The art of being ‘subtle’.
In many ways, it’s a dying art-form. In some respects, we have a tendency to go right for the jugular. We have a tendency to say exactly how we feel at any given time, and we sometimes shrug off the consequences.
Growing up as fan of ‘rock’, I, like many fans, came to expect a certain brashness, a certain tendency towards ‘living loud’. It’s what we expected from our rock-star heroes. From Mick Jagger to Lou Reed. From Janis Joplin to Stevie Nicks. From Ted Nugent to Axel Rose. I liked Pete Townshend’s giant wind-mill chords. I marveled at Freddie Mercury’s vocal gymnastics. I couldn’t get enough of Bruce Springsteen jumping off of a piano midway through his 4th hour of a show!
But I also appreciated a more under-stated approach, too. I recall seeing Dave Mason at a small venue in Canton, Ohio. He basically walked out on stage with an acoustic guitar, sat on a stool, and spent most of the evening rolling through a catalogue of songs with one spotlight on him. It was a powerful performance. I recall walking away feeling…rejuvenated. I couldn’t explain exactly how I felt. It was a different rock ‘n roll experience, all from an artist who was way on the back-end of a career both recording and touring.
This is not to surmise that the under-stated rock performance needs to be quiet and low-key, necessarily. But I think it points to a style that is less about theatrics and more about appearing slightly toned-down, much more focused on the music. (Let’s face it…some of the Aerosmith shows of the late 70’s and 80’s didn’t sound all that good, but the rock stars performing in front of us certainly put on a good ‘show’!)
I think it’s why this ‘Triple A’ format appeals to me so much. I think if you talked to the movers and shakers, the philosophers, of the format, I think you’d probably find that the term ‘adult album alternative’ is one that has almost been cast aside. This vernacular helped to explain the various derivations of this rock format, but I would contend that the label has gone through a number of changes and alterations.
I mean, the Black Keys were once considered ‘darlings’ of the Triple A format. But, after all these years of success, aren’t they simply a rock band? The same might be said of Cage the Elephant, Brandi Carlile, or Alabama Shakes. My point is….combine these core artists with some carefully selected tunes from Tom Petty, REM, or U2, and you have a very different-sounding rock station.
And, depending on where you live in the country, pepper in some jazz-tinged music, perhaps some bluegrass, a dollop of rockabilly, and a focus on local Americana artists, and now you have a radio station that shows off its texture and diversity in many ways.
The challenge, as I see it, for these Triple A stations is how to brand the station between the artists. I think it’s a not-so-difficult concept to get a group of musicologists together to try to determine playlists and rotations based on the eccentricities of any individual market. The more challenging task, I think, is what to say between those carefully-selected tunes. And I think that’s where I feel like I can play a role in this very diverse, very enjoyable format.
Remember that word ‘subtle’? I think it plays a role here.
Branding a 90’s-leaning alternative rock station will almost always include a brash underbelly, a sense of humor, and a penchant for being loud. (depending on the market). But implementing an imaging game-plan for a Triple-A relies on texture, relate-ability, and a connection to its community. This is where I think the Triple A format shines. It’s the format’s ‘wheel-house’, for want of a better word. And as someone who has written imaging liners and promos, produced them, and, of course, voiced them, I feel a special bond for it.
I love Triple A’s commitment and dedication to local artists and causes. I admire its penchant for intermingling with green initiatives. And I really support its respect for promoting live music. In short, I love everything about the format!
What I particularly enjoy, though, is the challenge of finding that subtle grace, that sweet-spot, where ‘cause’ and ‘community’, and ‘purpose’ come together under the umbrella of a rock station. Whether it’s a commercial enterprise or a non-commercial venture, I champion this mixture of old and new, tradition and ‘current’. It speaks to the health of the format, and I believe that the Triple A genre is going to be one of the formats that re-energizes radio broadcasting.
If you’re invested in this Triple A format, I’d love to go on the journey with you!