Robert Willey conducted this interview with T.J Müller on July 11, 2017. T.J is a musician living in St. Louis who is active in developing the traditional jazz music scene.
T.J Müller moved from the United Kingdom to St. Louis to play with Pokey LaFarge’s band. In our interview he talked about the traditional jazz scene there, and how it is suited to the rooms that it’s played in. The complete interview is included in the book Midwest Music Business: A Primer.
RW: How did you develop a love and aptitude for traditional music? What got the ball rolling that eventually meeting Pokey LaFarge and emigrating to the United States?
TJ: I was born in the south of England. We travelled a lot from parish to parish, the longest period of time we lived in one place was when I was about 10 to 18 years old and we lived in the north. My father was a Church of England vicar and played a lot of traditional music. He was a pianist and a flutist and double bass player. Traditional music was in the house while I was growing up, and I learned a lot of the songs as a child because of him. We had a little family band and played a lot of traditional band numbers on a steam boat—“American Patrol”, “When The Saints Go Marching In”, the basic ones.
RW: How do you decide where to put your efforts in social media? Is it based on your audience’s demographics? Are the traditional jazz fans an older crowd that passes information more by word of mouth than Facebook?
TJ: We have an older audience as well as a younger audience, so I’m pretty selective about what I put on social media. I don’t bother to put a lot stuff on what I know the younger people aren’t going to be interested in. I know that they’re not going to want to pay $20 for a show they have to drive a long way to see, so I concentrate my social media on less expensive local ones. There’s another project I’m doing with the Arcadia Dance Orchestra playing 1920s style foxtrot, Charleston, and swing dance music. That’s a slow-burning project which we’re gearing up for that will have just two performances a year. We’re trying to make the social media for that project very regular in order to build interest around the project.
RW: How important are the characteristics of the space in which you perform?
TJ: Oh, absolutely. The environment is everything. So many things in popular culture are artificial. Everything gets digitized and cleaned up. When people see something that’s authentic, I think they respond positively to it. When they go into a bar on the corner and the bar has hardwood floors and there’s a guy playing a real upright piano, and not like a little small one, but a great big upright grand piano playing Joplin rags without sheet music, and they can just sit there and enjoy something authentic, I think people really do respond to that. It’s so vastly different from everything else they are experiencing, and seems special and interesting. Then you can tell them, that on top of that, it isn’t a bizarre thing, it’s something that belongs to the city. We’re not introducing something foreign or weird here, we’re just maintaining it. If you nurture it it can grow, it still has room to grow. It doesn’t have to be a weird thing, it should just be part of the town.
RW: Do you think breweries and wineries are more conducive to traditional and acoustic music than bars? If so, is it because they cater to a more mature clientele—people who more likely to want to carry on a conversation than hook up? How important are people like Tom Schlafly (Schlafly Bottleworks, Schlafly Beer), Mike Willerton (Kirkwood Station), and Chris and Lisa Lorch (Sugar Creek Winery)? Do they have an interest in supporting the music beyond just selling drinks and food? Are they nurturing it?
TJ: Oh, man, Schlafly has been great to us! He books so many great bands. Schlafly now hosts the St. Louis Banjo Club once a month, and they give us this whole huge room to perform and hang out in with our own bar, our own little stage area, all the amenities we need, a huge parking log. Schlafly has been so good for that. He especially nurtures the old school acoustic American music atmosphere. They’ve been great. I’m biased, but I think acoustic music works best in that environment. If you want to engage with it you can. You can enjoy the performance, but it’s not loud, it can be background music. You can half listen to it, or be completely engaged, or dance to it. It can be whatever you want it to be.
RW: Music has always evolved with the spaces where it was played. The long reverb tails of single line Gregoria's chant sound best in rock-walled cathedrals. The sound of the harpsichord projected well in the small rooms of Baroque palaces. When auditoriums grew larger to accommodate the growing number of middle class ticket buyers, the same technological advances in cast iron steel that allowed balconies to spam wider spaces was used in the frames of grand pianos, whose increased volume was thenable to fill the larger room. Rick Kinney talks in another of this book’s interview about his vision of renovating a movie theatre to create a room where a standing audience of 2000 can supply the right energy to inspire a high-energy rock band playing through a powerful sound system. What you mentioned about the hardwood floors being so well-suited to acoustic music makes me realize how much the architecture is connected with the acoustics and the listener’s experience. There are so many charming historic buildings in the Midwest and others ripe for renovation, and the rooms are on the right scale. You can fill one up with the sound of an upright piano, something you can’t do in bar that has low ceilings, carpet, and couches.
TJ: Exactly. It’s great to play the music in these spaces where the building was designed for that purpose. When you put the pieces together properly it works so much better than if you try to put the music in the wrong environment.
RW: And traditional jazz evolved to fit that. There are little breaks in the music, solos, and ebb and flow so that people can be talking with each other, but there are appropriately placed changes in the form of the song that hook their attention, keep them engaged, and keep things “lively”.
TJ: Absolutely! If you listen to early 20th century jazz records you’ll notice that quite often the band will drop out when the piano solo starts, maybe with a little bit of light cymbal work behind it. When you do that in a quiet concert environment it’s a cool effect, but it’s not necessary. In the places where we play, if we don’t do that, then the piano player can’t hear their solo enough, and the band can’t, and the audience can’t. If the band drops out, you can hear the piano loud and clear. You really see why the music was designed the way it was.
RW: Do you think that the audience for traditional music in St. Louis is more for locals than it is in New Orleans? I suppose there it’s much more of a tourist scene.
TJ: Right. I certainly agree with that. There isn’t a big tourist industry in St. Louis, and so I think our working musicians consider it to be something for the audience who lives here.
Here are some ideas that students in MMP100 contributed to making Middletown Radio attractive for listeners:
Focus on interaction of finding their preferred music genre. This can come from a lot of social media content or calls.
I would broadcast the same music throughout the week and pick the top requested songs from the weekend and add them to the regular week schedule. I would also encourage listeners to engage more with site content.
I would have all genres, playing at the same time. I believe having a mixing pot of everything to enable everyone to be happy at once. I would make everything completely random. I think machines are the best way to randomize things, and i think thats the best thing for the consumers
I personally enjoy being able to listen to different types of music on the same station. I did listen to a little bit of DePaul Radios live broadcast. The part of the broadcast that I listened to talked about current events. One of the current events that the lady was talking about was the soccer game that was played for the day. She decided to make her show to work with the soccer game. It was a soccer game that raised money for a charity, which means that celebrities and artists also got to play in the game. She decided to play the songs of some of the artists that were able to play in the game.I think this radio station was one of the top radio stations because they keep the broadcast interesting and entertaining.
I think that I would have the same type of music on a schedule, that way people would know what type of music they are getting at what time. I would make sure that just because we are playing the same type of music at the same time of day we are also playing different songs.
By getting a popular artist to voice a twenty second advertisement for the Radio, it would create attention and buzz about the radio. By promoting itself at popular concerts and taking advertising space at concert venues in the state they would be able to create awareness for the Radio. People would see advertisments around the venue, become aware of the Radio and check out the Radio to find music.
I do not have much experience with this but I assume the same music would not be played at the same times of day. Viewers would begin to get bored if their only time to listen to music fell during an hour where they do not like the genre being played. I would have DJs switch up music played during their sets weekly. It would give listeners time to enjoy songs and not feel like they are stale. By encouraging DJs to add new songs each week we would be able to fill up more time space. I would encourage talk radio during the morning commute hours, with a break on the weekends for soft, relaxing music. Popularly requested or frequently played songs would be played during 3pm-5pm to maybe attract the younger adult crowd. The acts in the table below would vary weekly, except for the time slots of 6-10 am and 9pm-3am.
it needs to be marketed more and opened up to as many different kinds of music as possible. This is extremely important, because not everyone enjoys the same genre of music as everyone else. The more people get talking about this service the more listeners that it will attract, and to keep this listeners hooked you could hold weekly contests such as name that song where people have the chance to be interactive.
I believe that Depaul's radio was ranked top in the nation, because it was able to utilize an online program that was easy to use and understand by many different people. Opening up access to as many people as possible is extremely important in have a successful radio program. They also played a lot of unique music which could have had a few potential hidden gems and it also made it stand out in the fact that they were not playing the same stuff other stations were playing.
I believe the best way to go about things would be to have different genres of music in the same blocks each and every day, that way people knew when to tune in to what they were looking for, and always had a station to go to that was playing what they wanted at that point in time.
If we want listeners to keep coming back to our website, it has to be attractive and easy to use. Since artists use attractive cover art to sell their songs, we should have it showing when their song is playing along with information about upcoming shows. It needs to be easy enough to go to the website, listen to your preferred type of music and get information on your favorite bands. It would be really useful to have a 'shows near me' feature. That way, bored college students will use our website to find something to do that night.
The best way to raise awareness for Middletown Radio, and to make our service remarkable is to reach out to bands that produce music that is popular with the younger generation. The younger generation is what our music industry today is focused on and will be easier to focus on being in college.
I would keep certain genres in the same time slot each week to keep a steady following. I would tend to play the “hottest songs” at peak hours, and switch on and off other genres from there out.
Something that would make this station remarkable is the knowledgeable DJ’s that hand picked the music. There is nothing better than listening to someone talk about a song and what it means to them instead of some DJ reading off a prompt introducing the same 12 songs for the next hour. I think it’s really important also to have a huge range of music, rock, jazz, hip-hop, and alternative. When there is something for everyone it will bring more listeners.
If I were a station manager I would not have the exact same music at the exact same times. I would also have DJ’s pick their own set lists that are their own and completely different each day. I would include certain days, such as a new music day where we play new songs released. Another day I would include a decade’s day and play only songs from that specific era or even genre. I think it would be a good idea to only play a song twice a day because a lot of the radio stations now play the exact same songs every hour. I always enjoy listening to talk radio in the mornings on the way to work or class.
Morning talk show- Students discussing recent news about the campus as well as other current events on their way to class should put on morning talk shows.
Work week hustle- Songs that are upbeat, likeable and help people get through the work grind.
Discovery hour- They play new music from local underground musicians. This way they are also helping the communities’ local artists. Because this is prime driving home from work time there is a lot of listeners.
Newbie hour- New music that has been released within the week- any genre
Through the decades- Each day will be a new era. 50’s,60s, 70’s 80’s—rock, hip-hop, jazz though the years
Calm Music- Soothing music to listen while working on homework like trip-hop.
Acoustic hour- The acoustic version of favorite songs, and even covers.
Calm music while sleeping or studying
I think that customization is huge in order for this to be a success. There could be bright pictures of a different artist from a different genre every week. I like that idea
Being able to have access to an artist or band would make them seem really amazing. As far as merchandise is concerned, maybe helping to control the pricing of things such as t-shirts, buttons, and other items would help people be more willing to purchase things.
Every morning through the work week (Monday-Thursday) would be easy listening and happy songs to get people started for the day, afternoons and evenings would be faster and dance like songs, and night would be great dance songs
Fridays would be dance music and caller requests
Saturdays would be throw back requests
Sundays would be lighthearted and carefree music and modern gospel during the mornings
It would be nice to have the lyrics readily available online for whatever song they were listening to. This gives the user a personal experience with the songs they are enjoying.
I was very impressed when listening to DePaul Radio’s broadcast. For starters, their website is very user friendly. It is not overwhelming with words. They have a home page where at the top, you can click to stream the live broadcast. They have a section for what’s “On Air” and what’s “Up Next”. They have very unique broadcasts. It’s not your average radio station. They have an archive of all the shows that they host as well as a schedule for radio stations Monday-Sunday. They are the top college radio station because of their uniqueness. Most of their music is not mainstream but still has some flare and is easy to listen to. I would have to give their website most of the credit. It’s user friendly and provides everything you need to have a pleasant listening experience. They even have their Facebook and Twitter accounts synced to their page.
I would divide genres up into 3 hour shifts. For example 5:00am-8:00am would be acoustic songs to begin the day. I would try to make Monday andTuesday have songs with themes about working hard or getting over something (beginning of the work week). Wednesday would be a special day where one genre is played the entire day. This will give the listeners a sense of “hump day”. Whether they listen that day or not, they will know that it isWednesday. Thursday and Friday will have music that has themes of excitement and anticipation. This will be appealing to people getting ready for the weekend. However the party would not go into the weekend for Middletown Radio. Saturday and Sunday would be a time for 100% talk radio. People will have better access to their personal music during their time off of work. If you happen to work on the weekends, then there’s nothing better than talk radio to help pass the time. I would organize the content of the station in a chronological log of songs played. I would have a team meeting where we developed a rule or standard for how long to wait before repeating a song.
This could be something such as getting someone really famous to be an ambassador for the Radio. Someone that is going to relate to the newer generations because the younger generations are the reason that everything is going digital and everything is basically moving to online (radio's included). There could also be promotional events and doing things such as festivals with famous artists or having chances to win front row tickets with VIP passses. We need something to get the people's attention.
I would divide the music so that at the beginning of the week and the end of the week it would be upbeat and happy music. In the middle of the week I would play inspiring music to help people get through the week. I would make sure that people didn't hear the same songs too often by welcoming all types of music and not being closed off. People want to hear different varieties.
…keeping it clean and simple, keeping it personal, and have a variety of good music that people wouldn’t normally hear on the radio. I hate the radio because the same stuff is always played and I assume others do for that reason as well. If we play a variety of not so mainstream radio music, I think people will naturally gravitate towards it. It should almost be taken back to what radio used to be.
...always be researching and looking for new music to play. Because not everyone will know the music, so it is important make sure the DJ explains something about the music so they know what to appreciate going into listening to each song. One idea is to add local promoters/promotions to the station in order to get people more excited about concerts and different types of music even if it is small concerts or meet and greets with smaller bands/artists. This would help both the radio station and the artist so it’s a win-win.
Also have musicians maybe come in and talk about their instruments, what to expect when learning to play, etc. An expert could come in an do a brief talk through about all the different instruments they play and which are better. Also give them connections on how to broadcast anything they want to promote, for instance, an event promo and new restaurant openings that are looking for gigs, etc. I think we need to add informations on booking gigs like how, where, and with whom. We could even make Middletown merchandise like, banners,stickers, arm bracelets to spread the word to the listeners through give aways. We could do live chat too.
I wouldn't have the same music everyday the chart below will give you a better focus to answer this question. I would put in little segments like fan personality quizzes, karaoke call-ins via webcam, play Indiana bands and artist, comedy segment, and also play know celebrity artist. I would make that session shorter than music played by Indiana artist. We could do a segement called Word Around Town, to promote other artist in the general area. Also we can have a segment for BSU news and sports.
Create a table such as the following and fill it in with the different styles of music or other programming you would recommend:
The music needs to be drawn from many different genres and should be explained before they are played so that the audience has something to listen for or some way that they can view the music in a different light.
Watch the stats and tweak the schedule based on what gets the most listeners.
Have a news show.