The official Radiovision conference went underway this day. This day was the official symposium of panels, workshops, and presentations, which were all held in one room in the Metropolitan Pavilion in Brooklyn, NYC. I learned a lot from every single event, and just as much while talking to other students, professionals, fans, etc. during the breaks. Here's how it went down:
After running out of the house, we ended up waiting for the metro longer than we thought, and I was practically sprinting in my heeled ankle boots to the door because I thought we would be late. Turns out, as it usually does with any new event, IT was the one running late. We settled down, met David and Pascal at our seats, and I chatted with a couple of boys from Brooklyn that were big fans of Marc Maron. They listen to his show every time its on, and one by does some sort of comedy news show for his high school's station. It was amazing to see people of all ages representing the entire spectrum at the conference, and to see kids that are as motivated about protecting radio as we are. I also realized that all in all, there weren't that many people at the conference. It was a relatively small audience, which I felt very proud to be a part of.
9:50 - Welcoming Remarks - Benjamen Walker and Ken Freedman
10:00 - Origin Stories - Ira Glass, Marc Maron, and Tom Scharpling. Moderator: Therese Mahler
After the very brief opening remarks, came what I had been waiting for since I signed up for this conference: to see Ira Glass. I've been a big fan of 'This American Life' ever since I first started listening to radio podcasts at my library job while I was shelving microfiche and magazines. That, Radiolab, and Liz Berg's podcast (of WFMU) were pretty much all I listened to for my 8-hour work days during the summer. It really made me want to do what they were doing, and when my friend Lady K at WCBN suggested I DJ, I went full force.
Anyway, the topic of this panel was to point out the different routes that any individual can take to get into radio. Ira Glass went the traditional public radio route, Marc Maron was a host on Comedy Central who then got into doing podcasts in his garage, and Tom Scharpling started with freeform music and came back to WFMU for a freeform talk-show radio setting. After getting introductions out of the way, the conversation got much deeper into the psyche of a professional radio personality/artist. Each of them talked about their insecurities in putting themselves out there, whether its with their ideas, their personalities, or whatever. Each of them had the fear that they would mess something up, but all handled it in different ways. Ira Glass didn't really like the idea of being on live radio, because he's used to editing stories over long periods to make sure that everything's perfect, whereas Marc Maron doesn't edit anything, and Tom Scharpling's right-out live on the radio. I thought this brought a nice spectrum of possibilities for all personality types by having these three people represent on this panel.
A small but important point for a DJ to think about is the topic of listening to your own show. All three of them have some sort of aversion to watching their show, unless they take a long time (a year for Ira) to listen to it. All of them had the same opinion that you should just let your show "exist" and not try to become too involved with it. This is interesting to me, because I try to make it a point to listen to my show after I've performed, so that I can critique myself while my feelings and inner thoughts are still relevant and present. This could also be the difference between being an amateur student radio DJ and a professional, so who knows.
They also talked about how radio will exist in the future, which is one a new side of Ira Glass came out that I have never seen. We shall call this Mad Ira. When Therese asked the question about keeping radio alive, Mad Ira practically started pounding on the table and basically said that the question is totally irrelevant, and is over-asked. The fact of the matter is that radio has existed for so long, and still continues to exist, so there isn't much question that it CAN exist. And if someday it ceases to exist, it doesn't matter, because that means that something else came along to replace it. Something that we probably can't even conceive of yet. Something that will be amazing. This was definitely top 5 moments of the conference for me, and what Mad Ira said while metaphorically ripping his shirt and pouncing on the table will stick with me for a long time. "Who cares if radio survives? Something else will happen." He also said that there has never been a better time to do creative work in radio than right now. That we can really do anything.
11:00 - Vicki Bennett
Vicki's presentation was all about audio/visual collages that she had made. They were essentially short films, but they had a heavy emphasis on the music and sounds associated with the films, as well as the idea of integrating media together to create new ways of thinking, and new ways for our audience to consume ideas. The most important thing I got from this is that by thinking about combing media in difference, you are essentially redesigning a deeper essence of media. Her project is called 'People Like Us' and has a heavy emphasis on horror movies.
11:15 - Break 1
The most important thing about this break was that I MET IRA GLASS. In the flesh. Shook his hand, told him my name, and got a legal ID for WCBN (which actually isn't legal yet and I need to edit it). He even asked me, since I was the first person to come up to him, "So, what is this conference for?" Hahaha! He was so down to Earth. I then also grabbed Tom Scharpling to get a legal ID, which is actually legal. Super cool guy, and all the other WCBN DJs are excited to start using the legal iD.
This first break was also interesting, because after everyone was dismissed for 15 minutes, WCBN dispersed for bathroom/networking, so I went up to a man sitting in about the 5th row of my section of the room and introduced myself and asked him what he did, if he did radio, etc. Turns out folks, that he worked for Ira Glass on 'This American Life' for 2 years. LIterally, he said, "Yeah, Ira's was my boss." After I collected myself I asked him what kind of stuff he did, but he seemed more interested in asking about my life. We talked about classical music a bit, roles I would want to do, and he shared some ideas he had for radio shows that he had, and I told him a bit about the kind of stuff I try to do. It felt great to have that kind of connection with someone so early in the conference, and I think it really helped me open up to more people throughout.
11:30 - Virtual Communities - Gabriella Coleman, Kenyatta Cheese, and Bre Pettis. Moderator: Tim Hwang
This was a very multi-faceted panel, and one of the ones I was most excited about. It consisted of Gabriella Coleman (professor at NYU), Kenyatta Cheese (KnowYourMeme), and Bre Pettis (Thingiverse), with moderator Tim Hwang (ROFLcon). Soooo, we got the big guns here, basically.
The biggest and most important thing that I got out of this panel was the the internet is our new God. All of these people have utilized the internet to empower their users to come together as a community, and all in different ways. Gabriella started Anonymous as a sort of hacking community, which then became a sort of political movement. Kenyatta basically organized all internet memes into one arena. Bre found an effective way to link his users together, and ultimately found that with very little push on his own part, they will form together to create other websites with the ideas he gives them. Internet makes community bigger, and will make radio bigger. This is imperative.
Meme culture was also a big topic, and oddly applicable to radio. The meme has become a sort of new language for the internet, in the way that you can now use images/gifs/videos/whatever to communicate with other users without ever saying a word. A great example of this is the Rage Face, which I actually have an iPhone app for, and often I will communicate only by pictures with friends that know the Rage Face meme well. Translating this to radio could be a very interesting concept, and I'm excited to see where the radio community could take it. This idea is what the panelists deemed as "micro-impact." Another important topic they talked about was the Protect IP Act, which is something I didn't know about before this, but is vital to the survival of the internet, and everything that we know is true and free about the internet. I would suggest that you sign this petition to oppose it, if you like your internet the way it is.
Something I briefly mentioned before but was a big point by the end was that all digital communities that have a wide audience and wide success have some sort of non-digital component, and that's what makes them effective. For example, Reddit has gift exchanges, Anonymous has meet-ups, etc. Communities aren't separate anymore. The need to conjoin mediums is more important than ever for getting people involved with your cause/radio.
12:30 - DJ/rupture
When DJ/rupture went up to give his presentation, I really was not sure what to expect, but I was so surprised, and there really wasn't anything else like it on the program for the day. He talked about how he spent a lot of time in Morocco researching their traditional music, but also their popular music. He said that in Morocco, it is very common--and has been common for the past 10 years or so--to autotune their music. This has a very cool effect, and you might be able to imagine it if you've ever listened to Middle-Eastern or classical Indian music. The tonal structure for these styles is not like Western classical music, but utilizes notes in between the Western notes, like on a piano.
He also talked about the language of the Moroccans does not conform to the Roman alphabet, and thus isn't represented in software like he thinks it deserves to be, and is created a software which he is developing a digital form of the written language for. It was a beautiful contrast to the other presentations, and put everything else following it in a sort of global or universal context. This project is called 'Beyond Digital' and I highly suggest you check it out.
12:45 - Lunch
Lunchtime was funny because the music director of WPRB (Princeton) was chatting with us and suggested we talk to his kids. Because I felt like I was on a bit of a roll with this networking thing, I took the initiative and asked them if they wanted to have lunch together.
While talking to them, I was really surprised, but mostly pleased to find that they were really different from us. On a basic level, our group personalities contrasted completely. WCBN is kind of the weird, quirky kid with strange hobbies of student radio, and WPRB seems to be the cool kid station. We both have really great things going for both of us, and it was cool to hear what kind of stuff they did. They have a freeform style going too, but each DJ feels super comfortable digging into one thing or another sometimes. They also like to do co-hosted shows a lot, which seems to take a lot of pressure out off of individual DJs, and allows for less trouble when someone can't come to their slot, which has occasionally been a problem at WCBN.
1:45 - Andy Baio
I didn't recognize him by face or name, but there were quite a few people that give Andy Baio a nice applause before he even got to the stage, so I expected something great from this panel, and I wasn't disappointed. Andy Baio is the man behind the Star Wars kid, and for putting The Grey Album on the web. He spread Kind of Bloop, and has done a lot of research in Super Cuts, and creator of Waxy.org. Aside from taking the idea of using super cuts for my freeform show, he made an interesting point about how free access to editing and unlimited access to torrents and video made super cuts such a possible thing, and how when people are really engaged with something that they like, they will find ways to obsess about it. He also is the master of making viral videos/files, which is a useful skill to have for doing radio and promoting your station/show.
2:00 - How to Pay For It - Yancey Strickler, Christina Xu, Jeff Tammes. Moderator: Rebecca Gates
Yancey Strickler (from Kickstarter) and Christina Xu (from Awesome Foundation, yes that's their name) had fundraising ideas that were more geared towards smaller groups, or for one-instance projects, rather than long-running radio stations that need a consistent amount of funding. Perhaps what they were saying was useful to other people at the conference, but I didn't take much away from it in conjunction with WCBN, but rather for future personal use if I may need it. Despite that though, Christina Xu in particular was very eloquent, and a lot of things that she said resonated with everyone at the conference.
The only ideas that I really got to help WCBN were these:
- Make relationships with people with deep pockets
- Make relationships on a local level
- ANYONE can launch a project if they want
- Technology empowerment
- Be capable of convincing people of your cause
- Find friends to help
- Be able to articulate your ideas to rally people
- Be true to what you do and who your fans are
- Important to have mentors and peers to bounce ideas and frustrations off of
- Find out where there is a void, and how you can fill it
This break was relatively short, but I decided to walk over to a woman sitting by herself looking very nice in a blue suit. I asked her if she was with a radio station, or if not what she did. Turns out that she works for Google, and that she had just come in during the Andy Baio presentation. She said that was was especially excited about the Brooke Gladstone presentation, and that she was here to research Google's use of radio for advertisements.
She also was interested in knowing my opinion about internet radio like Pandora, or alternative radio like Sirius or XM. Although this may be blasphemous as a DJ, I admitted that I used to listen to Pandora a lot, and retrospectively I remember now that I used to listen to XM quite a lot, because my dad bought me an XM radio for the house because I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Although I'm a bigger proponent of local radio, I definitely see the use for Pandora, Last.fm, Grooveshark, what-have-you, and still use each of them intermittently when I'm looking for music in a specific way, whether by artist, genre, or specific style like with Pandora. It's all a matter of what you want at the time, and the internet has so many possibilities. Unfortunately, most people use ONLY Pandora, or ONLY Last.fm for their music radio needs, which definitely needs to be remedied.
Anyway, it was great talking to her, because it put radio in the context of the internet in general, which is a truly universal concept. In a way this set up perfectly for the next couple of panels, which were specifically about using the internet to expand the concept of radio.
3:15 - Kenneth Goldsmith (aka Kenny G)
Kenneth Goldsmith had quite a bit to say in a short amount of time, and a few controversial statements that WCBN DJs continued to think about into the week. One of the main things that really shook everyone was that music has to be shared and digitized. He doesn't care about objects at all like he used to, and wants to make the music have its own existence and live in the internet. He is more interested in the hunt rather than the prey, and believes that moving information is more interesting than the actual thing now. As a performer, this really tore me down a bit, because it means that pushing and moving files is better than listening to an actual file of a performance, but the interesting conclusion that I came to is that the moving of files really is important, because that means that someone WILL listen to it at some point, just maybe not as immediately as you want or expect. Perhaps only a few people would listen to a file immediately if I posted on my blog, but if the file gets moved across the globe, then someone in Algeria can listen to it. HOW COOL IS THAT?! I wouldn't be able to know how to push my own file there, but the internet finds its ways, and it's beautiful.
He also mentioned that radio is a beautiful filter for music, because now that he is in the business of uploading obscure files to the internet (ala Ubu), he has too many files and cannot listen to them all. He wouldn't even know where to start. But radio is great because someone else is structuring what you listen to, so that you can really just enjoy the experience, rather than going through files that you might not even like.
3:30 - The Future - Ken Freedman, Jake Shapiro, Kara Oehler, and Glenn Otis Brown. Moderator: Benjamen Walker
This was absolutely the most involved panel out of the entire conference, and I think the culmination of all of the ideas that had been building up throughout the day, which was really great planning on Benjamen Walker's part. This panel was composed of Ken Freedman (general manager of WFMU), Kara Oehler (Zeega), Jake Shapiro (PRX), and Glenn Brown (Twitter). There is a long list of things that were valuable about this panel, so I'm just going to dive right in.
Ken Freedman mostly talked about how he engages his audience when he DJs. He has a database of pictures which he updates pretty much every day, and adds tags to each picture. So then when he is updating his live playlist, he also attaches a picture, and very often a .gif that is in the rhythm of the song. He also has a live chat that is open for his 3-hour set, so that his listeners can engage each other as well. I recently participated in one, and it was a lot of fun, and I can easily see how this would build up a community/fanbase very quickly. He also talked about his non-listening listeners which can participate this way.
Glen Brown had a lot of interesting things to say, and especially with the psychology/philosophy behind Twitter. He said that People will always gather around something, and that people always want to share spectacle. It's like when you hear something on the radio and call a friend to tell them to turn it on. Except now we're using the internet to tell people to turn on their radios. He also said to offer 3 things on your show: spontaneity, organization, and artfulness. These will attract your audience, and will make it easy for your audience to stay engaged. An important idea is also that no one invites someone to tweet something: they do it on their own accord. You have to have something worth sharing to make it worth it.
Kara Oehler is behind the Zeega project (which was one of the workshops on the Hack Day that we didn't get to attend), and she had a really interesting perspective on the topic, because she is a documentary filmmaker. She created a project called "Making Main St." which reached out to all kinds of different people and invited them to create their own documentary experience through photos and video. Zeega is similar in that it's an open source way to create documentaries, and in a very freeform sort of way. For example, she showed us a little sticker that you put on the outside of a building, and when you call a certain number, you can hear a loop of a recording of the inside of the building. SO COOL! That's called the Fermata Project.
Jake Shapiro was from PRX (Public Radio Exchange), and he told us about the concept behind PRX, and that it was established with the notion of how you would make radio now in the present, with all available facilities. It's a combination of national and local level radio, and connects them very fluidly by sharing content. He also mentioned their mobile app, and showd us a video of how it worked, and how a lot of radio stations are starting to make mobile apps to engage their listeners. The interesting thing is that you can't just make an app with a link to your website anymore, or with just your live stream. You have to have some sort of valuable content to share. A good example of this was KCRW's mobile app.
Benjamin Walker, who organized Radiovision, had a lot to say about the podcast revolution and how it gives a lot of chance for people to hear radio, but what the internet lacks is LIVE radio. WFMU is a good split between live and on-demand audio. He also talked about Soundcloud and how it gives users a chance to comment at specific moments, which is so helpful, and how to use the listening community to preserve that.
An idea that was thrown around that I like was the metaphor of a DJ being a party host. Everything you need to be a good host is what you need to be a DJ, because it's like you're hosting a listening party. There was also the question of what do you want to get from people to help you tell a story? Must it be surprising? And a lot of times as a DJ you are not in control of what your listeners think and feel, and you have to be OK with that. Another big question was how local radio fit into the picture. It was concluded that local radio allows for a more specific fit so that listeners can hear their stories being reflected through their station. The future involves storytellers. It can be a distinctive connection, and ties the physical community to the virtual community to have a local station involving and trying to relate to its listeners. And also, being commmitted to local listeners isn't lost to listeners outside of your local arena. An example that was made was when WFMU did an easter egg hunt around New Jersey. Despite it being a very locally driven event, a lot of international listeners were excited about it as well, thus proof that keeping local doesn't really alienate audiences.
4:30 - Break 3
Honestly, I think that I went to the bathroom for the first time all day during this break, and thus nothing interesting happened and I talked to no one. Sorry if that was TMI. No I'm not.
4:45 - Brooke Gladstone
For this presentation, Brooke Gladstone, a co-host and managing editor for 'On The Media', came to talk about her comic that she wrote called 'The Influencing Machine'. She talked about how respect for the media is in decline and how the media is criticized when they aren't covering something enough. She said it has to do with how the media is a mirror of what we care about (or tries to be), and so if the media isn't reflecting that well, the people will get upset. Another thing she mentioned is that sometimes the people that we know the least will be the people to throw you things you didn't expect, and that cartoons are like radio in the way that they make an intimate connection, which is something we desperately need. One thought that really caught me is that "pictures are sticky" and even if radio is successful, it helps to have associated content with it.
5:00 - Keynote: The Best Party Jón Gnarr and Heiða Helgadóttir. Moderator: Bronwyn Carlton
The keynote speech was definitely one of the best moments of the entire conference, and a beautiful way to cap off the discussions of the day. Jón Gnarr is the current mayor of Reykjavík, Iceland, and was elected after forming a satirical and anarchical party known as "The Best Party." Oh, and also, he's a former comedian and actor. His philosophy and religion, he says, is based off of humour, comedy, and nonsense. He tries to keep things as simple as possible, and reacts to other politicians radically different than they do to him. If someone says that he is stupid, inadequate, a joke, whatever, he simply says, "I'm sorry you feel that way, I do not feel the same about you." And his only campaign promise was this: "We will break all of our campaign promises."
Jón sees comedy as a sign of intelligence, and makes pure decisions because he has nothing to lose. He really doesn't care if he gets elected again, but wants to at least make a difference while he's in office. He also believes that everyone has a sense of fairness. He prides himself in knowing that no one has quit working for him once they started. He loves his country, and wants to work hard for it. He doesn't understand why you can't just elect good people into office, and why there are so many corrupt politicians in the world still. He thinks it may be a matter of people just not caring, and not participating. Jon makes a difference in this by participating with his community. He even led the gay pride parade in drag this year! A major thing he said is this: he is OK with failing, because that only means that someone will do better later. IF ONLY everyone could understand this. And he also believes that politicians now don't know how to deal with love or humour, and so he usees that to his advantage.
Something that Brooke Gladstone said to him was that she believes that his philosophy of nonsense is actually a very pure form of idealism, but that you can't overanalyze, otherwise it becomes tainted, just like a joke that is analyzed. After listening to him speak, I had an overwhelming love for this man, and overwhelming optimism for the world after speaking to him.
Although I got to do a lot of stuff at the concert, I still have a few regrets, some of which I couldn't really control. For one, I wish I just had more time to talk to people and get a sense of the people there. Although I talked to the Princeton crew, the Yale kids, and a few professionals, as well as the panelists, I would have loved to chat with some more of the WFMU folk, since we really do the same thing, but on a smaller, student level. One of my favorite DJs that I mentioned before, Liz Berg, was apparently there, but I didn't get to meet her.
So there you go folks. It took me long enough to cover, but I loved every minute of it, and I really think that WCBN is going to benefit from the ideas that came out of this. I also hope that you as a listener will be able to take something away from this, because I think that a lot of the ideas that were spread in this conference are highly applicable to all walks of life.