My Music Origins Story

by Andrew Steeley on November 7, 2011


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An origins story.  Everyone possesses one of these, whether it’s subconscious or fully realized.   Everything is connected.   Who we are and what we’re doing at this very moment is a result of who we’ve been and what we’ve experienced.

I’m completely addicted to discovering new music.  For me, the rush of finding a band that my friends and colleagues have never heard of is unparalleled.  I imagine that explorers used to feel this way when they came across lands untouched by man.  At the same time, nothing annoys me more than when a friend “introduces” me to a band that I had introduced them to months earlier.  But I never really took the time to analyze my insatiable thirst for fresh tunes until recently.  I’ve shared this story with only a handful of people, so now it’s yours to keep.

As far as I can figure, my penchant for music discovery started when I was seven years old.  At the time, I was absolutely fascinated by weather.  Not a day passed that I didn’t spend at least part of it glued to The Weather Channel, soaking in all sorts of fascinating meteorological knowledge.  I often dreamed of becoming an on-air meteorologist.  Anyway, anyone who has ever watched at least 10 minutes of TWC in their lifetime knows that every ten minutes or so, the network airs a Local Forecast.  This is usually a 60-second  segment that provides a detailed weather report for the viewer’s region, soundtracked by a New Age or jazzy instrumental.  One of these instrumentals in particular caught my ears late in 1991.  It was a beautiful, piano-driven melody that might as well have been a love song to meteorology.  You can only imagine the devastation I endured when they freshened up the playlist after a few months and the song was lost and gone forever.

Radio aside, The Weather Channel provided a good chunk of the score for my childhood.  As my passion for weather began to wane in later years, I still found myself checking the Local Forecast religiously, constantly listening for the next song that would tug at my heart strings.  Many came and many went — all unsung, as The Weather Channel never indicated artist or song names.

In May 1999, it happened again.  A gorgeous, yet melancholy fiddle-led tune periodically graced the Local Forecast segment.  It was a perfect springtime song, reflective of my final days in junior high yet hopeful for a new start in high school.  I wanted to hang onto this song for as long as possible, clinging to my youth in doing so.  This time, I didn’t want to let a song pass me by without knowing who was responsible for its creation.  This time, I was on a mission.

I had an ally that I hadn’t had eight years prior:  The Internet.  By 1999, The Weather Channel had begun posting their Local Forecast playlists on their web site, making life somewhat easier.  However, not all of the music they played was commercially available.  A little bit of deduction led me to find that my “mystery song” was one of these unreleased nuggets.  After countless fruitless e-mails, phone calls, and handwritten letters (!) to various music publishers and to the music department at The Weather Channel, I took to the message boards at weather.com.

Turns out, I wasn’t alone in my search.  Unbeknownst to me, a whole community of Weather Channel music fanatics lived online, posting playlists from the pre-Web era and hunting down these anonymous musicians.  My song-in-question had generated a decent amount of buzz on the message boards, to the point that music discussion began to dominate weather-related topics.  The board moderators generously created an entire forum dedicated exclusively to the music fans.

Our tireless search and common passion for this ridiculously niche music created a strong bond among everyone on the message boards.  We got to know one another quite well and often ended up discussing topics other than weather and music.  We had our own little secret society online, and we absolutely loved our mission.

I can’t remember which one of us finally tracked down the artist and song we had spent months searching for.  It doesn’t really matter, because we all had a huge hand in it.  The sense of shared journey and discovery that we had all experienced was most important to us.  We felt empowered by the knowledge that we were capable of digging into the vast depths of the music world and finding even the most obscure artist.  Finally, these musicians received the attention and the credit that they deserved.

For me, that’s what music is all about.  When an artist is able to frame notes, chords, and/or lyrics in such a way that resonates deep within my soul, I want to share that feeling and the purveyors of that feeling with others.  And when I hear that song in twenty years, I want that feeling to stir inside me anew.  I’m always looking for the next song that will evoke that sensation.  Music discovery is a lot like finding friends who share common emotions, experiences, and viewpoints on life.

Sometimes, it’s exactly that.

My point isn’t to bore you with some childhood story.  Instead, it’s this:  Every day, remember why you do what you do.  Whether it’s a song you heard when you were seven or a dream you had in high school, never lose focus of that reason (or reasons).  As I have often written on this blog, the best way to understand where you’re going is to understand where you’ve been.

Connect the dots.

This goes for any General Manager, Program Director, and on-air talent in radio.  Don’t get caught up in all the egos, politics, and backstabbing that seems to be endemic in the radio industry.  Always keep an eye on your impetus to better tell your station’s story and your own personal story.

Everything else is just background music.

What was the catalyst for your passion for music?  Is this reflected in your radio brand?  

Oh, and it was “From The Sky” by John Nilsen that played during the Local Forecast 20 short years ago.  Check it out on last week’s edition of SpotiFriday or take a trip down Weather Channel memory lane right here…

 


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