The Mathematics of Jazz Radio Programming

Last week in this space, I posted an essay describing the disheartening difficulty in getting independent releases evaluated for jazz radio airplay. The crux of my complaint wasn’t that our nation’s jazz music programmers have bad ears, it was that they don’t use them enough. The main problem is that submissions to the hundreds of disc jockeys who play this kind of music tend to sit for 10-12 weeks unopened and unevaluated. Instead, some of the programmers sell the CDs to second-hand record stores, never giving them a chance to make it on the air.

A few music directors and disc jockeys wrote me to explain how onerous the task is of sifting through the dozens of new releases they get every week to find the gems among the flotsam. There simply isn’t enough time to listen to everything they’re sent.

I remain sympathetic to the labor challenge people in the programming business face. But, despite the claims of impossibility, I think it is possible to evaluate 20 or so releases a week. As the head of a tiny independent record label that many artists mistakenly think can help further their careers, I handle about half that workload in unsolicited submissions — and I reply to everyone who has made the effort to pursue their dream, no matter how fanciful. While we’d all like to listen start-to-finish to everything we get — OK, not everything! — I’ve found that it’s both efficient and effective to spend 10-15 minutes with each release. I can discern in 30 seconds if a vocalist has it (or not). If they do, I continue on. With instrumentalists I need a couple of minutes. The stuff that’s powerful, deep, and affecting continues to play; the rest don’t.

Let’s do the math: Even if you dedicate 15 minutes per release — and I think that’s fairly generous seeing that some of them won’t last beyond 5 minutes — you’re spending only 5 hours a week reviewing discs. If you dedicate 30 minutes per — and that would be an extraordinary average, I think — that’s 10 hours a week. I don’t mean to be impertinent to the professional music directors of America, but 5-10 hours a week isn’t out of line, especially when this is the Music Director’s job. (To listen and evaluate, I mean.)

Letting independent releases sit ignored and unevaluated for 10-12 weeks isn’t sensible. It’s disheartening and discouraging.

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