you? Do you have any preference over format?
DC: MP3s (320kbps preferred) via on-line download link/zipped file (as necessary) to firstname.lastname@example.org (syndicated show) or CUXR@twrhq.com (Xpress show), please — we request all bands send digitally because we can no longer accommodate the amount of physical CDs we receive.
Bands etc. can also contact me via Twitter on @TWRHQ or @TWRonCUXR.
COTW: Finally, what does the future hold for The Waiting Room?
DC: More of the same, really. I have a ‘proper job’ that takes up most of my daytime during the week, so I am a little strapped to add very much else to what we are already doing. However, the website will be completely revamped at some point this year to bring it into the C21st; I’ve been talking for some time about putting on TWR gigs in Cardiff and it looks like it may start to happen this year; we have a host of bands lined up for sessions in the coming months — but I won’t name names because that’s jinxed it in the past, and we have 5 other stations (Australia, Sweden, Germany and America) lined up to join the syndication, but this will take place once (my pressed) time allows. Xpress Radio starts up again at the end of February, so we’re planning a ton of stuff for that (in-studio sessions, special guests and the like), and I’m really looking forward to doing live shows again with Gareth; his stoicism in the face of my manic presenting style keeps me on my toes and I really enjoy the buzz the juxtaposition creates.
Essentially, TWR starts and ends with the promotion of new music. As long as bands keep sending it to us, and I keep finding it on the net and elsewhere, then we’ll keep doing it.
Download (right click and save as): Alcoholic Fath Mission – Closer To Dallas TWR live session mp3
Download (right click and save as): Evening Chorus – Blistered Magnolia TWR live session mp3