It’s a Tuesday night at the Bell House in Brooklyn, and a packed crowd is about to hear the latest track from Django Django. But the British psych-pop quartet is nowhere to be found — instead, the room-full of music fans has gathered to rate the track on a scale of 1 to 10, becoming a real-time focus group for the hosts of NPR’s “All Songs Considered.”
As the jangly, tambourine- and hand clap-driven rhythms of Django Django’s “Default” fill the room, the listeners, largely 20-something and bespectacled, respond favorably, lifting 8s and 9s into the air.
“It’s like fist-pumping for a paler persuasion,” one says, in Pitchfork-perfect parlance.
“I can’t think of a single song that isn’t improved by hand claps,” another adds.
The Bell House gig is the latest in the first, six-city “All Songs Considered” listening tour, which wraps Sept. 13 at the Gibson Guitar Showroom in Washington, D.C. But it’s also the latest in a series of initiatives that has given NPR Music programming more of a visual, accessible presence. Individual public-radio stations like KCRW Los Angeles, KEXP Seattle, KCMP Minneapolis and many more have often been the first places to play acts like Norah Jones, Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend, Bon Iver and Of Monsters & Men, among countless others, but the NPR Music banner is bringing all that content to a more national audience.
Whether it’s live concert streams from venues like New York’s Le Poisson Rouge and Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell, exclusive streaming coverage of major festivals like South by Southwest and Newport Jazz or securing highly anticipated releases for its “First Listen” series (everything from Bruce Springsteen to Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti), NPR Music is taking a more active role in moving the needle for new releases and live acts — particularly the type of indie rock for which blogs used to be the leading authority.
In May, Sub Pop publicist Frank Nieto chose NPR Music over Pitchfork to premiere the first stream of Beach House’s Bloom LP. “It legitimized them as an artist,” he says. Helped by that extra exposure, the band scored a top 10 debut on the Billboard 200 and its largest-ever sales week (41,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan). “A ‘First Listen’ album stream helps fuel the campaign at the regional level as well as secondary outlets,” Nieto adds. “When you see an item on ‘First Listen,’ it makes outlets say, ‘I have to go listen to this.’ It gives them the impetus to cover it.”
Managers and publicists at both indie and major labels say the power of an NPR Music feature coupled with NPR News coverage on programs like “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered,” “Weekend Edition” and “Fresh Air” can really affect a release, especially when compared with music-only sites.
Kevin Duneman, director of artist development for Jagjaguwar, Dead Oceans and Secretly Canadian, says NPR coverage is “almost irreplaceable” in terms of its wide reach and real-time impact on digital sales charts after major features air. “It’s pretty much the first thing on my marketing report every week and it’s the first thing we talk about when we sit down with Amazon, iTunes or indie retailers,” he says. “Publicists and radio coordinators spend a lot of time trying to convince NPR to run something. But at the end of the day, NPR is so good at curating its own content, it feels untouchable. When you actually land something you’ll get that desired retail impact.”
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