Local Hokum

Our Town's radio stations aren't playing much local fare because they're not getting much that's fit to play

Radar Station recently had the pleasure of serving as a panelist at a local-music seminar called "In the Mix: Connecting the Professional Music Community, or, 'How Do I Get Heard?'" This "professional education and networking event" was sponsored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the suits who shill for the Grammy Awards. After enduring an endless sales pitch about the joys of membership in the Academy, we joined our fellow panelists: a couple of management/A&R guys, an entertainment lawyer, Ken Williams from 101.1 FM The River and Dan Thompson of Blue Sky Distribution. Next, a succession of aspiring musicians asked questions, most of them considerably more intelligent than anything the "professionals" had to say, and the panelists attempted to answer them (that is, when we weren't being interrupted by a weird, possibly coked-up audience member who kept waxing nostalgic about his instrumental role in signing Quarterflash to Geffen back in the day).

One line of questioning struck us as particularly poignant: Joe Localband has enjoyed a certain amount of airplay on The River's Homegrown show, a weekly local-rock showcase hosted by Williams. Now Mr. Localband wants to "take it to the next level" and get some prime-time action. How, the tragically naive rock-star-wannabe wonders, does he go about getting his music into regular rotation?

Williams, for obvious reasons, couldn't answer this question completely honestly -- or maybe he was simply flummoxed that someone in the world apparently doesn't realize that commercial radio is primarily a marketing tool for the major labels, the only people who can afford to pay off independent promoters to pay off the radio stations. Given these market realities, The River and its for-profit peers can't afford to allocate primo airtime to something just because it's cool and they really want to support the local scene, man.

Williams told the guy -- truthfully, we'd wager -- that he hasn't received much that's of sufficient quality for regular rotation. He urged local bands to invest as much money as they can into making their CDs sound professional, which Radar Station heartily seconds. There's no sense in sending your CD to radio stations or alt-weeklies or even your doting Aunt Sue when it sounds as if you recorded it into a Walkman while several feet underwater. If you can't afford to record an entire album at a professional studio, record an EP or even a CD single. And, if you can't figure out how to record your own stuff on a Mac G3, as the Handsome Family do, then by all means get in touch with Mike Martin, Jason Hutto, Richard Beckmann, Chris Deckard or Mark Heinz (of Glory for Champions), local engineers/producers who get wonderful results at bargain-basement prices. Ask to hear other stuff they've done, and you'll realize that there's no excuse to sound like crap these days.

Then again, you can polish a turd forever, but it won't change the fact that the market for gilded shit is limited. Radar Station would much rather listen to a great song that's sonically imperfect than one that's horrible but expensive-sounding. The Sayers (recently featured on Homegrown) just released a six-song EP that's definitely lo-fi, but man oh man does it ever rock -- grimy power-pop with flourishes of punk and soul. Singer/guitarist Tony Franco sounds a bit like a young Alex Chilton or maybe a raspier, grittier Neil Finn, which is to say that unlike so many tone-deaf indie-rock dudes, he knows how to fucking sing. As demonstrated by the outrageously catchy "5-4-3-2," he's also no slouch as a songwriter.

All those who worship at the altar of Steve Albini will definitely want to catch a rare St. Louis appearance of his post-hardcore trio, Shellac. The concert takes place on Wednesday, October 23, at the Fairview Heights VFW Hall, 5325 North Illinois Street. The general admission tickets cost $8 and go on sale this Saturday, October 5, from noon-7 p.m. at Radio Penny Studio (3000 Lemp Avenue). They'll remain at Radio Penny until they're sold out -- which, we're guessing, won't take long at all, so prospective purchasers are advised to do the unthinkable and show up early, with cash in hand.

On a related note, the Conformists, who'll open for Shellac, recently recorded a new CD with Shellac's bassist (and former Volcano Sun) Bob Weston as engineer. No word yet when it'll come out, but we're sure it's gonna be fantastic.

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