Monday, January 15, 2007

Managing your Music Library - Part One

I was at a small, 100% student-run radio station this weekend, and chatting with the general manager (GM) about their music library. Specifically, what to do about it since it's rapidly growing.

This is a problem I see at a lot of college radio stations around here. There's no easy way of dealing with it, either. But I think a greater problem is that many stations seem to be in outright denial that it's a problem in the first place.

I can understand that. Having a lot of music for your DJ's to choose from certainly isn't a bad thing. And if there's one thing that describes a good college radio DJ, it's passion. Passion also isn't a bad thing, either. But passion prevents objectivity, and objectivity is a requirement for any system, and a system is what you need to deal with incoming music.

And yes, you do need a system. Why? Simple physics, my friends. You've got space for your radio station, and it's a given amount. If you've got CD's (and LP's) coming in the door, and not going out, sooner or later you're going to fill that given amount.

It's gotten worse in recent years as it's become much easier & cheaper for bands (and small labels) to produce their own CD's and target who they mail them to. The upshot is that where college radio stations used to have perhaps a dozen or two CD's coming in each week, now they have hundreds.

And, of course, many college radio outlets have drifted more and more to the "freeform" style of programming. Not necessarily true "freeform"...where you've got DJ's bouncing from genre to genre with every track. But definitely where you've got wildly differing genres between each DJ, and each DJ might have a single 2-4 hour show each week. That ends up covering a lot of genres!

More often than you'd think, I've seen stations go to great lengths to keep accommodating incoming music. Up to including spending almost forty thousand to install rolling shelves or high-density CD dressers in their music library. While those suckers are cool, they don't solve the problem; eventually you're going to fill them. And they're expensive.

Worse still, if you just keep sacrificing physical space to store your music, eventually you're going to start affecting other parts of your overall operation. Some of the ways this can adversely affect your station are very concrete...such as reduction of storage for promotions swag, remote gear, and spare engineering equipment. Others are more intangible but equally important, like a reduction in workspace for your staff...which can affect staff productivity & morale.

So your options basically boil down to these:
  1. Do nothing and just keep finding new ways to store the music.
  2. Change your programming format so you only need to store less music.
  3. Figure out a system for regularly purging music...whether new or keep the total number of CD's to a stable level.
  4. Figure out a way to store music in a different format (i.e. computer-based) that requires less physical space.
Each of these four options (or a combination of them) has distinct pluses and minuses, and rarely will any option make everyone happy. We'll discuss those pluses and minuses in Part Two of "Managing your Music Library".

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