If the real thing don't do the trick
December 3, 2009 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Just curious-filter: Who chooses music for talk radio, and how do they do it?

On the big NPR shows, there will always be a piece of out music after an interview or report. I'm curious about who chooses it, and how - sometimes it makes (perhaps dubious) sense with the context of the piece (i.e., the opening bars of "Barracuda" after a piece about Sarah Palin), and you'd think it was selected ahead of time and planned for, but occasionally it indicates some fast footwork on someone's part - this is a silly example, but a few weeks ago a commentator used the word "beshert" at the end of a piece that had nothing to do with Judaism or Yiddish or anything remotely related, and the out music was, bizarrely, a snippet from Yentl. Weird! Is it just some associate producer with a sense of silly humor? Who's involved in making that call?

Larger question - how does music, er, work in a format like this? Do radio stations have huge libraries of music available at all times that they have the rights to play? Or does someone need to think of something and then chase it down?
posted by peachfuzz to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
NPR's All Songs Considered (part of NPR Music) selects the music used for the All Things Considered radio program.

A few years ago there was an interview with one of the people who selects music for the segments. I'll see if I can find it...
posted by ericb at 11:15 AM on December 3, 2009

"At first, the [All Songs Considered] featured information and streaming audio about the songs used as bumper music on All Things Considered. The program has turned into a source of discovery for new music of all genres. "*
posted by ericb at 11:18 AM on December 3, 2009

Best answer:
“National Public Radio has quietly inaugurated its first Internet-only radio program.

‘All Songs Considered,’ available in a streaming audio format from the show's Web site (www.npr.org/programs/asc), features full-length versions of the brief musical excerpts heard between segments on NPR's ‘All Things Considered’ news magaine.

Although NPR makes some of its on-air shows available through its Web site, the leap by a major radio organization into Internet-only programming helps validate the concept of using the Web to ‘narrow-cast’ to a smaller listener base.

Bob Boilen serves as the disc jockey for ‘All Songs Considered.’ The first hourlong program made its debut in January, and a second show is due to arrive online later this month. As one of the directors of ‘All Things Considered,’ Mr. Boilen selects the dozen or so musical snippets -- known in the radio industry as ‘buttons’ -- that can be heard on the daily two-hour news program.

Mr. Boilen, who is 46 and has worked at ‘All Things Considered’ for 10 years, said listeners' enthusiastic reactions to the buttons inspired him to start the Web-based show. ‘People are music-starved,’ he said in a telephone interview. ‘They like this music because it's not like music you can hear anywhere else on the radio. We play music from all over the world, and from all different eras.’

….Mr. Boilen and Marika Partridge, the other director of ‘All Things Considered,’ select 60 to 80 buttons each week. The buttons serve as transitions between news stories, help end segments at precise times and sometimes add an emotional or reflective element to a piece. ‘It's the glue that holds the show together,’ Mr. Boilen said.

He picks the day's buttons about 30 minutes before the radio show goes on the air, and Mr. Boilen said his office at the show's studios in Washington had been taken over by 4,000 to 5,000 compact discs. He picks the day's buttons about 30 minutes before the radio show goes on the air. ‘Sometimes a piece of vocal music is too overt’ in its meaning, he said. ‘An instrumental lets you fill in the blanks.’

But the short excerpts can be hard to identify, prompting a daily flood of letters, e-mail messages and phone calls to NPR and its 600 affiliate stations seeking the identity of a song or artist. Some hum the tunes, others send in chord structures.

Since December 1995, button titles have been listed on NPR's Web site. But because of music-licensing restrictions, the buttons are not played on the Web version of ‘All Things Considered.’ For the new online program, however, the necessary licensing arrangements have been made.

Visitors to the ‘All Songs Considered’ site will find information on each recording and, where possible, a link to the label that issued it. But to avoid the appearance of journalistic impropriety, Mr. Boilen said, the site does not send people to online music vendors.

Mr. Boilen is considering adding multimedia elements to the site, perhaps a montage of photographs submitted by visitors that would appear while a song plays. But for now, the music remains the most important element.

‘I'm passionate about this,’ Boilen said. ‘Each one of these songs is a piece of art. But the way radio is today, this music will never get heard. It's just out there in the wind. I just want to give people a chance to taste it.’”*
posted by ericb at 11:27 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Bob Boilen: The Sound of All Things NPR
“….The music collection in [Boilen’s] office stretches from floor to ceiling, with CD’s wedged tightly together on shelves. It’s quite possible he has too much music, as currently, there are over 700 CD’s just waiting to be listened to.

As director of All Things Considered, one of Boilen’s daily tasks is to choose the music that segues from one story to the next. These passages of music, known at NPR as buttons, are usually submitted by artists with little or no commercial recognition. Boilen communicates the tone of a story through his musical choices which can range from comical to meditative. Even though they account for less than one-twelfth of the two hour slot, their resonance with the audience is apparent. All Things Considered receives more mail about their music than anything else on the program.

‘I read every email we get, and I write back to everybody. It’s a constant conversation that I have every night when I go home with the people who write in to tell me how much they like what we play or ‘how do I find this?’ I’ve been answering mail from All Things Considered since 1989,’says Boilen ‘I know people are looking for this kind of music.’

In contrast to his role as show director, Boilen's musical selection process is pretty simple. He describes his method in the liner notes of the new CD as simply, ‘I listen. If I like it, I try to find a place for it’.

‘Listening is such a small part of what I do for All Things Considered. Most people think its most of what I do. Listening to new submissions is a small tiny window of opportunity I get, and its in my car, its when I wake up in the morning, if I can get in a song or two.’

After receiving countless emails and letters about the music on ATC, Boilen came up with the idea for a new music show that would feature eclectic, yet accessible music. All Songs Considered was originally conceived as a radio show but found its birth as a web broadcast, thanks in part to the introduction of the Internet to American households (Boilen himself is a self-professed ‘tech-nut’).”
posted by ericb at 11:33 AM on December 3, 2009

The host of Marketplace mentioned by name the person who picks the music for that show recently, and I recognized the name as a female producer and occasional contributor, but I can't remember the exact name now.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:40 AM on December 3, 2009

I've noticed something similar with On Point (I listen to WRNI in Rhode Island). Often, after a bunch of men have spent a good portion of the last segment arguing and grandstanding, out comes a snippet of Jim O'Rourke's Women of the World, the entire lyrics of which are: "Women of the world, take over. If you don't the world will come to an end, and it won't take long." What's interesting to me is that it's a fairly little known song, one I wouldn’t expect many people to know if I were selecting a five-second snippet of it to play, so I can't but interpret it as the song-selector's private commentary on the preceding segment. Or it might just be a coincidence and that five-second segment is just something they play at random times.
posted by Kattullus at 11:44 AM on December 3, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, very cool to get the behind the scenes deal!
posted by peachfuzz at 11:46 AM on December 3, 2009

A possibly amusing tag-along: When I was first running Democracy Now! on the college station where I volunteer, I would manually remove the music that was included in the show and add in new music to the station's library. I'd usually pick something instrumental, or at least with lyrics that wouldn't feel incomplete if I used just a snippet.

Democracy Now! doesn't list information for their music selection process (their original selections usually tie into the segment before or after the break).
posted by filthy light thief at 11:58 AM on December 3, 2009

Marketplace has a list of music that they use on the show.

One of the best examples that I remember was a talk radio show using "Jesse's Girl" and "Sorry, Mrs. Jackson" as intro/outro music for a story about Jesse Jackson having a child out of wedlock.
posted by Frank Grimes at 3:55 PM on December 3, 2009

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