18 March 2021

Triple J’s Josh Merriel: Radio vs. Spotify

josh merriel triplej radio

ACTIVE OR PASSIVE LISTENING?

Spotify and other streaming services have changed the way we listen to music. Triple J remains an undeniably potent force for Australians seeking new tunes, and connects those outside Aussie cities to new artists on another level. It is also seen as an influential voice internationally, with music festival bookers often looking to the J’s as a tastemaker of rising local artists. Host of Triple J’s Wednesday night punk and hardcore show short.fast.loud Josh Merriel weighs in on this hot button issue.

There is an argument that the Spotify playlist is the new radio play for artist exposure. You run an awesome radio show, and use playlists alongside it. How has the playlist era changed the way you program your show?

Josh: I wouldn’t say it’s changed the way I program my show, but the ever-evolving digital era has made the way people discover the show happen in different ways. The following on the short.fast.loud playlist is growing as more and more bands share it. Then their fans find out there’s a radio show and a voice behind the playlist, and that has brought new listeners into the show in a way I definitely didn’t expect.

“I have personally always seen Spotify as passive and radio is active. Radio has the host who can give you the tidbits, deeper meanings and the interviews. Playlists are just ‘here’s a list of songs’.”

JOSH MERRIEL, TRIPLE J

What do you think Spotify can do that radio can’t? What can radio do that Spotify will never be able to do for artists?

Josh: I have personally always seen Spotify as passive and radio is active. Radio has the host who can give you those interesting tidbits, the deeper meanings, the interviews with the acts themselves, whereas playlists are just “here’s a list of songs”. That passive discovery works for some, and active for others. Now that Spotify are pushing hard into the world of podcasting, there is definitely scope for Spotify to start branding its own content beyond just playlists and having weekly hosts similar to what a radio show does.

CREATING VIRTUAL CROWDS IN A PANDEMIC

How important has been creating virtual communities during the pandemic, and how has interaction with your listeners changed?

Josh: In times like this, more than ever. I remember when the very first lockdown happened, I was supposed to go to New Zealand two days afterwards so there would be guest hosts for a few weeks, but all that got nixed and I just put a call out for happy and uplifting songs. The replies were truly overwhelming, and that show ended up being one of my favourites. Selfishly it’s something I really needed, but the response on the text line and across social media showed I was absolutely not alone in the need for just three hours of songs that make us all feel better.

I’ve noticed a dramatic spike in listeners jumping on the post-show stream from the Triple J app. Now that people are more flexible and working from home means you can crank music you couldn’t spin in an office environment, people are listening in their own time which I think is great.

What is the most memorable feedback you’ve received on your programming?

Josh: Taking over this show from Stu Harvey who was loved by the entire punk and hardcore community made me more than a little nervous. Before I was a host of the show I was a massive fan so I was terrified of ruining it, but the feedback has been incredibly overwhelming and the hate has been very few and far between.

I couldn’t think of a specific example but I’ve had texts from people who tell me it’s gotten them through break ups, through being bullied at school, through lockdown and isolation, and knowing what this show means to everyone fills my heart with more love than I can ever express.

I’ve also received multiple handwritten letters from people currently incarcerated in the prison systems of Australia saying they listen every week on their little transistor radio and it helps pass the long days and nights. I often think of those people and the solace music brings in such harsh environments.

Which playlists can’t you live without?

Josh: I have to admit at this point that I don’t actually have that many playlists I regularly listen to haha. I ALWAYS check out what the new additions are for New Punk Tracks, New Core, New Metal, etc as part of my greater weekly journey of music discovery.

I’ve heard a big British artist manager say they care more about what gets played on Triple J than anything else when booking Australian acts for overseas festivals. Do you feel a sense of responsibility when putting together your playlists?

Josh: Yes and no. Honestly I’ll often forget about just how much of an impact the show has because it always feels like it’s this tightknit community of punks, but then I’ll see some band blow up and see multiple comments on Twitter or Instagram or somewhere saying they first heard the band on SFL.

In terms of other responsibilities though, I will ALWAYS do my best to represent the best music the alternative community has across the gamut of not just genres, but genders, races, and sexual orientations, while at the same time ensuring that I bury that lead.

If it’s an amazing song from an act that features people of colour, queer, gender non-binary, or anything outside of the mould of the straight white man, I’m going to make sure you know I’m spinning an incredible song with huge guitars, vocal melodies for days and lyrics you need to pay attention to, and let the music speak for itself. I never want to play a song for any other reason than a band rocks hard.

Acts like War On Women, The Oxymorrons, G.L.O.S.S, RedHook, The OBGMs and Bad Operation rock hard. That’s what’s important to me. Maybe I’m biased but I believe that’s the one thing punk and hardcore does better than any genre, the music speaks louder than anything; so for a lot of my job as a radio show host, I feel like less can often be more.

What is the most positive thing about this moment for artists that for right now can only really connect digitally in most parts of the world?

Josh: Fans are hungry. Fans WANT to see their favourite bands live, and if they can’t, they want to interact with the bands. Patreon is working so well for acts like Alpha Wolf, Spanish Love Songs, and While She Sleeps. Fans want to support bands in every way they can. So there is all the opportunity for bands to find new ways to connect and interact with their fans until they can get back on the stage. 

What’s next?

Josh: A wonderful question. I’ve got my eye on Twitch, and as much as it hurts my soul to say, TikTok. The Chats started a TikTok account about two weeks ago and already have tens of thousands of fans on there. I don’t think TikTok will work for every band, but for the right band, it’s a goldmine.

As for Twitch, the second they figure out how to let people play music on there properly, someone has to step into that realm and be the video me. I’m too much of an old man for it, but if i was to think about who would eventually take over the reigns of SFL on the day I say goodbye, it would be someone active with a podcast or Twitch or TikTok or something that keeps the show aimed directly at the next generation of punk rock fans.

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Christina Rowatt

Christina Rowatt

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