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ALL IN: KG'S 32ND SXSW

I have the distinction of being one of fewer than three people (if that) who have bragging rights regarding perfect attendance at SXSW. That’s 32 uninterrupted years, even though one year consisted of only 36 hours in Austin, before flying back to L.A. to check myself into rehab. Maybe the more impressive statistic is that I’ve been sober for 25 of those 32 SXSWs.

My highlights this year were bountiful, and most of the 30+ artists I saw were exceptional. The deafening buzz on U.K. band Shame (Dead Oceans) is fully warranted—I was gobsmacked (as they say) at their three shows, all of which I loved. Not since Arctic Monkeys made their SXSW debut in 2006 has a new U.K. band made this huge an impression.  Judging by the lines outside the venues (thankfully, I’ve never met a line I couldn’t cut into), Billie Eilish (Interscope), Two Feet (Republic), Superchunk (Merge), and the return of Andrew W.K. with a full band were must-see priorities for attendees.

C3’s annual Wednesday night gathering downstairs at Stubb’s is the unofficial launch of SXSW for radio programmers, label reps and artist managers. Our hosts, C3’s Joe Greenwald and Dave Barbis kept everybody happily fed and drunk, while their new clients Mt. Joy played a few songs from their Dualtone debut, including the soon-to-be Modern Rock smash “Silver Lining,” which had us singing along at the top of our lungs. KKDO’s Andy Hawk had this to say about Mt. Joy’s single: “I mean that hook is so massive! It's the kind of hook on a song that should make Mt. Joy a household name. It's the kind of hook that reaches across genres and formats.”

Fueled by three Diet Cokes and a slab of cherry pie (it was 3/14, or Pi day, after all), I went outside to watch Lucy Dacus (Matador) and Superorganism (Domino), both artists proving that the future is, indeed, female. Journalists (which I am not) highlighted mostly female-fronted bands in their SXSW wrap-ups, including Billie, Lucy and Superorganism, as well as Soccer Mommy, Stella Donnelly, Goat Girl, Kitten, In the Valley Below, Bishop Briggs, Starcrawler and Jade Bird.

The latter two artists were acknowledged with the prestigious 2018 Grulke Prize, voted on by SXSW panelists. Starcrawler (Rough Trade), fronted by force-of-nature Arrow de Wilde, was awarded the prize for Developing U.S. Act at SXSW, while Jade Bird (Glassnote), whose audiences grew exponentially with each set she played, was named Developing Non-U.S. Act at SXSW. Brent Grulke, after whom the prize is named, was SXSW’s Creative Director (and friend to all), who passed away in 2012 at the age of 51.

The third of three Grulke prizes is for Career Artist at SXSW, and this year’s winner was none other than Todd Rundgren, whose appearance on my Thursday panel was definitely a career highlight for one of us. I’ve been a Todd super-fan for 40+ years, which is no secret to anybody who has ever met me. I didn’t think he’d agree to be on my annual panel about songwriting, let alone perform a song (Utopia’s “There Goes My Inspiration”) AND a duet with fellow panelist Chris Price on “Bleeding” (from The Ballad of Todd Rundgren) after Chris’ nerves got the better of him and he forgot the words.

Also on the panel were my dear friend Matthew Caws (Nada Surf) and Matt Lowell from Lo Moon, whose Columbia debut was released last week, and will be unchallenged for my favorite album of 2018. Matthew performed a gorgeous song he had been working on, with lyrics about the need for a songwriter to address BIG IDEAS in this current political climate, while Matt played a solo version “All In” from his band’s debut.

After the panel, Glassnote’s Daniel Glass pulled Todd and me into the frame of his on-camera SXSW.com interview, using us as visual evidence to illustrate his point of never knowing who he’s going to run into in Austin. And oh, the running I did—from Superorganism to IDLES, back across the I-35 to see Shame and Ought, before another jaunt across town with Jonathan Clarke to catch Andrew W.K. So many artists qualified as “must sees”: lovelytheband playing for 101X, Shakey Graves in front of a massive hometown crowd of 20,000 (at least), Lo Moon (3x), Morgan Saint, Slenderbodies, Marlon Williams, Bishop Briggs, In the Valley Below, Todd Rundgren, Chris Price, etc. etc.

Years ago, I started hosting an annual breakfast for women who do promo at indie labels. Unlike me, the original three women’s careers have matriculated beyond promotion, but the tradition has persisted. On Saturday morning, at the unholy hour of 9:00am (lights out at SXSW is rarely before 3:00am), I was thrilled to see (pictured at top of page) Sub Pop’s Michelle Feghali, Merge’s Cecile Duncan, Secretly Canadian’s Bri Aab and Mute’s Caroline Shadood, with special guest Amber Miller (MD at WRFF Philly), join me for caffeine, food, unconstrained conversation and more caffeine. Sisterhood is indeed powerful.


 
 
I AM A FUCKING UNICORN

By Karen Glauber


No, I’m not. Well, not really. It’s the mantra I adopted at the beginning of the year when yet another conversation with a programmer commenced with, “Will [insert band name here] play my summer show?” A reasonable request if the station was already supporting the band, but not quite as welcome if said programmer had heretofore asserted that airplay would happen “over their dead body.”

I get it—there aren’t dozens of radio-show headliners falling from the skies this year. Or even two or three, if my sleuthing is correct. As months tick by, the quest for available bands that can sell tickets and aren’t bound by the radius clauses imposed by summer festivals is a panic-ridden proposition. There’s little comfort in knowing that your best-ever Christmas show is ahead of you, based on your label friends’ promises of what will be available in Q4.

Driven by an unrelenting desire to make YOUR life easier (hence the self-ascribed unicorn designation), I am in your corner, always. The role of “the messenger” isn’t a day at the beach either—we’re at the mercy of the worldwide schedules of the artists whose music we promote. Whatever influence we have is used to advocate on radio’s behalf. Don’t kill the messenger, please…

Correct me if I’m mistaken, but I am willing to assert that AJR’s #1 this week with “Sober Up,” following Alice Merton’s two-week reign at #1 with “No Roots” is the FIRST TIME two independent-label releases have had back-to-back #1s at Modern Rock! AJR’s success, which Ted writes about this week in his column, happened because YOUR AUDIENCE mandated the song’s success. They didn’t care about AJR’s previous at-bats at Pop radio. They weren’t overthinking the band’s “place” at Modern Rock (like you were). They just liked “Sober Up” and decided that it fit on their favorite radio station (yours). As someone who makes infinitely more money than I do once said in a playback session I attended, “Sometimes the best song is just the best song.”

We are infinitely grateful to our radio partners who helped AJR reach #1 this week—last Saturday was one of the most stressful (unnecessarily so) days of Ted’s career or my own—and we couldn’t have done it without you. Ted and I were raised in the major-label system to believe that “#2, #6, #11 = failure,” meaning that peaking at any of those chart positions is unacceptable. Imagine Dragons can sit at #1 for the rest of the year, for all I care, but the narrative is now in stone: For the past three weeks, independent label artists were #1 at Modern Rock…

The last time I sat in the KROQ music meeting, I played them Veruca Salt’s “Seether” on Minty Fresh Records, which they added that day. Yeah, it’s been a minute. This past Tuesday, I was fortunate enough to wrangle an invite to participate in the process. There is no better call on Tuesday afternoon than the KROQ call with an add. I was in the room when Kevin Weatherly called Amanda Dobbins to let her know they were adding Greta Van Fleet’s “Safari Song” (smash!), and when he called Gary Gorman with the news of an add on Cold War Kids’ “Can We Hang On?” (my favorite from their new record).

The highlight, however, was Kevin calling my cellphone (I was in the room, remember?) to inform me that KROQ was adding Cigarettes After Sex’s “Apocalypse,” which had scored more Top 5 votes in the music meeting than any other song. The other attendees in the room weren’t necessarily aware that the metrics for “Apocalypse” from Sirius Alt Nation and XMU airplay were huge, or that the band had already sold out two late-April shows in L.A. (the Ace Theater and the Fonda). Spotify streams of the song already exceeding 17.5 million without much terrestrial airplay wasn’t a factor, either. From mid-20s to mid-50s, everybody in the room agreed that “Apocalypse” was the best song of the week. This is Partisan Records’ first add at KROQ, and I hope there will be many “firsts” ahead for the label and the band!...

Will you be at SXSW? Tell me which band playing in Austin will change my life: Karen.Glauber@hitsmagazine.com


 
 
THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING

By Karen Glauber

One year ago, two nights before the Grammy Awards, Dualtone’s Lori Kampa and I were prepping for KROQ’s Grammy Museum event with The Lumineers. I was wearing a Dries Van Noten dress (my favorite designer) and the Prada shoes that I “won” from the band’s manager after betting him that “Ophelia” would reach #1 at Modern Rock. There have been two guiding principles in my life: (1) Don’t get mad, get even; and (2) The only bet worth making is the one you know you’ll win. After the KROQ set, we ran through the rain to the Convention Center for the MusiCares gala honoring Tom Petty, where The Lumineers played his song “Walls,” which the honoree told the band was one of his favorite performances of the night. This year, I hope that Arcade Fire and Chris Cornell both win the Grammy in their respective categories—I’ll be watching online in my Target loungewear, wearing a white rose to support the #timesup and #metoo movements…

It was lovely to see many of my iHeart friends at last week’s ALTer Ego show. AJR opened the evening with two songs, their soon-to-be-#1 smash “Sober Up” and “Weak.” Ted Volk and I were intent on having the band meet Nerf, since it was his support at KTCL that set the campaign in motion. Running backstage, up ramps, through crowds, up and down elevators and crashing into people in the Forum Club (sorry, Dennis Blair), I felt like I was reenacting the car chase in The French Connection, minus Gene Hackman and a Pontiac. During Spoon’s incredible set—their “Vegas 25,” as they called it, singer Britt Daniel proved for the millionth time why he’s the standard by which all other singers should be compared. Did you hear him yell “KA-REN” over and over during “Rent I Pay”? Yep, that was for me. The other highlight of the evening was seeing Lisa Worden reign supreme in her new iHeart role. She has earned her executive position and all the decision-making authority that comes with it, especially now that she’s also PD of 98.7

Although there hasn’t been an official announcement yet, it’s no secret that Mike Kaplan will be heading to NYC in May for the PD gig at Entercom’s ALT 92.3, where he’ll be an hour train ride away from his beloved Phillies. Without question, Mike is perfectly suited for this gig… My favorite song of 2018 is Jack White’s “Connected by Love.” Brady continues to stun me with stories of programmers who are overthinking the record. “Are you fucking kidding me?” has been my hair-trigger response to nearly EVERYTHING in the past year—and is certainly an appropriate reaction to anyone who might WRONGLY think that one of the most ICONIC singers in the format isn’t worthy of airplay. BESIDES, the song is in 6/8, which means you can waltz to it. “Connected by Love” is the first radio single from Jack’s third solo album, Boarding House Reach, slated for release on 3/23 on Third Man/Columbia

The buzz is strong on new music from James Bay, who personally greeted the radio elite on hand for a playback of his upcoming record in L.A. and NYC. Republic’s Amanda Dobbins and Drew Hauser hosted these well-attended gatherings. This is just one of many marquee releases the label will have this year, including new signing Lord Huron (swoon), Two Feet and watt, among others…

I heard that Vince Richards is replacing Jim Fox in Sacramento, overseeing KRXQ and KKDO. As Ted always says, “Once a name, always a threat.” Hopefully, Andy Hawk will still have the biggest voice in the music selection for KKDO, which has thrived since he was brought back into the programming mix…

Alice Merton’s “No Roots” is on course to becoming the highest-charting song by a woman since Bishop Briggs’ “River.” Nick Petropoulos played me the new CHVRCHES single, and I’m thrilled that it will be months, rather than years, between female-voiced Top 5 songs!...

SONG TO HEAR: Mt. Joy’s “Silver Lining.” Same pick as last time—I’m obsessed!


 
 
POST TOASTED: HOW SOON IS NOW?

Just when I’d resigned myself to writing yet another column admonishing the Modern Rock format for its lack of commitment to new artists, Lenny appeared in my office with news of Lisa Worden’s new gig. “I have the biggest scoop in the world,” was his intro, which caught my attention even while I was searching online for a presale code to the upcoming Ian Anderson Presents: JETHRO TULL 50th Anniversary Tour. He told me that Lisa, my dear friend, was leaving KROQ to be the National Alternative Brand Manager for iHeart and VP of Programming for Alt 98.7 Los Angeles! This is a newly created position for the company, which gives Lisa oversight of 25 iHeart Alternative stations.

To say this is a game-changer for the format AND for women in the music business is a vast understatement.

Let’s acknowledge Lisa’s 22-year tenure at KROQ, where her loyalty to the station and to Kevin Weatherly was irrefutable. She, Kevin and now-departed APD Gene Sandbloom were radio’s strongest team, and the toughest to impress. The Tuesday afternoon call with the three of them on a speakerphone, informing you of your add at KROQ, was the single best call in the business. The power of KROQ is undeniable, and Lisa played a critical role in keeping the station’s brand at the forefront of the industry: She rightfully insisted that KROQ always deserved the seat at the head of the table and worked tirelessly on the station’s behalf—another vast understatement.

Tom Poleman and his fellow executives have often spoken about the impact of iHeart Alternative on music, culture and lifestyle, yet, in my opinion, a large chunk of those stations have been responsible (irresponsible?) for thwarting the success of artists who would’ve (should’ve) had #1 songs at Modern Rock. When Lenny asks me why a song didn’t go Top 10/Top 5/#1 at the format, the answer is always the same: There were 8-10 iHeart guys who wouldn’t play it. This is a format without a consensus—there is never that point where a song is a big enough hit to warrant format-wide support. iHeart’s On the Verge platform ensures support on a national level, and their success rate of picking hits is unparalleled. It’s just one of the many national platforms the radio group has in its arsenal, plus an incredible roster of exceptionally talented programming superstars like John Allers, Mike Kaplan, Nerf, Aly Young and Dustin Matthews, among others. I am so excited to see what Lisa will do in her new role, although not nearly as excited as she is! Did I happen to mention what a game-changer this is for the format?

This morning, Entercom proclaimed, “I’m back, bitch,” with the launch of TWO major market Modern Rock stations! ALT 92.3, New York’s New Alternative, flipped from AMP at 10:00 AM EST commencing with a playlist of 10,000 songs commercial-free. An hour later, ALT 103.7, DFW’s New Alternative launched in Dallas, also playing 10,000 songs commercial-free. I’ve heard Alice Merton, AJR, Bishop Briggs and The Lumineers’ “Angela,” among the currents being played. All hail Entercom’s David Field for his belief in the Modern Rock format! Will Boston be next? The other question that needs answering is who will be the PDs for NYC and Dallas? Also, who will replace Lisa at KROQ? Matt Smith occupied the chair when Lisa left to program WHFS for two years, but that was many years ago. Who is capable of stepping into the most coveted MD/APD gig in radio? Who among us hasn’t fantasized about having that job?

DO YOU APPRECIATE HOW MUCH THE LANDSCAPE HAS CHANGED THIS WEEK? Seriously, last week we were being told by our bosses that our format doesn’t matter—our “hits” don’t stream like hip-hop and pop, our bands don’t cross over (Portugal. The Man and Imagine Dragons were ALWAYS pop bands, in their revisionist view), we are the bastard stepchildren of radio, etc. It’s a new ballgame today: Two of the biggest radio groups have made a big investment in the format’s future, while Cumulus has been expanding its Alternative footprint for the past few years. ALSO, SiriusXM has named Chris Muckley PD of XMU, which is my absolute favorite radio station. So much more will be revealed in the days ahead…


 
 
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