Mark Rheaume is head of CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] Radio’s Music Resources department. CBC Radio refers to the English-language radio operations of the Canadian Broadcasting Operation. The CBC operates a number of radio networks serving different audiences and programming niches; these channels are CBC Radio One, CBC Radio 2, and CBC Radio 3*.
Mark profiles new music from Ontario artists on the first Sunday of every month, and presents his monthly picks on Fresh Air. In some sense you could almost call him an ‘Executive Plugger’! Mark has reported on music for many CBC shows, including Definitely Not the Opera and Ontario Morning. His syndicated music review column is carried on CBC stations across the country and he has served as a juror for the Polaris Prize and the Juno Awards.
With so many bands out there looking to get their music on the CBC network, Music Vice thought it would be a great idea to catch up with Mark at CBC and pick his brain! Mark spoke with Ngawara Madison about the process of getting airplay and employment with CBC Radio.
* NB: The inconsistency of branding between “One”, “2” and “3” was a deliberate design choice on CBC’s part and is not an error!
A big part of this interview series is to tell our readers about the many positions that exist within the music and media industries. Could you explain in brief, what your position exactly entails, and run us through your average day as Head of Resources for CBC Radio?
I guess you could say I’m the gatekeeper or conduit between musicians – and that’s everyone from indie artists making their first record to established artists signed to major labels – and the shows that play music on CBC Radio. Especially outside the major markets like Toronto, our morning and afternoon drive shows don’t have staffers to help them wade through the vast pile of releases and pick out the stuff that’s worth putting on the air. Every day, in addition to auditing CD submissions, I listen to the albums I’ve approved for airplay, identify the most spin-worthy tracks, and provide a write-up for the hosts so they can introduce the tunes with some authority. In effect, I pre-listen or check out the recordings for the hosts and producers. My parents would never have believed it, but I’m paid to listen to records!
How did you come to work for CBC? Did you set out with that occupation in mind, or what were your initial aspirations? A lot of people seem to ‘stumble’ upon their career path. What is your story?
Well, besides loving music and being an album collector all my life, I’d graduated from college in both TV & Radio Broadcasting and Archival Practices. Then I heard in 1998 that CBC Radio had acquired the complete LP/CD and script collection of the recently deceased Clyde Gilmour, who’d hosted his own music show on the network for over 40 years. Thinking the CBC would need an intern to work on archiving these materials, I cold-called the Music Library offering my services. Instead, they gave me a job! That lasted about two years and then the job I’m doing now came open, so of course I went for that! Though it was definitely a logical thing for me to be doing since I love music and media, I definitely “stumbled” onto this career path!
What advice would you give to students coming out of highschool who know they want to be involved with the Radio Industry but dont know which avenue to take. Do you recommend going to college, university, getting a part-job and an internship at a station?
1. Definitely study Radio at college or university. Or if you can’t do that – or maybe in combination with that –
2. See if there’s an opening on college or university radio and take ANY shift they give you!
3. See if you can intern at something like CBC, the BBC, or NPR. Do it!
Don’t worry about not being paid at first. Do the work, impress the hell out of them, and when there’s an opening, you’re in!
What is the ‘ladder’ in your part of the Radio industry? Is there a hierachy around your position? What are the possible career climbs for someone working in Music Resources?
Well, I really gotta say that with a job is as good as mine – and it never, ever feels like work – there’s nothing else I ever want to do here. I’ve never once checked our job board for new opportunities. I mean, you can’t improve on the ideal situation! But having said that, there are opportunities to move on and grow at CBC. Just as one example, both hosts and producers and technicians have gone on to management roles, leaving on-air work behind them!
What kind of personality suits your position? What character traits do you think are a positive fit for the job? What kind of person would excel in your occupation?
Well, first of all, you have to love music – and have a really open mind. My job is to figure out if a particular artist or album is suitable for our programs. It doesn’t matter if I personally like the music or not. I’ve gotta think of the person listening at home in their kitchen or in their car or wherever. I’ve had to listen to thousands of albums in those jobs over the past ten-plus years, and believe me, not all of them are ones I’ve kept a copy of for myself! Second, you have to really want to help the artists. If you find, in dealing with them, that they’re obnoxious or overbearing, you have to put those feelings aside and, again, think of the listener first and foremost and whether they would like to hear this person’s music. Third, you have to be able to write well. We’re communicating to our producers WHY these records should be played and we have to do it in terms that make sense!
© Ngawara Madison, Music Vice
Internet links: CBC Radio
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