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New Media Pioneer: Greg Grant of Festival Radio

Festival_RadioThe Hits Just Keep On Comin’ is mostly, but not entirely, about the Top 40 past, and how it’s still with us today in lots of ways, in addition to discussing whatever else strikes them as interesting.

Q) Tell us a little bit about your blog. What inspired you to start it?

A) Festival Radio (http://www.live365.com/stations/woodsmeister) actually started as a lark.  I have a large and eclectic CD collection and my briefcase was getting heavy lugging CDs to work every day.  Live365.com was giving away Internet streams at the time (July 2000) and I thought it would be a cool solution to my problem.

The fact that other people around the country, let alone around the world, might want to listen never crossed my mind at the moment, and to this day pretty much astounds me.  Pretty soon I was once again surprised by getting an e-mail from a singer/songwriter who liked listening to my station and wanted to know if she could send me her music to play. Things pretty much mushroomed from there.

I started the blog (http://www.folk-blog.com) as a way to provide transparency for the artists who send me music – I blog all new adds and a monthly top 40 (or so) and to provide a place to report on interesting industry news.  I was honored a few months ago to have been named as an official Community Blogger for the 52nd GRAMMY Awards© representing the folk, Americana, Blues and American Roots music community.  Festival Radio’s streaming playlist contains about 40 hours of eclectic music from folk and related genres (traditional, singer/songwriter, folk/rock, world folk, Celtic, bluegrass, acoustic blues, Cajun/zydeco, technofolk) in a freeform mix.  I usually update the playlist a couple times a week.

Q) Why do you believe new media resources (i.e. blogs, podcasts, internet radio stations) have become so popular? How have they been beneficial to artists? How have they been detrimental?

A) Over-the-air radio has lost touch with everybody who doesn’t want to be bombarded with the same 40 songs over and over again.  People crave variety and community and are looking for ways to connect with people who feel the same way.  I remember the excitement I felt in the mid-90s when I discovered a mailing list for fans of one of my favorite obscure singer/songwriters, Mark Heard.  It was like discovering an online family I didn’t know I had.  I still correspond with many list members.  When you find a new media source that resonates with your tastes and expands your boundaries, it’s like finding a new buddy to go record shopping with.

As for artists, new media have expanded the ability of artists to reach beyond their local market.  I play artists I never would have heard of otherwise, and I’m grateful to be able to introduce them, literally, to a worldwide audience, albeit a relatively small one.  New media have also given artists the tools to manage their own careers and maintain independence from the label system and keep more of what little money there is in the business for themselves.

Q) Media 2.0 has changed the way artists communicate with fans. Where do you envision online communication going next? Any thoughts on what Media “3.0” will look like?

A) Although I’ve not subscribed to Sam Phillips’ website, I think she is onto something with her new approach.  For a fee of $52, her fans can subscribe to her site and get digital downloads of everything she is recording – as she finishes it.  No label – no problem. She is dealing directly with her most committed fans and they are getting a special deal and special access.  I see more artists, especially those with a fan base large enough, but not so large that the major labels are knocking at their doors, becoming disenchanted with the current system of production, CDs and touring and cutting out the middleman altogether.

Lately, I’ve become addicted to Twitter. Any musician not on Twitter and tweeting regularly is seriously losing out right now. Don’t just tweet where you are: tweet what you’re listening to.  Tweet what inspires you.  Tweet pictures from the road.  Tweet who you are.  Those things will deepen your fans connection with you not just as an artist, but also as a person.  Scholars may look back and declare that Twitter, in fact, was Media 3.0.  In particular, I love eavesdropping on the regular conversations between Rosanne Cash and John Wesley Harding, two musicians that I really dig.  I’m just old enough (45) and geeky enough to think that having a direct online conversation with a music legend like Rosanne Cash is pretty awesome, even it’s in fewer than 140 characters.

Q) What does an artist have to do to get your attention? Are their specific characteristics that you look for?

A) First off, to get my attention an artist will be advised to follow my submission guidelines which I post on my website. The down side of the technological revolution and Media 2.0 is that everyone with a guitar and a computer can record some tracks in their basement, throw them up on Myspace and blast out emails to anyone and everyone begging them to visit their Myspace page and listen to a few of their songs.  I don’t have that kind of time – I have a day job and I do this in my spare time. I have to dedicate my time to the people who have taken the chance on sending a CD and on artists and labels with whom I’ve established a relationship already.

Second, I look for a high level of actual musical competency.  I’m constantly amazed at the number of CDs I get where the artists have serious pitch problems.  Too often, musicians only have people in their lives who tell them how great they are and nobody to provide them with honest critical assessment, which is why there will always be a place for people like Simon Cowell.  Find yourself a critic – someone who will tell you the truth in love.

Artists who really get my attention are either those who are doing exemplary work within their genre, for example a smoking bluegrass or Celtic group, or those who are pushing the boundaries of genre to create something new.  One of my absolute favorite artists is LA singer/songwriter Ashley Maher, who blends elements of Afropop, folk and jazz and has a voice that sounds a lot like Joni Mitchell.

Since I run a folk music broadcast, I am, of course, attracted to artists who tell stories with their music.  People write disposable love songs by the thousands, but few songs that tell really great stories.  If you are serious about becoming a folk artist, tell a story that nobody else has told. There’s a group from northern England that I really enjoy called The Queensberry Rules that is from Stoke-on-Trent, and their songs are about local legends and historical incidents from their area.  As an American, where else would I hear cool stories from Stoke-on-Trent? Doug Spears, a songwriter from Florida, writes songs about growing up in Florida before it was “heaven’s waiting room.”  Kate Campbell writes phenomenal songs about growing up in the South and exploring the campaign for civil rights and desegregation.  Everybody loves to hear a good story well told.  Look for stories wherever you go.

Q) What do you ultimately hope to accomplish with your blog?

A) I hope to entertain people, to introduce them to fine artists that they otherwise might not hear, to make people think about the issues of the day and to help make their day a little brighter and maybe make that time in the cubicle farm pass a little more quickly.

Check out the blog here.

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