Amazing Radio and The Return of CMJ?

An Interview with CEO Andy Zicklin

In a world where we are encouraged to pick the music we listen to or follow a playlist, some have forgotten the joy of true discovery. I’m not talking about algos that match your birth date with your prom date and the last three songs you listened to in a specific genre. No, I am talking about a person–a real, live, music-loving person–just picking songs that people should know. That’s the spirit of radio. 

And so it was that I was listening to AmazingRadio.com and heard HAIM for the first time. They blew me away, I couldn’t believe this band wasn’t signed. It wouldn’t be long before they stormed the scene. I could name countless other bands I found, too. Amazing Radio launched in the U.K. in 2009 with Punk sensibilities. They took over an airwave frequency that was literally playing bird calls, and proceeded to broadcast all independent, unsigned acts. No shit. The idea was simply to get these artists their first “radio” plays. Studios were made of cardboard boxes, they mixed genres, they were just about the music and community, and it worked. Over a decade later, having partnered in Glastonbury, SXSW, and introduced loads of independent acts to international fans–1975 and Bastille, among many others–the strategy is to conquer America. 

To do that, they’d need to make a big splash and they’d need the right people to do it. Enter Andy Zicklin, the CEO of Amazing Radio. A man who was admittedly the worst musician in his high school jazz band (which featured Dave Koz on sax). He explored the punk scene of San Francisco in the late 1980s, worked at record stores, as a DJ at KUSF and the Quake, had a hypnotherapist practice for almost a decade, and then built a successful finance career. 

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After he moved his family to Barcelona for over a year following the financial crash, he started doing private equity, aggregating private equity for smaller investors which was much more in line with his rock and roll sensibilities. Add to that, he does motorcycle rides around the country taking photos (and they are really good) for a project he calls Lamfography. The music bug never left, and this renegade is back in the saddle leading the charge for independent music in the U.S.

CEO Andy Zicklin

Let’s talk about Amazing Radio – the elevator pitch to artists and bands.

“You heard it here first” is our tagline. We bring emerging and new artists to the fans who want brand new music through digital radio. 

So, first let’s talk bringing Amazing Radio to the U.S. What’s the timeline, how will it be different than the U.K. version?

In the coming weeks we are launching in the U.S. and it will be a slightly different process. Artists can sign up at AmazingRadio.us to register early and we will email them when the upload process is open. 

I think one way it will be different is that we are really focusing on making the experience different for fans by offering some different ways to interact with the service. For instance, we are going to be offering different tiers and rewards for “Super Fans” who are making playlists and sharing songs. We’re looking to integrate a Tastemakers program, too. A few other differences include integrating video for things like livestream and rewind shows, and we will also have a lot of guided channels with actual DJs in addition to the mainstream. 

For bands, we’re just really expanding our offerings to help them connect with fans and the industry, as well as provide the coveted radio plays.

It sounds like this version of Amazing Radio is much more focused on not just getting airplay for bands, but really giving artists a new way to realize revenue, too?

Absolutely, we definitely see Amazing Radio as a way for bands to not only get some new listeners, but also turn them into fans with special offerings. Just like the UK version, we are offering downloads, but we’re going further. We’re hoping to have merch offerings through our partners, vinyl, concert listings, and more. We are also really excited to be rolling out a mentoring department with some key people once the radio site is up and active to help bands navigate this crazy landscape. 

What will the pricing be like for new artists or bands to sign up for Amazing Radio?

Pricing is as follows: for $25, bands can upload 5 songs (doesn’t have to be all at once). Artists will receive airplay on our uncensored stream of all bands that have uploaded, opportunity for radio play within the different specialty shows. We also promote the bands we play on the radio to tens of thousands of our fans (and growing) on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.  

Someone told me that they spend $200 bucks on social media and get nothing. $25 for all that is a no-brainer. As a special incentive, we are going to run a first month special, 8 songs for the price of 5.

For artists, what will the company be doing to offer a way to leverage fans? 

There will still be downloads. There will still be direct donations. We take nothing from that, the bands get all of that money, that hasn’t changed. Amazing Benefits, our $10 per month premium plan, will include discounts on vinyl pressings, EMK, access to our industry portal, ability to post videos or livestream on AmazingTV, which will be rolled out after the radio launch. 

All of the songs that you upload will be in consideration for the many areas of CMJ we are ramping up – the classic Marathon, other CMJ festivals, something we’re calling One Night Stands, livestreams, interview pods, and CMJ samplers on vinyl which we are really excited about.  

Let’s talk about the CMJ – was this a deal to gain assets that help growth? It’s certainly a big splash in the American indie scene. 

CMJ [f/k/a College Music Journal] still has tons of credibility within the indie community [ed. note – that remains to be seen…] and we just want to amplify/revive that. By combining CMJ and Amazing Radio, we are fusing live and digital to blow up the opportunities for new artists to find the fame — and cash — they deserve [ ed. note – this also remains to be seen…]. This is more important than ever in these turbulent times. I think we really caught lightning in a bottle with this tie-up.

Is it true you are bringing back the CMJ Music Marathon in the fall? 

The plan right now is to bring back the CMJ Music Marathon to New York in October. But we are also looking to expand the CMJ brand to include multiple festivals and little mini gigs under the same banner once this whole live music thing gets going again. NYC shouldn’t have all the fun. [ed. note – since our interview, it appears as thought these live plans are offa…]

Will there be a licensing side to the U.S. version like there was for the U.K one?

We think so, we definitely are interested in expanding micro-licensing for all of the artists that are being played. The U.K. version had a strong licensing presence for in-store plays and some other usages. The laws around the sync business are a little different in the States, but we will be rolling that out as we secure deals for the catalog. 

How do artists track when their music is favorited or heard?

We plan on rolling out a very robust dashboard for artists to track their plays, and also engage with fans of their music. And there’s going to be an industry portal where we’re industry people can go check out press kits from different bands that they’ve heard on the air, because really, we’re an A&R company. We’re an incubator for unsigned bands from the music side of it, much like an independent A&R company.

Parting thoughts to the U.S. audience?

Yes, this is a crazy time, but music is going to be important to help us all get through it. Everyone is searching for bright spots and hope, what better time to launch a music initiative? 

Come on over and see what we’re about, we want to help break your band to the largest audience possible and we look forward to hearing what you got. 

For more information, head to AmazingRadio.us and sign up to be notified when uploads and artist areas are ready. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.

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