Nicholas Coyne spoke with Alan Cross about the intimacy of sharing music, why his work is not his life, his first time on mic and why he wants to always tell his listeners something new.
It was just a physical thing. You’d go to your friend’s parents’ place and play it for someone. If you left it behind, you no longer possessed that music.
What did you do today?
Well, it started with me posting about 10 news items on my website. I did a cut-in with a radio station I work with, I wrote and recorded a radio show, I started working on tomorrow’s radio show, I started working on my next Ongoing History of New Music podcast, I am currently working on some imaging stuff for Q107, I talked to the Toronto Star about legislation involving concert tickets, I did an interview with a radio station in Winnipeg, I met with my personal trainer for an hour and now I am talking to you. That was today.
Where was the genesis of all of your work? Was it college radio?
Yeah. I worked for 18 months on a closed-circuit radio station that broadcasted in to the school’s cafeteria, so that counts.
Was that the first time you got to do something tangible with your love of music?
It was the first time I had a microphone in front of me; it was the first time I had to play music for people. I was always a music nerd, so I’d play music at parties, but that was the first thing that sent me on the road that led me to where I am now.
What was Alan Cross like in those days? What was your experience with sharing music?
Well, it was just a physical thing. You’d go to your friend’s parents’ place and play it for someone. If you left it behind, you no longer possessed that music. If you took it home, people sought you out to hear it again. It was just purely a social thing. It was very intimate. It was all about who had the best stereo, finding a place to play your music in the most high-fidelity sound possible. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, all of our disposable income went to records, tapes and stereo equipment. We spent way too much money on it because we all wanted the most pristine sound possible.
Do you have any ideal music-listening session today?
I’m in my office now and I have a dedicated listening setting. I have a really good stereo and one chair that is in the sweet spot between the speakers, a turntable and CD player.
Is that the setup you always imagined as a young music fan?
Yes, that’s all I thought about. The space I have now comes from years and years of dreaming.
The difficult thing is that, for a living, I pass judgment. Sometimes I need dead silence to reset my brain and enjoy music for its own sake.
Is it satisfying to fulfill any of the wishes your younger self had?
Well, I never really did anything else or any other work besides music and radio. It’s all I ever wanted to do. I never take what I do for a living for granted. I never look back, though. I’m always looking forward to “What’s next? What’s next? What else can I do?”
Music fans and people who work in the music industry usually get there out of an intense passion. Do you ever have trouble separating yourself and your personal life from your work?
It’s a very big issue that you have to work on all the time. I make a delineation between who I am as a person and what work I do for a living. I’m very militant about maintaining that, but it comes with the territory.
Some people get sucked in to the notion that your work is your life and people never tell you that in radio, since you are expected to give a lot of yourself to the job if you’re going to do it right. It’s a process.
What do your music consumption patterns look like now, in the interest of leaving some time to just enjoy it? I’ve developed a lot of neuroses in my own scheduling of times to find new stuff.
I’ve got stuff going on all the time, but the difficult thing is that, for a living, I pass judgment. Sometimes I need dead silence to reset my brain and enjoy music for its own sake.
Did you have to develop a criteria over time that you did not love, but kind of had to, out of necessity for spare time?
It’s difficult, but yeah, I think you end up, professionally, evaluating music in one of two ways; so you can determine whether or not a larger population of people will enjoy the music, so you’re evaluating it on a professional level, and then there is the critical lesson, where you ask if the song “works” as a piece of art. You have to actively separate the two, especially if you work in a commercial radio station. Your job as Program Director is to get as many people as possible to listen to your station for as long as possible. Sometimes that means making aesthetic compromises to make your station as long-lasting as possible.
I do this 24/7, 365. I have a ton of baggage and prejudice and bias that I’ve accumulated from hearing the same stories all of the time.
What kind of stories and narratives in music are you attracted to?
Yes, okay, it’s simple. I think, at this point, it comes down to find stories that make me instantly go, “Wow, I had no idea.” The reason I am looking for that is I do this 24/7, 365. I have a ton of baggage and prejudice and bias that I’ve accumulated from hearing the same stories all of the time. If it makes me react in a way that blows me away, imagine what it would do for someone with a life? I want to tell you something that you’ve never heard before, that you feel compelled to tell your friends about later.
Any stories of late that have impressed you?
Hmm, let’s see. I have a running list, I’m going to open up this document on my computer. How about this? Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 once was asked by someone in the United States Navy how the Armed Forces could best go about capturing Saddam Hussein. What?! Ultimately, it had something to do with the triangulation of signals, which was something Hoppus knew about. It’s goofy and fun, which I seek out.
What about the Toronto music scene stands out to you? The R&B and punk scenes have been thriving.
Well, Toronto is one of the more diverse cities in the world, and we are right next to the largest exporter of pop culture in the world. We have talent arriving all the time and an incredible live music scene, which is also due to the government support. Canada, as a whole, was late coming to hip-hop, but now there is a lot coming out of Toronto because of this recent spotlight shone on it.
Is there an encouraging feeling amongst Canadians because of the government funding of the arts? In America, in traditional households, there is an active dissuasion from creative pursuits.
I think if there wasn’t some sort of cultural protectionism, we’d get swallowed by the activity of the United States and the UK. We certainly had to provide some assurances that Canadian musicians could create music to be consumed by Canadian citizens. We figued if we could make music good enough for ourselves and our citizens, then we could do the same for the rest of the world, which is how it turned out.
The #6 music market is still way behind the United States; there’s the US, Japan, Germany, the UK, France and then us. There are more people in California than there in Canada and we cover 10 square kilometers. The money also goes to broadcasters and other creatives, so we’re doing okay.
Curated by: Nicholas Coyne
Conducted by: Phone
Edited by: Morgan Enos
Published: September 7, 2018
Total questions: 14
Word count: 1249
Reading time: Four minutes
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About the guest curator
Nicholas Coyne is a music journalist and member of the editorial staff at TIDAL. He is also a sack of flesh whose primary source of pleasure from life is found when enveloped in sound. He is so very interested all of you and hopes you lead lives that make you happy to be you.
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