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Gavin's Underground

Utah Musicians Radio

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2012-04-27 -
While local radio has really started to recognize local music on a few shows and expanded their playlists, there's still a lot of room to grow for Utah music to take over airwaves. Hence, the recent boom in podcasts and streaming stations, where the playlists are dictated almost entirely by the listenership -- musicians turning in singles to extra-terrestrial entities in hopes of breaking through the mostly mundane barrier currently coming off the towers.
One of the biggest, and so far very influential, sources is Utah Musicians Radio, a 24/7 online station run like any regular radio station with talent breaks and a playlist flooded with local talent, giving listeners at home a variety throughout the day and selections of genres in the evening. Today, we chat with owner and founder, John Farmer, about the station and the impact it's had, plus his thoughts on local music.

John Farmer

Gavin: Hey, John. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

John: I love these questions! I have no idea what to say; it’s so tough to promote yourself when your whole goal is to help promote others and build the community at large. Where to start ... I was born and raised here in Utah, went to college up in Sitka, Alaska, for a short time, traveled all over the world, from Alaska to Sweden, New York to Brazil, and moved back from England in 2003. I’ve been playing music since I was just a kid. Music is who I am. In 2008, when the economy took a dive, it took me and my previous company under. For a year, I was unemployed, looking for work. Times were tough. My wife was using Facebook at the time and convinced me -- after two years -- to join. Many months of Farmville later, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I’ve traveled this world, I know how musicians were treated in other places, so why weren’t they treated the same here. After doing some soul searching I thought, “What am I good at?“ I knew I was great at sales and I love music, So I started Utah Musicians on Facebook. Little did I know in 2009 when I started that Facebook page that I would eventually start the radio station two years later.

Gavin: What first got you interested in music, and who were some of your favorites growing up?

John: I don’t think there was a time in my life that I wasn’t interested in music. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved music or wanted to play music. My music tastes range all over the place -- Iron Maiden, Dave Mathews, Eurythmics, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Grateful Dead, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Jane’s Addiction, STP, Pearl Jam, REM; the list goes on and on. The only time I really stuck to one genre was like any kid: junior high I was a metalhead in the '80s then reopened my eyes in the '90s.
Gavin: You've personally been a musician for three decades and been involved with the local scene for years. What was it like for you performing around Utah and being involved as long as you have been?

John: Yeah, It’s been crazy playing music for going on 30 years, For the past 20 years, I’ve seen our music scene go from bursting at the seems with incredible talent and even more incredible venues people could go to to watching the 2000s just annihilate our music scene. New laws are making it harder for clubs to stay open. I feel like some of the clubs turned their backs on the music scene during the Olympics. I thought, if I traveled all the way across the planet to see the Olympics, the last thing I want to see is a bunch of drunks singing cover tunes. I want to see the culture. That could have completely changed our music scene. But instead, it hurt it ... I feel like we’ve been in an uphill battle ever since, trying to regain our credibility as a viable music scene. I think it’s just now starting to take off again, with great DIVERSE bands coming out of Utah such as Neon Trees, The Used and Royal Bliss, just to name a few. My goal is to stop having the bands leave to be recognized; I want the industry to come to us and see exactly how incredible our scene is here. And that is why I started our station. We are now heard in over 70 countries; people are taking notice.

Gavin: How did you start taking an interest in more behind-the-scenes work?

John: Well, it was sort of an obvious and natural progression. Traveling the world like I have and seeing how musicians all across the world were treated, I knew something had to be done, I had to make a change for our community; I believe in our state, I believe in our community and I believe in our musicians. I had started Utah Musicians on Facebook. Initially, I just had bands send in their best song and I would post it on our page and you could listen to it on the Facebook player. Then as usual, Facebook changed things, so their player quit working. Within the first three months, we had over 80 bands. With their player no longer working, I started trying to figure a new way to get the music to the masses. While at band practice, I had that thought on the back of my mind the whole time. When practice was over, I turned to my buddy Jared Ruplinger and said “Dude, we have to start a radio station”. He agreed to help me put it together over the weekend, and on May 15, 2011, we started Utah Musicians Radio. We started the station running on my computer. A max of 13 people could listen at a time. We have hundreds of people a minute trying to listen. So, once again turning to Jared, I said, “Dude, this just isn’t going to cut it!” So he got us set up with a company and Utah Musicians Radio was born that could handle the load. The rest is history.

Gavin: What made you decide to start up a station for Utah on the network, and how did you go about getting involved with American Musicians Radio?

John: I wanted Utah Musicians on the Internet because there are no FCC regulations, for one; I don’t have to censor the artists intent on language. It would be like covering up the statue of David with a napkin. How ridiculous is that? If the artist wants to drop the F-bomb, go for it. The next reason is, if I was to go with standard radio, how far would I reach? With Internet, we are heard in over 70 countries and growing. The industry is changing and we are ahead of the curve. Look where television is going -- we are changing the way music is being heard, and as time keeps rolling we have some great new things up our sleeve that are going to revolutionize the industry.
Gavin: What kind of equipment and setup did you need to obtain to make it work?

John: Internet connection and a computer, a few programs you get online, and thank God after being in a band for so many years I’ve acquired a mixing board and a lot of mics for when I do interviews, but it’s all the standard stuff I use when I’m onstage, plus a few extra things like an 8-port headphone jack and that’s about it.

Gavin: You launched the station in mid-2011.What was it like for you getting everything up and running and going live?

John: The funniest story to this whole thing, and I have it on video, the day I went to start the station at 7 a.m. on May15, I clicked the play button and the whole system crashed! I freaked out; I’ll have to find that video.

Gavin: How did you get the word out about getting music from local bands and musicians, and what's the process like for you in setting up the playlist and deciding what goes on?

John: Well, in all my years of playing around Utah, I gained a lot of friends so basically it was pretty easy to get the ball rolling there. I just asked them to send me in their music and I would play them on air. In regard to the deciding what music I play, I really don’t try to pick favorites; my whole goal is to give everyone the opportunity to be heard. Some I may play a little more if a show is coming up or if they ask because they are telling their fans, but for the most part, I play everyone that has submitted their music.
Gavin: What's the response been like from the public, and how has it been growing as a station over the past few years?

John: The response from the public has been incredible! When I first tell people that I started a radio station, they look at me and say, “Oh, that’s interesting”, but when I tell them that it’s only Utah bands and that we only support the local music scene then their ears perk up and every follow up is, “WOW, that’s really cool, where do I go to listen!” So for the most part it’s been a really positive response from everyone.

Gavin: When did you first come across AMR, and what were your initial thoughts on the system they had going at the time?

John: Well, actually, American Musicians Radio is mine, too! I started that when I saw the incredible success of Utah Musicians Radio. We want to start a national compaign to help support all the local communities and bands that are trying to get heard. Our motto is, “We believe every musician deserves to be heard.” Not every band has the money to pay for top-quality recordings, but they have great music. Standard radio won’t play that music for people to hear. But we will. A great example: I had a band send me in some music that they recorded with their laptop, and said to me that it was the best recording they could do, so I responded, “Well, if you want the world to know and hear your music like this, I won’t say no.” They agreed to let me play it and they were listening when their song came up. Their music played up against a few higher-quality recorded bands. A few weeks later, I received an e-mail from them saying, “Wow, we heard our music, so we scraped up enough money for a studio session, here’s our new song” -- same song, completely different sound. I saw it like this: 1. It helped the band come together and sound better; 2, They helped the economy by paying a studio for work; and 3, It created better quality for our station to pump out to the masses! It was a win-win situation for everyone! And that’s all I want to see happen; I want to see everyone win-- bands, venues and the community.

Gavin: Do you have any plans to expand the content with live shows or other content, or are you mainly focusing on the mostly musical format you've got going now?

John: We are already doing live shows from many venues around town. I love the fact that we are playing music live from Utah to people in other countries, We’re heard in over 70 countries and we have just implemented our Facebook page to be able to listen right off our Utah Musicians Page. Just click the “Listen Now!” button and you’re set!
Gavin: For musicians, what do they need to do in order to get their music on the station?

John: Just go to our website and click on the “Upload Music” button and upload your music right there. We will then load it into our system, and mention you on our Facebook page for everyone to see. We’ve already had over two million hits on our Facebook page in just under 11 months. It just goes with us doing our part to help support our musicians, getting their name out to the world!

Gavin: Focusing more statewide, what are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?

John: Our local music scene is so amazing; if we could just get people to take a moment and look around, they would realize how incredible our scene really is. The good side is we have the talent to really create an incredible music scene that rivals Seattle, Austin, Memphis, Nashville and L.A. The bad part is the political structure making it so difficult for venues to thrive and grow in this state is more harm than benefiting. Right now, just trying to tell our own people that we have a music scene is tough enough; trying to convince people outside the state of Utah that doesn’t think that this state is all about Mormons and deserts without anything else is another hurdle. My goal is to change that image. We’re a hell of a lot more than just those things.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make things more prominent?

John: Oh, yeah. Getting the word out to the general public that we have an incredible music scene. Advertising, trying to convince club owners to join together rather than fighting for a fan base. If they all work together under the umbrella of promoting incredible local music, I think there would be a major change. But just getting people back out to see live music through advertising would be a great start.
Gavin: What's your take on local radio and how it's developed over the past couple of years?

John: My take on local radio is it all sucks! It’s no offense to those stations, it’s not their fault. It’s the antiquated business structure they have to follow. Who is listening to the radio at 8 p.m. on any given night anymore? They play one hour of local music with 20 minutes of commercials in between and some don‘t even talk to the bands.Why? The people that are listening are the friends and the family of those bands. Until stations actually take the time and put local bands on at heavy-listen loads, they really aren’t doing anything to help support the local music scene, in my opinion. I play 24/7 local music and I advertise locally owned-and-operated businesses because I want to help support the local economy, as well. My goal is to help our entire community.

Gavin: While we're talking Internet radio, what do you think of UtahFM's presence in the community? And do you view them more as competition or comrades?

John: I never look at anyone as a competitor if they are trying to help promote the local music scene. UtahFM has had its ups and downs, but haven’t we all? I would love to work alongside with them and build a stronger scene. For me, it’s never about competition, it’s about cooperation. If we can all come together with the same goal in mind, we can achieve anything.

Gavin: What can we expect from you and the station the rest of the year?

John: Oh, man, we have such incredible things coming up. First and foremost, a new website that should be done Monday, April 30. We are going to be opening up all 50 states for everyone to upload their own music for their state. We are creating a new website that’s going to change the way you listen and find music. It’s going to benefit bands, venues and advertisers across the board. We should have that up not too far down the road. We’re working on some festivals. Our one-year anniversary of Utah Musicians Radio will be on May 12 at Fat's Grill in Sugar House. We’ve got a lot of bands playing there, check out who is playing on our Facebook page. We’ll be doing some more live streaming from venues, and we’re also helping sponsor the Winter Decompression Concert in Ogden on June 2. We’ll be giving tickets away every night on my radio program.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

John: I really want to just say thank you to my incredible family, my wife, Shanon, and my kids. Our station was built by the people. I want to continue to play it for the people; we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for those amazing musicians from all over the state of Utah that believed in this. I’ll never forget who got us here and I intend to continue to serve our community and working on changing our music scene one day at a time! I love our community and I want to see us succeed and all come together!

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