All Indie Rock Considered?
by Bob Boilen
That's the subject heading of an email I received recently from a listener. As I began to write a response, it occurred to me that this was a good opportunity to talk to a larger audience about the music we play on All Songs Considered, and how we pick what we pick.
Producer Robin Hilton and I approach the show as music fans. Much of what we play on All Songs Considered we play simply because we love it. We tend not to cover music we don't like. Our tastes in music are wide-ranging on one hand, but we admittedly don't love everything. To broaden the music we put on the show, we invite others to play DJ. This week's show featured Kyp Malone from TV on the Radio. He played music by a band from the Western Sahara, a New Zealand-based noise rock group and Kermit the Frog among others.
Two weeks ago, I invited WBGO's jazz host Josh Jackson to keep us all in touch with music he's been excited about. Last week, I was at CMJ and covered a number of bands that fall into the "Indie Rock" category (which I think covers a wide range of music, but more on that in a minute), and on the same show we covered a contemporary classical violinist and an exciting hip-hop artist named Kid Cudi.
I'd never say that we cover all songs on the show any more than All Things Considered covers all news items, or ABC World News covers the world. We do cover a lot of ground, but, of course, it's impossible to cover everything.
Robin and I receive hundreds of CDs a week. We toss all press releases in the recycle bin and we try to come to what we love honestly. I won't fake what I do when I host the show. I tend to play music that speaks to me, and so my lack of love for hip-hop, country, classical and metal, stand out as big holes in our coverage. With the exception of classical, those genres tend to sell the best and get covered by traditional media and radio the most, especially hip-hop and country music. And while I can find all of that music on my local radio dial, including jazz, gospel and Latin, nowhere can I hear The Low Anthem, Bill Frisell, Anoushka Shankar, Taken by Trees or even Bon Iver.
Though the Indie rock world thinks of someone like Andrew Bird as a big artist, the musical world he inhabits is tiny compared to any good-selling hip-hop or country artist.
I'm also thinking about the categorization of music in general. There is something to be said for naming a style of music, but too often it seems to just make it easier for people to dismiss it entirely. So Indie rock might be stereotyped in your mind as one kind of music, but to others, it's as diverse as M.I.A. and Iron and Wine. Those two artists alone have elements of so many different styles of music. So I may play something considered Indie, but really The Be Good Tanyas were probably more down home and country than the best-selling country act.
All that said, the most important mission for All Songs Considered, as we complete our 10th year, has been (and will always be) to turn people on to good, new music, give it some context, find some old gems and do it in a way that informs and entertains. It's a mission that informs all of NPR Music, and as a Web site, has a broader scope then just this one show.
We don't do it all, and we are nowhere near perfect. But as I look back at a decade of All Songs Considered shows, it's a pretty eclectic mix, From Bix Beiderbecke to LCD Soundsystem, from Amadou and Mariam to Art Brut.
But what do you think? What would you like from All Songs Considered in the in the coming years?
3:55 PM ET | 11- 3-2009 | permalink