The life of a CD


By Bob Gass

Ever wonder where magazines come up with their “next big thing” or

“bands to look for” articles, most of which tend to be filled with some sort of underground music? Mainstream music, at least to some point, tends to follow a pattern of picking up college acts a few years after they start gaining their initial interest.

Many bands have been privy to these phenomena, like U2 and R.E.M., along with current acts like Jimmy Eat World and Thursday. So where does it all begin?

College radio has a number of promotion teams that work independent music to them. Most major record labels also have a college department to promote the not-so-mainstream bands they have on their labels. The people who work in these departments tend to be recent college graduates working to get their feet in the door. Many of these spent their time in college in a radio station as DJs or maybe even as music directors.

So how do they decide which CDs get from them to college radio?

“The radio department listens to it together and we go over what we like or dislike about it,” said Helen Charles of Team Clearmont. “If a majority of us like it and we think we can do a good job with it, we’ll book it.”

From there it gets tricky. Hundreds of college radio stations across the country all adhere to different formats, which makes for a long, hard job of promoting CDs to music directors.

“I don’t think ‘hyping’ is really the term that I would use,” said Matt Kleinschmidt from the Syndicate. “My main job is to act as a mentor to m[usic] d[irector]s at stations I talk to. Hype and [CMJ] chart position do not sell records.”

Most of the bands worked are near-unknowns who tour and use college radio as outlets to get their names out and build a fan base; besides word of mouth, this is the biggest way for bands to become popular. The key is to develop an artist so that by the time a second record is released, there are people who are interested enough to get it.

The music director plays the role of getting their DJs interested in music. The DJs then interest their listeners and create fans. Once all of this occurs for any given band, a certain wave begins. This may mean the band will start doing more shows, selling more CDs than usual for an independent artist or, in some cases, create big enough responses to bump the band from a small label to a major label and start receiving mainstream airplay.


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