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QRD #37 - Radio Special - April 2008
about this issue
Radio MD Interviews with:
Hunter King at WESU
Andrea-Jane Cornell at CKUT
Geary Kaczorowski at WUMD
Max Martin at WUOG
Keri Fico at WUSB
Justin Lanoue at CFUV
Thurston Hunger at KFJC
Steve Marlow at CFBX
Joe Kendrick at WNCW
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Radio Music Director interview with Justin Lanoue formerly of CFUV 
April 2008

Until recently Justin Lanoue was the music director at CFUV.  He recently left & we wish him the best.

QRD – Why did you want the position of music director & why do you think you got it over all the other applicants?

Justin – I had always had a near obsession with new music & finding new bands, which led me into radio.  Once I started getting involved in campus radio I was hooked because I would get a chance to listen to more new bands than I ever even thought existed.  That led me to exploring different genres & from there it grew even more.  I think that one of the main reasons that I was chosen as music director was because I was open-minded about everything coming into the station & was always learning about new music whether it was from fellow DJs, magazines, the internet, etc.  I was always seeking out something new & different for my show & the staff noticed.

QRD – What do you think the job of a good music director is?

Justin – I alluded to a couple of key things already.  Open-mindedness is a vital quality to find in a music director.  A good music director doesn’t focus on one genre or one era of music.  They should know the history behind the music & older bands that influenced the newer stuff, but at the same time respect & seek out the new bands that are making something new & groundbreaking.  For example, if a music director is only into old-school hip-hop or seventies folk & doesn’t much care for the newer stuff from those genres, they probably wouldn’t be great music directors.  A great campus music director needs to balance their love of the old with an appreciation of the new, because they’re going to be inundated with literally hundreds of new CDs every week.
A good campus music director should also be open-minded in the sense that they realize they do not & cannot know everything.  It is a constant learning process.  When I was music director I learned so much by talking to the DJs at my station & other staff members.  If I had walked in there thinking that I already knew everything, there would have been loads of bands that I never would have learned about & started appreciating.
A good campus music director also needs to be approachable & also learn to approach those within the industry in order to get CDs that other stations might not have.  I found that some record labels wouldn’t focus a lot on radio campaigns.  I also discovered that it never hurt to ask for a promo copy from them.  Not only does getting these extra CDs make your station sound better & more eclectic to the listener, but it also sets your station apart from other campus stations.  I remember at one point about a third of my station’s top thirty consisted of CDs that were not serviced to most other stations.  It took a lot of work; but it set us apart, made us sound better, & hopefully gave these artists some extra exposure.

QRD – What did you initially think you could accomplish as music director that having obtained the position became obviously impossible?

Justin – I quickly learned that it was impossible to know about all the new music out there.  For example, there are certain scenes/genres that I couldn’t even begin to understand, so I would often talk to the DJs who may be involved more in that scene to find out what bands & new releases excited them & which ones I should find for them to play on their shows.

QRD – How much did you let your personal taste in music effect your station’s music?

Justin – I tried not to let my own personal taste effect my adds as much as I could.  If I thought that my judgment was cloudy on a particular submission, I would ask my fellow staff members what they thought of the release or I’d ask a DJ who was more knowledgeable within that genre for their input.  I remember once getting into a small argument with a radio promoter because I passed on one of his records.  He said to me, “Why do I think that you only add records you love?”  To which I replied, “If I only added the CDs I like then our charts would look a lot different!”

QRD – How have streaming online radio stations affected the purpose & competition for your station?

Justin – I honestly didn’t think much about online stations.  We had our own niche pretty well established, so I didn’t think of other stations as competition or anything like that.  Plus, I doubt that many people actually sit at their computers to listen to the radio.  I rarely do.  The sound of an internet station is low quality & pales in comparison to an FM or satellite signal.  Maybe I am just a geek in that way.

QRD – What are some things bands/labels can do to get on the fast track into rotation & to eliminate themselves from getting into rotation?

Justin – Bands & labels should really do their homework before submitting their work to a station.  I would get so many submissions from artists that didn’t have a clue about what our station was about & then wouldn’t understand why I would pass on their record.  Even small things can be really off-putting for a music director.  For example, I would tell bands to submit a one-page biography with their CD & they’d send about forty.  Since I was getting over a hundred submissions every week I wouldn’t have time to read forty pages of press clippings.  Heck, I barely had time to read one page.  So thirty-nine of those forty pages would go straight into recycling.
Another thing that bands/labels need to avoid is whining to you if you decide to pass on their CD.  Often bands would follow-up on their record & I’d politely tell them that I passed on it & they’d get all whiny like a six year old.  They say, “But [this station] added it.”  Some bands didn’t seem to understand that not all campus radio stations are the same.  We all have different needs & priorities & DJs that influence out decisions on what CDs we add & what CDs we pass on.

QRD – Did you read the charts of other stations & if so how did they affect your charts?

Justin – I would often read the charts of other campus stations, but I wouldn’t let them influence me all that much.  I always had CFUV’s needs in mind when evaluating a CD.  Even if something was #10 on CMJ, that didn’t necessarily mean that it fit at my station or that it would be a priority for me.  The main way I would use other stations’ charts would be simply to make sure I had received everything that I should have received or that I wanted.

QRD – Did you solicit labels for servicing or just generally stick with who found you?

Justin – I was always soliciting labels for servicing.  I think it is very easy for music directors to just sit there & wait for the CDs to come to them.  Simply sitting there means that your station is missing out on a lot of music.  Some labels can’t afford to service everybody or spend thousands of dollars on radio promotion companies & they’d be surprised when I would ask them for a copy of something for my station.  It made our station sound more eclectic & really set us apart not only within the city, but amongst other campus stations as well.

QRD – Did you like to deal directly with labels or did you prefer to deal with some sort of radio promotional team about what is going into the station library & rotation?

Justin – It depends.  I think that labels really need to know who they are hiring in some cases because they were hiring promotion companies that didn’t really have much of a background in CDs of that genre.  Ideally, I’d talk to both.  A lot of music directors have a hate for all promotions companies.  For me, there were some I really disliked dealing with because it was obviously just business for them, but there were other promotion companies who were obviously in it for the love of the music & would really only work with stuff that they liked themselves. 
I also understand the need for promotions companies.  If a small indie label has only two staff members & for them it’s only a part-time gig, then I understand why they might consider paying a few thousand dollars to company to handle it for them instead of trying to take on even more work for themselves or going into debt to hire a full-on promotions person before they can really afford to do so.

QRD – What’s the longest time you felt comfortable keeping a record in rotation?

Justin – My station was “free form” so I didn’t have anything in a specific rotation.  I would consider something “new” for three months & that seemed like long enough.  By that time a CD had its chance at my station & it was time to move on & find something else.  Keeping the new stuff a priority is important for campus radio because nobody else will give most of that music a chance.

QRD – Did you listen to & review the majority of records you received yourself?

Justin – I did.  I think it is important that the music director hears as much as possible.  They need to know what’s coming into their stations & it helps when dealing with labels & promo companies.  I was lucky that I had a couple great assistants that I trusted a lot & who would help me out whenever there were simply too many submissions to keep up.  Heck, I learned a lot from them too.

QRD – How much control did you let individual DJ’s have over what they played & how did they deal with requests?

Justin – At my station they had pretty much complete control over the content of their programs.  We were free form so they’d pick what they wanted to play.  We had a couple of loose guidelines about how many new releases they should play, but I would never tell them they had to play a specific CD.  I think it is better that way.  It immediately eliminates a lot of the politics of the industry that labels & promotions companies try to throw at you.  Plus, our DJs were awesome.  I would find out a lot by listening to their shows or talking to them.

QRD – What’s the importance of specialty shows at your station?

Justin – They were very important.  A good station should have shows for everybody. 

QRD – How is your station involved in the local music scene?

Justin – I would stress local bands a lot at our station.  In many ways, we would be the only place they could go for support.  I would make sure our DJs knew about the local releases.  As a station, we would present shows where we could & try to get them in for interviews or on-air performances.  I even took on handling radio for some local bands over the years, making sure that the other stations in Canada were getting their CDs as well.

QRD – With your experience in radio, are you jaded or hopeful for the music industry?

Justin – It’s tough.  I don’t think the industry can survive as it is right now.  It needs to change.  People need to get excited about music again & choose to support bands & artists that they like.  I saw so many bands get dropped, labels shut down, & people get laid off over my years as a music director that it is hard not to become jaded.  Yet, I’m optimistic because there are people in the music industry with ideas that could make it adapt & become successful again. 

QRD – What do you plan to do with your interest in music in the future?

Justin – Well, I left my station in December & moved to a new city.  I would love to continue to have a career in the industry & think that I have some great ideas; it is just a matter or luck at this point.

QRD – What were the best & worst parts of your job?

Justin – I’ve realized that I will never have a job as great as music director at a campus station.  I don’t have a whole lot to complain about.  Every day I went to work was fun & I learned something new.  The hardest part was leaving my position & realizing that getting on with another station is like starting over.

QRD – I imagine a lot of the younger generation of DJs pretty much exclusively use MP3s over CDs (much less vinyl).  How do you feel about the situation?

Justin – I always grumbled to myself when a DJ would plug in their laptop, open a playlist & be done with it.  There’s no fun in that.  Plus, sometimes the sound of the MP3s was atrocious.  I always encouraged people to play the CD or vinyl copies of something over MP3s.

QRD – Did you try to get your entire catalog digitally encoded on a hard drive for radio play?

Justin – We didn’t try it.  We had way too many CDs & vinyl to even attempt to digitize it all.  Plus, again there is the sound quality issue.  Some MP3s just sound bad. 

QRD – How do you feel about automation for overnight or unfilled DJ slots?  What program do you use for automation & how does it decide what to play?

Justin – We didn’t automate overnight.  I wanted to do it & utilize it to fill in some gaps I thought we had in our programming or to ensure that some stuff I thought was great but ignored got a couple more spins, but we never really followed-up on it.  We were too understaffed & too busy dealing with running a station during the day to worry about what was automated at 3am.

QRD – I know that some labels & promotional teams are pushing towards digital download links over physical copies.  How do you feel about this?

Justin – Conflicted.  Hard copies have been & always will be ideal for campus radio, but I understand the move to digital submissions.  For a tiny indie label it saves them thousands of promo copies & the costs to mail them, which can mean a lot to a struggling label.  It can mean life or death for some of them.  On my end, as a music director, some digital delivery systems were easy to use & some were a nightmare to use.  A positive thing about digital submissions is that it allowed me to get my station serviced albums that otherwise we never would have gotten.  I would ask labels for digital copies of something that they might have only been releasing on vinyl in limited numbers & they would send the links right over.  Otherwise, there would have been no chance of getting it into the station at all.  A digital submission is better than no submission is what I would keep telling myself.

QRD – When I worked in radio, there was a big problem with theft at the station.  Since so many people these days just use MP3 players, do they just steal the music rather than the physical disc & do you feel as a DJ they have a right to personally access any music from the station library at any time?

Justin – Unfortunately, theft is always going to exist in some form.  I guess on the station’s side of things, someone copying digital files is better than stealing a station’s only play copy.

QRD – Anything else?

Justin – Nope.

Official CFUV Website