I worked in radio for decades, finally (I think) retiring in 2019. These thoughts are from 2015.
I am a crusher of dreams and ambitions. Or at least I try to be. Unfortunately I am not always successful.
I’m the guy people come to when they are trying to get established, the guy who tells them whether their song will be heard on the airwaves or not. I’m the guy who says no.
In most of the radio industry the music director doesn’t have to deal with musicians, but I have spent most of my career in Christian radio, where there is more flexibility for individual stations and less emphasis on playing only what corporate America dictates. Yes, the internet has democratized music to some extent, but the major companies still hold sway over what your favorite radio station plays. Lady Gaga is an industry creation, not an internet groundswell. For most pop stations, if it doesn’t come from a major record label you aren’t going to hear it on air.
Working in Christian radio has led me to believe that Christians are too nice. When Johnny or Sally decides they want to be a singer, everyone in their family, their friends and their church is encouraging. You don’t want to be unkind to the poor kid, even if you think they sound like an out of tune bagpipe scraping across a blackboard. So they go through pre-teen, teen and young adulthood dreaming of a career in music. Then they meet me.
It used to be that a lot of people with no talent was screened out by limited means. Most aspiring musicians, especially those lacking in talent, didn’t have the financial resources necessary to make a record, even a one or two song demo. Software and computers have made the home recording studio available to everyone, with a much reduced cost. Unfortunately, just because you can make a record doesn’t mean you should.
The reaction when I say that is typically one of absolute shock. This “musicians” have never before heard a negative word about their talent. And while I maintain I am just being honest, to them it’s a negative.
Frequently they don’t hear me. I remember one musician that I was letting down gently. I told him his album just wasn’t good enough, but tried to be encouraging. He had told me that on his next project he would be working with a well-known producer. That, I said, I would be interested in hearing. As he left I heard him telling one of my announcers that I had really liked his music and the station would be playing it. We never played his music, and I never received his follow-up project with the well-known producer.
I still remember the woman who sent me an album in which her vocals were off-key on each and every song. Listening was painful. She didn’t hear it and her friends weren’t about to tell her. More than a decade later I still shudder at the thought.
If you are an aspiring musician, remember that your family and friends love you. They may be the most truthful people in the world, but the odds are they are lying to you about your musical talent as they don’t want to hurt your feelings. If you want an honest opinion you need to find someone like me, but you have to be willing to accept what may sound like a brutal critique. And please, no matter how many people have told you that you are going to be a big star, don’t quit your day job.