CAPITAL DISTRICT — During any given week, Jason Keller is sitting in a room with WEQX Program Director Jeff Morand and Music Director Kim Neaton, listening to music.
As the station’s commercial production director, Keller represents one pillar in the triumvirate who decides what artist gets air time, and who doesn’t.
“We joke about New York state government — the three men in the room,” said Keller. “Sometimes I feel like we’re the two guys and the woman in the room.”
The independent radio station has developed a reputation for straying away from Top 40 Billboard climbers and contemporary pop music since it introduced itself to the airways in 1984. WEQX is one of a handful of local stations, outside of college campuses, that takes a chance on local and regional acts. For those artists who earn a virtual audience with the three directors, it’s the first threshold they cross before moving on to something bigger. Keller often calls it a “progression,” and it’s a maturation process in which he has a unique perspective.
“The progression of acts that we hear about,” said Keller, “The Record Company may be the clearest example. We got their music from… Well. Sounds redundant. A record company rep gave us some of their music. We played it. They came in for an interview not too long after that. They played at The Low Beat that night in Albany. I remember going to the show, having a few beers with them. Hanging out with the other music fans, maybe 25, really excited people. Next thing you know, they’re playing a sold out show at The Hollow. Not too long after that they played a couple of killer songs on [The Late Show with Stephen Colbert]. And, now, their most recent date: a good amount of opening slots for John Mayer’s tour.”
The band has since received national recognition, garnering a Grammy nomination earlier this year for Best Contemporary Blues Album.
Keller goes on to name Northern Faces, Wild Adriatic and Girl Blue — local bands who appear primed for a similar trajectory. But, it all starts with two things, he said.
“The amount of time that I’ve spent on a variety of radio stations around [the Capital District] — especially on the topic of up-and-coming bands and the people who are trying to really make it — when I started, versus now, there really was no social media. The internet was primitive at that point,” said Keller, who started in the radio industry shortly after graduating from SUNY Plattsburgh in 1995. “Now, it’s easier to get your message out. There’s no doubt about that. Two things that really have not changed that seems to make most people pop. That is, whether it was in the 90s or now, the quality of your recording and stage presence.
“Sure, it’s easier to reach people and be known in a digital way. The way I see it at EQX, those are really the things we still pay attention to. … Quality of recording and stage presence always seem to matter.”
That insight is what he’ll bring to the MOVE Music Festival this week as one of several panelists providing artists valuable advice. The education program is just one of a few unique features that separates MOVE, now in its sixth year, from the cornucopia of festivals that take place each summer. On top of entertainment for music lovers, there are clinics for musicians and industry experts available for questions.
“[MOVE] reached out to me two years ago to participate in a panel discussion about music licensing in film and TV,” said Peter Iselin, a locally-based bicoastal talent manager, music consultant and licensing manager. “The thought being that, for all these indie bands, theoretically that’s a source of income for them. And they’ve all kind of gotten hip to it.
“My expertise is in music clearance and licensing for film, television and advertising projects,” he said. “That’s what I do as an adjunct to my full-time gig, which is handling those activities for a production music library in L.A.” Production music is essentially instrumental and anonymous, he explained, for use in any number of media production projects. Iselin’s company specializes in movie trailers.
“It’s a big business,” he said. “Especially when it comes to performance royalties. I could talk about it all day, but usually these [MOVE Music panel] sessions last about an hour.”
In the past, Iselin said that panelists have been seated in the same room — at different tables denoting their area of expertise — and musicians have been able to approach and query them about various aspects of their craft.
“It’s all very low-key,” he said. “Basically, they just ask you questions and I answer them. This year, it looks like it’s maybe getting a little more high-falutin,’ seeing as the whole thing seems to be evolving — the venues are bigger; they’re not using so many clubs, instead they’ve got the Cohoes Music Hall and The Hangar.”
It’s an evolution to the relatively young festival, said its organizer Bernie Walters, president of the Indian Ledge Music Group. As recently as last year, the indie rock festival boasted a playbill of 100 different acts spread out throughout Albany. But, Walters admits, there were venues that were necessarily conducive to live music. This year, the list of acts is condensed as is the number of venues. Those venues, starting with Cohoes Music Hall, can properly host live music.
“We thought we’d mix it up a little bit, not physically right in Albany,” said Walters. “That’s how we wound up in Cohoes and the Troy show. Give other people a chance to be a part of MOVE without having to be right in downtown Albany.”
The festival kicks off with Sawyer Fredericks headlining a night that includes Jocelyn and Chris Ardnt, and C.K. Flach at the Cohoes Music Hall on Thursday, April 27. It’s a night that showcases the largest names that have cropped up from our region.
“They are all regional talent who have grown their careers over the last couple of years,” said Walters. “That venue is perfect for that type of music. I think it is going to be a fantastic show to kick things off with. Without a doubt.”
Fredericks continues to ride the wave of popularity generated from his success on the television series “The Voice.” Two years ago, Jocelyn and Chris Ardnt performed at Mountain Jam and continue to earn airtime on radio stations throughout the country. C.K. Flach branched out on a solo career last year, after time with The Kindness. All three acts are from the Capital District.
For Walters, having such a collection of talent, right here, is not a surprise.
“The story I read a few years ago, what they were referring to, was how many musicians per capita. But, yeah, there’s so much talent. It’s really unbelievable,” said Walters, recalling a report he read prior to starting the festival in 2012. “It was just another encouraging factor that there was a need for a centrally, unified outlet.”
Value Penguin, the New York City-based data resource group, created a stir last year when its research revealed the Capital District as among the best music scenes in the nation.
Employing several different analytical factors — number of radio stations, quality of venues, number of musicians and level of education, to name a few — the Capital District ranked sixth overall, just behind the Live Music Capital of the World (Austin, Tex. — No. 5), and ahead of Rochester, N.Y. (No. 8), San Francisco, Calif. (No. 10), and Boulder, Colo. (No. 19).
Whether you believe the Capital District ranks among the Top 10 music scenes in the country or not, one person who has been connected with the local scene for more than 20 years is not about to discredit it.
“I think this area’s music scene is, like many things, cyclical,” said Keller. “I feel like I’ve seen enough trends here, regionally. Sometimes there’s just a lot of bands that connect with people, and then maybe it just kinda goes down a little bit, and then it comes back up. Many people don’t say this enough because people seem to age out of going out all the time. … I think there’s a lot of really cool musicians and solo acts. Groups. Everybody. I’m impressed. Just like everything else in the arts, you must look. You always have to seek it out.”
For tickets and information, visit http://www.movemusicfest.com/.
The panel discussion will take place this year at the Hampton Inn in downtown Albany on Saturday, April 29, at 3:30 p.m. Musicians selected to perform at the festival will have access to all panelists as well as two workshops — a guitar clinic and a drum clinic offered at two of the festival venues on the same day.
Joining Keller and Iselin on this year’s panel are:
Nancy Tarr: Music Industry Professor at SUNY Oneonta who has worked for Paramount Pictures, RCA Records, Arista Records and the Recording Industry Association of America. She was the music coordinator on the hit movie “8 Mile.”
David Bourgeois: Manager and Producer of Bridge Road Entertainment & White Lake Music & Post.David’s clients include Jocelyn & Chris Arndt, Universal Music Group, Discovery Communications, Nickelodeon, HGTV and TLC, among others.
Patrick MacDougall: Audio engineer and adjunct professor at Syracuse University, with over 25 years of audio engineering experience. He has worked for some of the biggest names in the business from The Band to Coolio to Madonna. Patrick has also represented Solid State Logic as product specialist, as well as working with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen as a studio operations manager for Vulcan, Inc.
Paul Green: Founder of the “School of Rock” music schools, now an international chain with over 200 locations. Paul is currently working on a college level music school, Woodstock Music Lab, as a joint venture with Woodstock Festival promoter Michael Lang, and has co-founded a new kids music school called The Paul Green Rock Academy with branches in Saugerties and Washingtonville NYC.