For pretty much most of my radio career, “music passion” has been often mentioned. Sometimes it is “we need more music passion”, sometimes it is “the music passion is great”. I was reminded recently about the number of times I’ve spent having conversations explaining what music passion is, and what it isn’t.
Firstly, a thank you to my friend Tim Littlechild for suggesting this blog post subject. Tim and I worked together launching Smooth Lake District and Tim hosts breakfast there to this day. Tim and John Pye were very forgiving when on one visit it wasn’t until I got to the office in Kendal after a 3 hour drive, that I realised I had left my laptop on charge at home! Anyway… back to the point…
Music Passion and Music Knowledge are two different things. They deliver different results and have different benefits. Its possible to have both, but having one doesn’t mean you have the other. Having a great knowledge of music doesn’t always equate to having a music passion. It can absolutely help without doubt, but it is important to not confuse the two. I’ve often seen programmers asking for more music passion in links from presenters, only for presenters to add in more music knowledge and info, rather than passion by mistake. That said, the discussion I had with Tim was instigated by his listening to Gilles Peterson on BBC 6 Music and specifically the All Day 90’s Rave show one Saturday in early August. Gilles has immense music knowledge about the genre and the time period and so the show very much demonstrated his expertise and understanding. His personal memories of driving the motorways to a number of events every Saturday and his feelings about the songs, artists and events added in the passion. It certainly was the case that this show had both music passion and a ton of music knowledge and they both intertwined.
Music, by its very nature, is passionate. It evokes emotion, memory, feelings and moods. There are probably songs I could play that will make you cry, or feel happy. It’s nothing to do with who the producer was, where it was recorded, how far up the chart it once got or who wrote it. It’s about how it makes you FEEL not Wikipedia. Music passion.
I’ve worked with a few great orators of music passion, and one who stands out for me is John McCauley at Smooth Scotland. John has been in radio for a long time and has a huge and illustrious legacy in Scotland. It is important to know that to give context to my example of music passion from John- one of many examples I have from our time working together. I can only imagine the number of times that John would have back announced or introduced some of the songs he plays on Smooth. Probably hundreds or thousands of times for some of them, but he always sounds like it is the first time he has heard it. I don’t think during our time together I ever heard John use the word “great” when referencing a song, as in “that’s a great song”. He always chose something more passionate, emotive and descriptive to say. Somewhere I have a link from John back announcing a song from The Carpenters, (which again was probably a song he had played thousands of times over the years). His use of timing, leaving a short “thinking second” once the song had ended to give some emotion, then saying “It’s just breathtaking isn’t it”. Then describing just why in an articulate and passionate way. Why say “great” when you can say “breathtaking”! Use of words is important and painting pictures with them creates a rich image for the listener. Another example from John that springs to mind is explaining after one song that he was listening to it with his eyes closed and then how the music made him FEEL. Now not to sell him short, John has great music knowledge too and can inject that into links with ease too but seldom without giving some passion.
Music passion comes from emotion created by the song, and how music makes ordinary people feel when they hear it. They don’t need to be a muso to understand it, they don’t need to know the band or the song or their back catalogue or tour dates or production legacy. It creates a bond with the listener, whether they know the song or not, and can make them listen to it differently as a result from that moment onwards and every time they hear the song in the future. For a music radio station, there is no greater asset than the station’s music, and so something which can elevate it to a greater level is a fantastic thing to demonstrate from its presenters. Knowledge is also important of course and I’m not decrying having music knowledge- its just that confusing that for real passion is a mistake. Having gravitas, knowing your onions, and knowing the music is important, but being able to articulate how music makes you feel can’t be beaten.
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