Every Monday morning, 88Nine DJs, programming coordinators and the program director meet in the studio at 10 a.m. to share new music. Some of it ends up on the airwaves, some does not. Sometimes there’s chocolate, sometimes there’s not. (Luckily for me, there was during the meeting I attended.)
"For the most part, we’re looking for songs that we think will attract listeners," says program director Sean Demery.
But the purpose of the meeting runs deeper. Although Demery wants the group to unearth appealing songs, he also wants to hear the story behind the songs.
"I need people to take the time to search out new music, bring it to the table and add context to it," says Demery. "I want to hear about the band that spent six weeks in a bathroom that smelled bad just because the acoustics were good. Everyone – and every song – has a story."
Demery, who became the station’s program director five months ago, moved to Milwaukee from Park City, Utah, where he spent his time "boarding, hiking and helping a few client stations have a few more listeners."
Since taking over the programming at 88Nine, Demery has shifted the focus of the station which went from playing 28 percent to 68 percent new music, which he defines as songs that are less than three months old.
"If you want to listen to oldies, build a playlist on Spotify and listen to it in your car," he says.
According to Demery, the staff members spend up to 22 hours a week scouring the web, talking to bands and gathering submissions.
"These peeps are pretty rabid when it comes to finding new music," says Demery. "Keep your arms and legs in the vehicle at all times."
When 88Nine DJ Kat Froelich invited me to sit in during one of the meetings, I was flattered. But then I got a little nervous.
She informed me that the one condition for attending the meeting was that I had to bring a song to share, too. Sure, I am an avid music lover, but pitch something to the experts? Just the thought of it made me flash back to a recent unfortunate experience where, accidentally, I explained to an international fruit importer why there was a lime shortage.
"The meetings can get brutal," Froelich says.
Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. It was an energized but easy-going meeting that started promptly at 10 a.m. and ended, almost to the minute, at 11 a.m. (Every person who runs meetings, take note.)
The meeting included Demery, Froelich, DJ Marcus Doucette, DJ Tarik Moody, DJ Stephen Kallao, "5 Songs We Can’t Hear Enough Of" producer Justin Barney, community stories producer Nate Imig, intern Emily Cartwright and myself. DJs Dori Zori and Jordan Lee were out on assignment.
Because the meeting takes place during Doucette’s mid-morning shift, he sits at the board and queues up the songs or, as he puts it, gets to "drive the truck."
"Or drive the short bus," he says. "Whatever you want to say."
Doucette plays about 60 seconds of each song – less if it’s clear the group thinks the tune stinks – and then everyone provides a score and feedback. Each person gives the song a number on a scale of one to 10 with one being the lowest and 10 the highest.
Sometimes it can get heated. And personal.
"I’ve thrown a couple of tantrums in the past," says Froelich. "But I’ve become a better sport."
Doucette breaks it down, explaining that it's tough to receive criticism of something you care about, but that it gets easier.
"There’s an emotional arc to being a part of this sort of thing," he says. "When you first get here – and you bring things in that you love and they get savaged by someone – you might feel some sort of way about it, but at the end of the day, you gotta leave it."
The meeting opened with selections from Froelich, who brought three songs – one from the Georgia-based pop group Of Montreal, another by spoken word artist / musician Kate Tempest and a third by an electronic duo out of Philadelphia called Marian Hill.
None of the tunes blew any minds, but received a 6 or 7 average score.
Moody brought a Jakubi song called "Couch Potato" that scored a 7.5 from the group.
Cartwright pitched "Hero," by Wildcat! Wildcat! and Nate brought a tune called "Fade" by Mexico City Blonde – both of which got a 6 or so.
I brought "Quasiperpetual" by Milwaukee experimental hip-hop artist WC Tank. As a former advertising copywriter and a journalist for more than a decade, I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to constructive criticism. However, I was a bit nervous about how my song would be received. (Hi, ego!)
"I like this," Doucette says. "I might love this with a few more listens."
Others liked it less, giving the song ratings that ranged from a 4 to a 7. It was mentioned, however, that bringing in Milwaukee music is always appreciated.
We listened to snippets from a few other songs including "Home With You" by The Delta Routine, Charles Bradley’s "Change, Change, Change," Old Earth’s "Accept That The Mark Will Outlast You," "Hot Tonight" by Tokyo Police Club and FKA Twigs "Two Weeks" which featured an F-bomb in the chorus that started a conversation about whether or not it could be easily edited out.
Demery -- who makes the final decision on playlist additions -- says anywhere from two to seven songs from the meeting usually make the cut. Although it isn't determined during the meeting for sure whether or not a song will get scheduled on the air, the higher the song scores, the more likely that it will land on a playlist.
Sometimes it’s obvious when a DJ likes a song. There’s chair dancing, tapping and head nodding. It’s just as obvious when an individual or the entire group doesn't like a song.
"Well, it certainly didn’t blow my mind," Imig says after one tune.
The Monday morning meeting – as the station continues to evolve and new music plays a larger role – becomes more and more relevant every week. The need for the staff to find new and appealing songs is more necessary than ever, but it's certainly not a problem for people already extraordinarily passionate about music.
"I might bring in stuff I don’t love myself but I still think they should be considered on a number of different levels," says Doucette. "Part of being on the radio is growing your taste beyond what your borders are and seeing value in things you might not have originally seen."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.