In 1995, I was running a rock and roll radio station in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was different than any radio station I’d heard in America. We played Little Richard, Green Day, The Goo Goo Dolls, Gin Blossoms, Nirvana, Chuck Berry, The Beatles, and Crash Test Dummies. It was an eclectic mix of just about anything that loosely fell under the rock umbrella.
Russia had not been exposed to rock music the same way I had been growing up and it made me realize something…
Broadcasting Or Narrowcasting?
We hear the term “broadcast” but radio in America is mostly “narrowcast.” Radio stations generally go after specific demographics and have playlists that tightly match those demographics. Here are some examples of radio station demographics; Album Rock for men, ages 25 – 44, top-40 for teens – 24, Adult Contemporary for women 25 – 54 etc. It’s tight playlists aimed at specific groups.
The upshot is that when listening to those stations, we’re not likely to get exposed to a wide range of music. The term “top-40” means only 40 songs are in rotation at a given time. And there are many stations who have an even smaller list of songs in “hot rotation.”
That’s How I Became A Music Snob
And most of the time after the late ’60s (when you could hear R&B, Motown hits played next to rock songs), that tightly formatted, narrowcast music was what I heard. I was being funneled down a path without even realizing it. I listened to what my friends listened to. We knew all the same songs. We didn’t hang out with the people who didn’t like our music and they didn’t hang out with us. In fact, we all looked down on people that listened to different types of music. I was a music snob.
In Russia, It Was Different
But in Russia, they had none of that kind of brainwashing. Having not had to opportunity to listen to much rock and roll, they were just glad to hear it! They were fine listening to Meatloaf, then Soundgarden, then 38 Special. And I grew to love it too. So much so, that when I returned to the US, I wondered of the format would go over here (within a few years, Jack FM was doing exactly that).
But one time, one of my DJs went too far. She played Tie A Yellow Ribbon by Tony Orlando and Dawn.
Tony Orlando and Frickin’ Dawn????????!!!!!!
Not on my rock and roll radio station!
I sat down to have a talk with her. I explained that Tony Orlando and Dawn were a schlocky group in my opinion. Tony Orlando wore either what looked like nylon leisure suits or rhinestone studded bad elvis type outfits. He looked like everything bad about Las Vegas. She said that since no one in Russia had seen those videos, it didn’t matter. Point taken.
I told her that the song was pretty cheesy. It was a about a prisoner who’s coming home and doesn’t know if the woman he loves still wants to be with him. Her signal is to tie a yellow ribbon around an old oak tree is she still wants him. When he gets home there are hundreds of yellow ribbons. She said that sounds like a nice story. Point taken. She also mentioned it had a nice melody.
She made me realize that every objection I had to the song was due to my prejudices and had little to do with what your average Russian might feel when they heard the song. She made me realize I was a music snob.
Here’s the truth…
Tie A Yellow Ribbon is a really good song. Listen to it. It has a catchy melody and the story reaches right in and grabs your heart. We’ve all been in situations where we’re feeling insecure about a relationship. This takes that scenario and amplifies it. It’s a bit of a tear-jerker, if you pay attention.
It’s All About The Song
And today, I do my best to take that lesson to heart. When I write music, I don’t care so much about what the song ends up like stylistically. I’ve written songs that sound country, latin, speed metal and pop. My stuff has been compared to everything from Neil Diamond to Blue Öyster Cult, to Minus The Bear, to Graham Nash. I’m flattered by all of those comparisons. I don’t care who it sounds like, or if it sounds like anyone. It’s all about the song.
The other thing I try to do is not judge music by the genre or by what surrounds it. A song isn’t necessarily better because it’s serious or performed by an unknown artist. Grunge is not any more “real” than pop. It’s all about the individual song, to me. Does it affect me emotionally? Is it well-crafted? It’s the song.
I do my best to create songs that are meaningful to me. Sometimes, they’re even meaningful to other people.