the genesis of the whole thing
I attended the University of Hartford and studied Mass Communication.
When I got there as a dumbass 17-year-0ld, I wanted to go into the radio business. I loved music – all kinds of music (still do, obviously) – and loved the idea of getting on the radio and playing music for people. At the University there were two radio stations – one, a “traditional” college radio station that accepted community volunteers and had paid management, and another, a student-run campus-only station. I joined WSAM, the student-run station, and found a home there for the next four years.
In my second year, some of the students began to believe that the station would be better served by focusing mainly on independent and non-mainstream music. As a small station that very few people listened to, it made no sense to be playing the same music you could hear on commercial radio. Plus, the deeper we got involved in noncommercial music, the more we liked it. So we went before the before the station membership, and again before the student government, and stated our case – and switched the station to a non-mainstream format that was sort of a cross between block programming and a free-form alternative station.
It was an exciting time, being at the helm of a brand-new, indie-friendly station. We were pretty creative about our programming (and our parties), and by my senior year we were winning broadcasting awards for our format, increasing the membership to the point where we could broadcast 24 hours a day, and expanding our footprint across the campus. We had a nice little clique of very cool people that spent entire days at the station, talking music and politics, drinking beer, and listening to new music every day. In reality we weren’t really doing much, but we felt like we were, which, when you’re 19, is all that matters.
About the same time, I started to realize that the business of radio had nothing whatsoever to do with music. In the radio business, music is just a convenient thing to keep people listening long enough to hear a few more commercials. The days of DJs spinning records they liked for thousands of eager listeners are long gone, and the days of astute program directors building an exciting musical format are even longer gone, as most of that stuff is handled by consultants and focus groups.
So I lost my desire to be involved with radio in any capacity.
Around the same time, I took an internship with a Hartford-based micro-indie called Turn of the Century Records. TOTC was run by three guys who seemed to be pretty well-involved in the local music scene. I did a little radio promo with them, helped them maintain their mailing list, drove record consignments around to stores for them. By that time I had gotten pretty snobby with my taste in rock, so there weren’t actually any bands on the label that I liked, but the guys who ran it were cool, and I was getting a view into another aspect of music that I sort of enjoyed.
This was about the same time that bands that were traditionally known as indie label bands were starting to jump to major labels in a feeding frenzy. I don’t remember if it started with Sonic Youth or Helmet, but pretty soon they started dropping like flies, and almost as quickly as their major label debuts failed, the bands broke up. I read an interview with Mike Watt where he explained that the key to surviving on a major label was not to take their money. Don’t take an advance. No fancy tour bus. Cover your own recording costs. Then you could survive. To me, it just seemed like a big trap.
Anyway, the record label thing seemed like it might be fun. Not, you know, working as a radio whore for Mariah Carey or something, but working with decent bands, trying to bring them to larger numbers of people. It was, essentially, the same thing I wanted to do as a 16-year-old kid with designs on being a DJ, and since I was, of course, such a hipster, I’d have no problem strolling into the record label of my choice, sitting down with the owner, and getting a job in A&R or college promo or something like that.
So I decided that’s what I was going to do – work at a record label.