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Relevant Tones: the Reboot

It’s been almost exactly a year to the day since my last live broadcast for WFMT at Le Poisson Rouge.  I’ve been asked countless times since then if I’m planning to launch a podcast version of it and the answer has always been no. I spent 2019 writing several chamber pieces, a feature film score and my first opera La Jetée, plus producing a dozen or so events in three different cities and my let’s not forget my day job at ACM.

I don’t know how I would have done a weekly radio show on top of that let alone launching a podcast from scratch. The other night I was back at LPR for a show, and a publicist I know came up to me and said “how’s retirement?”   It took me a while to figure out that she was talking about Relevant Tones. I was like, oh yeah, some people only know me as the former radio guy.  How strange.

Overall it’s true that I don’t miss doing a radio show. The deadlines are constant and the truth is that we were never on solid footing with the network which was stressful. The threat of cancellation hung over the show from day one.  There was also nearly always someone telling me not to do the things I really wanted to do.

I didn’t want to just play music.  I wanted to engage with composers on the important topics they were thinking about or that affected their lives and the music they create. Art doesn’t happen in a vacuum after all.  I love music but like most composers, I have a wide range of interests and I wanted to do a show that reflected those interests.   What are composers thinking about automation, climate change, the rise of Japanese whiskeys, you name it.

In classical radio though, talk of any kind is bad. The mantra is the more we talk the more listeners flee in droves and apparently the Arbitron numbers bear this out so I’m not giving them a hard time.  But who wants to listen to a playlist you can’t control?  How are we providing value if we’re not telling the listeners what they’re listening to and why we love it?  What are we doing to reach new listeners?  And why isn’t radio doing a better job embracing digital media?

The last couple of months I’ve started thinking of bringing Relevant Tones back as a semi-regular series broadcast live through streaming. We streamed a few of our last live broadcasts for WFMT and the results were intriguing.  I’ve mentioned this idea to people recently and their responses have also been intriguing.

There’s an interesting divide along age lines.  People roughly 40 and over ask if I’m partnering with WFMT or another old school media company.  People under 40 just ask Youtube or Facebook?

As I got more serious about this idea I started to reach out to media outlets to partner with.  In the end I decided to go with Caveat in NYC.  Caveat is primarily a venue as of now but they have a sophisticated setup for streaming and they are looking to launch their own media company in the near future.  They also are fluent in millennial which, well, there’s a lot of them so that seems good right?

I’m doing a pilot program on February 23rd.  If they like it then I’ll be entered into their incubator program. Incubated! Sounds so warm and cozy. I know a lot about broadcasting and event production but they know a lot about the people I want to reach and how to reach them through digital media so, though it’s a totally new direction for me, I think I made the right choice.

I don’t know how often I’m going to do these yet because, as a composer, I’m really enjoying this whole getting a piece performed every few weeks thing lately and want to keep that momentum going.  A lot of it will depend on what kind of support team I wind up with. I realize, though, that composing alone isn’t enough for me.  I have this need to reach people, to share music and ideas and I’m really excited to do that again.

Plus, it turns out I’m kind of an extrovert and I miss being on stage.

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