In this edition of IMing With The Stars, I've decided to interview someone in the music industry, but I cheated because Christina Rentz and I go way back. I've known her since she was a Music Director at KLSU in Baton Rouge and I was a fledgling college radio promoter. There's a kinship there, an unspoken bond, kismet if you will, as I am a former Deep South Music Director as well. We've sifted through thousands of bad jam rock records and cringed at CDs with fractals on the cover. Wait, those are the same thing.
Anyway, Christina works at one of the best record labels out there: Merge Records. It's pretty much a dream job, and in this interview, we talk about the initial sales expectations for the Arcade Fire, the underacknowledged genius of Portastatic and Chris Lopez, and the risk of putting out 69 Love Songs.
Me: can I interview you for our blog?
Me: It's for a feature called "IMing with the Stars" and you are a star
Me: I want to interview someone in the industry
Me: basically it is an AIM interview and I copy everything, bad grammar included
Me: I would need a picture of you, too
Christina: haha! Ok - sounds fun!
Christina: ok - I have one where I look like a holiday elf
Me: when would be the best time
Me: you are on AIM all of the time, right?
Christina: pretty much
Christina: always when I am at work
Me: it will only last for like ten minutes or so
Christina: okee dokee
Christina: just say when. :-)
Me: how about right now?
Me: okay, so how have things been working at Merge in the last year, now that Arcade Fire and Spoon are really taking off?
Me: I mean, you always had great bands, but AF has to have gone beyond your wildest expectations, no?
Christina: We predicted that record would sell 12,000 copies!
Christina: so, yes, we were thrilled!
Me: which is no slouch
Me: for an indie label
Christina: it's such a crapshoot!
Christina: for sure!
Christina: It's fun to work with bands just because you love them, and then watch the success - you know?
Me: I know you guys really care about your artists--do you get bummed out when one doesn't perform up to expectations?
Christina: of course, but we just try harder to come up with new ideas.
Me: what I really meant to ask was do you take it personally?
Me: I know I do sometimes
Christina: but, honestly, I think that the day I stop getting all worked up over bad reviews and poor sales is the day I am too jaded to work this job.
Me: good attitude
Christina: there are so many great people out there who support our bands and love the music, and I just have to focus on that
Me: well, to be fair, you guys have an amazing roster
Me: it's a lot easier to love Merge records than some others!
Me: but I notice that you guys go through lulls like anybody else
Christina: haha - I am a pretty ridiculous fan! If it weren't for Lindsey (my officemate), I probably wouldn't listen to anything else.
Christina: lulls in releasing stuff?
Me: and stuff that breaks, you know, HUGE
Christina: well, but you never know about that stuff.
Christina: maybe 2006 is the year of Tenement Halls and Annie Hayden!
Me: I remember, though, that after Magnetic Fields left, one friend of mine--a real hipster snob--sniffed and was all "humph...what does Merge have now?"
Me: which is how a lot of people, esp. industry types, will judge a record label, by the big records, not the Shark Quests or East River Pipes, you know?
Christina: yes, but if a label doesn't take risks on releases that deserve to be heard, why do it at all?
Christina: don't you think 69 Love Songs was a valid risk to take?
Me: of course!
Christina: it could have been a disaster, but it wasn't.
Me: it could have been, but it I think you guys probably--rightfully--undersell yourselves on that one
Me: it was a freaking monster of a record; no denying it
Christina: it's definitely a major reason why I wanted to work here!
Christina: but so are The Rock*A*Teens!
Me: God, I love those guys
Christina: oh me too!
Christina: Lopez is a freaking genius!
Me: who do you think your most underacknowledged artists are?
Me: not from a sales perspective necessarily
Christina: hmmmm - definitely Tenement Halls!
Me: yeah, I can see it
Me: I keep waiting for people to "get" Chris's stuff, you know?
Me: Around here in ATL and ATH, people get it
Christina: and Portastatic keeps making incredible records while critics whine about Superchunk.
Christina: for sure!
Me: yeah, no doubt
Christina: it drives us all CRAZY!
Me: but everywhere else, Lopez goes underacknowledged.
Christina: it's true
Me: All Merge records get press, you know?, but it must be frustrating when people write about it, but don't get it.
Me: Hell, you guys just signed the Fanclub, who have been making great records for years, but have gone undersong since their brief press hype period
Me: I like that you stick by those kinds of artists
Me: Of course, you have to stick by Mac!
Me: But, seriously, the last Portastatic record was rock solid
Christina: I know! and the one before that, too!!!
Me: I've never disliked one
Me: Nature of Sap might be my favorite
Christina: Teenage Fanclub actually got some great press on their most recent record - it was reassuring!
Me: oh yeah they did b/c it was different
Christina: Yeah, I really think "Summer of the Shark" is my most favorite - even though "Spying on the Spies" is my favorite song!
Me: but Howdy!, Songs from a Northern Britain, these were all grea, too
Christina: Yeah, for sure, TFC crowds on this tour were full of rabid fans!
Me: I like Slow Note for a Sinking Ship the best, maybe
Me: now that I think about it
Me: this is like Merge suck-up hour!
Christina: It really is!
Me: what's the toughest part of your job?
Christina: - there's my bad grammar!
Me: and, btw, what in the heck is your job description?!
Christina: Toughest part of my job is probably keeping up with all of the tours!
Christina: Well, anything associated with a tour short of booking it is my responsibility, along with major non-comm and some commercial radio, and regional press.
Me: tour press is wayyy tough
Me: it can be harder than a national campaign sometimes
Christina: yeah, I love how visceral it is, though! I pick up a Flagpole, and there it is! Not like radio!
Me: good point
Christina: and bands appreciate it so much! I love working so closely with them.
Christina: Oh - I'm also in charge of interns.
Christina: I blocked that out.
Me: interns--the backbone of the industry
Me: it's true
Me: the suits and Harvard MBAs are the ones who make the money
Me: everyone else gets nada
Me: people think I should be driving an Escalade when they hear I'm in the music biz
Christina: Yeah, Lucas - where's your bling?
Christina: It must be buried under your ramen!
Me: one last thing
Me: we are both former college radio MDs (from the real south, I might add--MS for me, LA for you)
Christina: KLSU Foreva!
Me: I can't say the same about my old station, unfortunately
Me: we have different programming ideas, which is cool
Christina: yeah, but it's always home. haha!
Me: yeah, I guess it is
Me: I lived there for four and a half years
Me: loaded question: what do you think about college radio these days?
Christina: Still trucking along! The only thing that has changed, I think, is that kids think they will graduate and get a high powered A&R gig immediately!
Me: I've noticed that
Christina: I waited tables for soo long and started out part-time here, and never thought there was anything wrong with that, but it seems like we were the last group to be willing to endure poverty for love of music.
Christina: But, I think that despite the drama that goes on, college radio remains the final frontier of radio.
Me: I worked at DialAmerica Telemarketing for 3 years while I worked here part-time
Me: it has become very industry-ized, but when I was MD 96-98 it was crazy...post-alternative boom
Christina: I had to survive Rap-Metal
Me: I survived Nirvana rip-offs and, oh wait, that's still going on!
Me: I guess I just think that it's never as bad as people say and it was never as good as people say it was
Me: it just is college radio
Christina: and it is wonderful!
IMing With The Stars comes to us courtesy of Team Clermont.