KEXP’s digital Nirvana: Radio station bringing vast album collection into new era, comments included


“These guys will probably be remembered in years to return as a result of they knew the best way to write songs with HOOKS!”

“Hey! Can we be actually innovative and be the primary to cease overplaying this?”

You haven’t wandered into an web chatroom for overly opinionated music followers, however you might be getting a glimpse of the back-and-forth that occurs between radio DJs over new releases.

These notes, caught to the duvet of a vinyl copy of Nirvana’s 1991 mega-hit “Nevermind,” are only a style of the musical historical past scrawled and preserved on hundreds of albums and compact discs within the library at Seattle’s KEXP.

With a new home and renewed give attention to dwelling as much as its mission of the being the world’s best music discovery useful resource, KEXP is taking over the problem of digitizing its vast archive of music. Alongside the best way, it desires to offer on-line entry to distinctive materials, similar to these DJ notes, to additional enrich the connection between the station, the music it has performed for greater than 40 years, and its listeners.

The 41,000 CDs and 12,000 albums have escaped the cramped quarters of KEXP’s earlier residence and at the moment are showcased in an expanded library at KEXP’s Seattle Middle web site. However the station must archive and shield a lot of the music, whereas making a extra uniform system for storing knowledge and giving DJs simpler entry to the large collection.

“That is actually important in a variety of methods,” stated Kevin Cole, longtime afternoon DJ and chief content material officer on the station. “We aspire to be the best music discovery useful resource on the earth. That’s what we need to be. … We used to say, ‘We need to be the best radio station.’ We’re far more than that. We’re a non-profit arts group. The drive is to assist folks uncover new music. We do it on air, we do it on-line, now we do it within the bodily constructing itself.”

Cole stated the digital library will assist the tech-savvy station do this higher than ever, because it continues to increase past audio recordings into different media, together with video, images and podcasts.

Heading up the undertaking is Dylan Flesch, a Library and Info Science graduate from the College of Washington who volunteered at KEXP earlier than his class tasks began fixing real-world issues on the station. He was employed on on the station in 2013.

Standing amidst racks and racks of CDs and partitions of vinyl, Flesch stated the collection has been with the station because the KCMU days on the UW campus. The dimensions of the collection makes the method of digitizing the music far more concerned than merely ripping tracks from a CD onto your private home pc.

Two Acronova Nimbie autoloaders, which the station refers to as “robots” named Huizenga and Ada, can deal with 100 discs every. They run in a single day, burning tracks into digital type.

“We’ve made a ton of progress when it comes to the system, the structure of how we’re going to retailer all of this media,” Flesch stated. “And we’ve made a variety of progress when it comes to the workflows round it. We’ve got customized software program and a mashup of various instruments that we’re going to make use of. The plan is to feed the robots over the course of the following six to eight months.”

These nervous a couple of loss in audio high quality are reassured by Flesch. “The switch from CD is to a lossless audio format (FLAC) so even the audiophiles on the market with probably the most extravagant system received’t expertise any audio high quality distinction,” he stated.

Flesch additionally stated nearly all of the vinyl is already represented in CD type. The method for transferring choose vinyl albums is far more labor intensive and includes hooking up a digital recorder to a file participant and taking part in every file.

However the station does plan to {photograph} and digitize the album artwork for your entire vinyl collection for the aim of preserving the DJ notes.

Having faster entry to a digital library performs immediately into how KEXP DJs choose music, and the way the station differs from industrial radio.

“A part of what makes KEXP actually distinct from any of our different rivals is our DJs have the liberty and the duty to curate their very own exhibits, and that’s actually, actually uncommon,” Cole stated. “They usually’re doing that in actual time. So, they’ve this unbelievable freedom — there’s no pre-programmed playlists.”

Cole stated the digital library will probably be an unbelievable software for pure creativity. He typically doesn’t know what he’s going to play subsequent till he’s right down to 30 seconds within the tune that’s taking part in, and if he can simply discover content material to reply to a spontaneous thought or listener trade, it makes for a extra dynamic program.

“If I’m on the air and I’m taking part in an LCD Soundsystem tune and a listener emails and says, ‘Oh my god, that is the bass line to that New Order tune,’ I could be like, there it’s, increase,” he stated, making a typing gesture. “As an alternative of racing down the corridor and it’s misfiled or we don’t have it.”

Music director Don Yates stated the station, due to the kind of music it performs, nonetheless receives a superb quantity of promotional CDs. And the new DJ sales space is supplied to deal with a broad vary of musical codecs. Cole stated if he will get a 7-inch single that’s not within the system but, he can play it. Or a cassette tape.

“I believe we will do every little thing besides 8-track,” Cole stated.

“We’re engaged on it!” Flesch answered.

“We will’t do 78s both,” Yates stated. “Or cylinder recordings.”

The course of solely stands to strengthen the love of music and expertise that has at all times powered KEXP.

Yates, who began at KCMU in 1987, known as being overtaken by the Communications & Computing division at UW on the finish of 1999 “the perfect factor that ever occurred” to the station.

“That’s why we’ve the expertise bent that we’ve,” Yates stated. “Earlier than that, we had no expertise bent. I attempted to get us on the net for years after which C&C took us over from KUOW and inside a few weeks we had been streaming on the net in a number of codecs together with the primary uncompressed stream.”

Fast forward through a reputation change, one other wattage improve, some Paul Allen cash, a house on Dexter Avenue and a Webby Award for finest radio web site, and KEXP continues to be proving its love of music. Tech varieties the intersection essential to being the invention useful resource Cole talked about. And interacting with that expertise, together with social media, KEXP.org and the real-time playlist, are an enormous a part of being a DJ on the station now.

“There’s extra engagement than there ever has been,” Cole stated. “We are saying our DJs are the toughest working DJs on the earth, and I consider that. They’re programming on the fly, they’re taking part in music in each conceivable format they usually’re responding in actual time to listeners through Fb, Twitter, texting, Instagram, old-school electronic mail, or possibly even a telephone name. After which additionally responding to the information because it’s taking place in actual time.”

Cole stated digital archives give the station the flexibility to raised react to breaking information occasions, similar to the phobia assaults in Paris final fall, or the loss of life of a beloved artist like David Bowie or Prince.

“We really feel like it will be insulting for our listeners to tune in and listen to the form of robo-programming like they hear all over the place else,” Cole stated. “We really feel like we’ve to be responding to occasions in actual time.”

By extending past audio information to embody bodily artifacts, the digitization effort will create what Cole known as “a richer expertise for the consumer.”

Thumbing by way of varied albums and studying the notes and dialogue left by DJs over time offers a singular perspective on how new music was obtained because it began to realize traction within the station’s rotation.

“It actually captures faculty radio, 80s period. The perspective and vibe. Or 90s period,” Cole stated.

He learn some DJ comments on a latter-day Replacements file: “‘Hmm, appears like The Faces.’ … ‘Will trigger others to gag.’ … ‘They have to have stopped consuming beer.’ … ‘I resent this file lots. It’s crap.’”

Cole stated the dialogue most likely ended three or 4 months after the discharge. However the station’s plan to finally put the album notes on-line may enable the dialog to proceed, with new responses from DJs and listeners. “As a result of this file now’s lots higher on reflection than it was obtained on the time,” he stated.

Video can also be a key part of the station’s new period. In truth, the station has extra folks watching its movies on YouTube than it does listening to the radio, Yates stated.

With a broadcast viewers of 147,000 listeners per week and one other 57,000 listening to the net stream, KEXP’s largest development has been seen in video. In response to knowledge supplied by the station, 750,000 distinctive viewers take a look at its efficiency movies on YouTube every week, and KEXP boasts 2.1 million video views every week.

“The evolution of what’s ample and what individuals are anticipating in the case of interacting with music is consistently altering,” Cole stated.

That considering is what drove the will to transcend simply recording audio of in-studio performances and begin filming and live-streaming them — generally in dramatic vogue, similar to when Mudhoney performed on the high of the Area Needle for the Sub Pop Silver Jubilee in 2013.

“We seize 500 performances a 12 months,” Flesch stated. “Every a kind of we’ve 4 totally different digicam angles, we’ve the multi-track, the audio grasp, images. All of that content material is someplace like 25 to 30 gigabytes of media, only for one session. There’s a large quantity of content material.”

Servers on the station retailer the content material first, and the plan is to have backup servers at KEXP’s transmitter web site on Capitol Hill mirror all the content material. Flesch additionally stated that he’s figuring out a variety of older content material that must be preserved, and the station is teaming with different archives and libraries, together with the UW, to perform a few of that.

“Whereas all the content material we’re creating now from reside performances is born digital, we’ve a variety of content material created over time that exists on the masters, bodily media,” Flesch stated. “We’ve got reel-to-reels, we’ve 1/4-inch tape, a variety of the primary in-studios are saved on digital audio tape. We partnered with the Library of Congress by way of their American Archive of Public Broadcasting to begin the method of digitizing that materials, among the extra at-risk materials particularly.”

Ultimately, Cole stated that digitizing the library will probably be a curatorial software, but it surely received’t change the best way KEXP applications.

“It’s actually finally about curation,” Cole stated. “Whoever is DJ’ing is curating that 4-hour expertise. … The mission is to counterpoint lives, champion music and discovery. If we assist someone discover their subsequent new favourite band by way of a video or by way of someone’s radio present or a podcast or a tweet, it doesn’t matter, we’ve completed our job.”

And whereas Cole can fathom a future which may make use of one thing like digital actuality expertise throughout a reside efficiency or within the DJ sales space, Yates set his sights on a special breakthrough.

“I can’t wait till we will ship out the Kevin Cole hologram to DJ at events.”

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