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Santa Monica public radio station KCRW is known around Southern California as an ally on the radio dial to music fans and creators alike. Across the world and on the Internet, there are few places one can turn for such thoughtful programming that shows an investment in contemporary music. And as an embodiment of this ethos, KCRW has a longstanding tradition of accepting unsolicited submissions from any band, giving each a listen and chance to find a home in the station’s expansive music archives.
Now, with the introduction of KCRW’s new digital music-submission system called Malcolm, the radio station has opened its submission format even more by eliminating any physical component. The first of its kind, Malcolm allows artists to create and submit profiles with songs and biography information, while allowing DJs to share music within the interface, essentially speeding up the whole process. KCRW gets 150-200 CD submissions a week, according to its music librarian Eric Lawrence, and this is an attempt for to keep up with that constant supply.
“I see it really in this way of celebrating artistic expression,” said Jennifer Ferro, KCRW’s general manager. “I think that when people make music — whether it’s well received or not, whether people love it or don’t like it — there’s something about the act of making something where you really want to share it, you want someone to share it and experience it. I mean, whether you’re baking a pie or making music. I love that we’re a place that knows that and wants to be the audience for that kind of creativity.”
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Ferro about the development of this new submission system and what it might mean for KCRW’s future.
The Hollywood Reporter: Where did this idea come from and why? What’s the impetus behind setting up a system where anyone can submit his or her music for the radio station?
Jennifer Ferro: We’ve always taken unsolicited submissions, and when I started this gig a couple years ago, I just started taking all these people on tours of our studios. One fun part of the tours was walking through the music library, where we have our music librarian, Eric J. Lawrence, in a corner and it sort of looks like “Hoarders the music version.” And so I was taking one of my board members through — he’s at Demand Media, which is a new-media company — and I’m like, “We get all these submissions, and they’re all on CD lined up against the wall.” And he’s like: “Why don’t you digitize this? You guys should do this digitally, and then this whole oyster of opportunities could open up for you guys.” I started thinking, “Oh my God, why aren’t we doing this digitally?” And that was the beginning. Then another person I met recently was this woman who represents a lot of independent artists. We did the tour thing, I took her through the library, and she told me: “You guys are like this beacon for these artists who are just trying to be heard. They make this music, they want someone to hear it, and you guys actually will listen.” And I realized in this whole different dimension what that means. You know we’ve always been about celebrating artists. We celebrate and care for artists that may not even make it on our airwaves. We love the fact that we’re here as part of this community, that is a place that artists can land. I thought that was such a powerful concept, so we just set about to make an investment into making this online submission system really easy and accessible.
And of course, in today’s world ,who uses CDs anymore? Very few people. So we just thought it would be a great way to get more artists involved. We’ll see where it takes us next. I could see a whole community around the submissions that may or may not have anything to do with what we play on KCRW, and there’s something really powerful about that too.
THR: What do you envision for Malcolm in the future?
Ferro: What I’d love is that we develop this community of people who — whether they’re artists or people who write about music, ultimately there’s going to be influencers because people who participate in the KCRW universe ultimately do have influence — help out, either guiding artists and saying, “Why don’t you try doing it this way?” or, “Here’s a different outlet for you guys” and, “Here’s a way to get your music heard,” or, “I’ll write about you because I heard this song through this submission system.” Or even other artists collaborating with other artists, saying, “Hey, I checked you out on the system.” None of this is really what’s happening right now, but it’s the logical next step in this. Really, it’s just a question of opening the restrictions a little bit and letting people hear things that are being submitted now. So, I like that idea. We don’t think of ourselves as a radio station at KCRW. We’re this place for ideas and thoughts that celebrates creativity and artistry. And so when you look at yourself like that, whether or not someone’s music actually makes it to some DJ’s show — that’s one great aspect — there’s another aspect, which is really the community of people that we attract together who could share and discover this music as well. I think it’s kind of what’s going on in music right now anyway. But except for KCRW and some other public radio stations, there’s not really a lot of music discovery going on on the radio.
THR: Looking at this now, today, will people be going through these submissions? Will DJs be going through them?
Ferro: Yes, and it’s easier than ever now to do that. So now part of the system is that artists can select particular DJs that they want to listen. But all of them, regardless, will be listened to by DJs. And what’s great about the system now because it can be accessed from anywhere. You can do it on a phone on our end, on the backend, you can share music very easily with other DJs, so certain DJs who are listening submissions can just easily send them to other DJs, “Hey, you got to check this out; I know you’re working with this other artist, maybe they should meet each other.” All that stuff can happen really easily now.
THR: Is it true that KCRW listens to all its musical submissions, and will that still be true when you open up your services even more like this?
Ferro: Eventually, yes, everything gets listened to but it may not get listened to for the entire length of the demo. That’s another great thing about this system, that we cap it at three songs per artist. And that’s not per time, that’s it — three songs — meaning that you could go through and you’d remove a couple songs for consideration before you can add a couple more. Because it will be impossible for us to listen to a full hourlong demo or something like that. But, yeah, before it just took a very long time, but everything got some ears for sure. Now, we’re going to be able to do it just a lot faster and will be able to share the load.
What is interesting is that when you submit your music, you’re releasing your rights to that particular music for us to be able to listen to it and share it with other DJs. And it’s kind of nice to think of about a library constructed of granted rights access, so the potential of sharing it to other people is pretty high. That’s the thing that excites me the most. My ultimate dream, which is impossible in this particular set of legal circumstances, but what I would love is to be able to put our entire music library online for all of our members or listeners to be able to check out. I think that would be amazing to have that universe of music at your fingertips, and even with DJ notes and links to other artists to see where the influences are from. It could be like a real library.
THR: And then the users would get an experience almost the same to what one of your DJs actually does.
Ferro: Exactly. Because we represent so many different genres and so many different periods of history over these last 30 years, and if you just really wanted to go dive in to Cuban music or some African genre, you could from our library. I mean, you can do that if you walk in to our library; it would be great to be able to do that in the online space.
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