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SiriusXM's Alt Nation Programmer Jeff Regan Talks New 'Advanced Placement' Show & Tour

Jeff Regan
Courtesy Photo

Jeff Regan

SiriusXM's signature alternative rock channel breaks out fresh programming with a show discovering the newest of new music & spawning a North American tour.

Jeff Regan's tenure at SiriusXM's Alt Nation channel is so lengthy that it pre-dates the merger between the separate Sirius and XM satellite radio companies in early 2007. Since becoming the alternative rock-focused channel's program director, Regan (simply known by his last name on air) has helped Alt Nation become a tastemaker in the genre, often breaking new acts before their arrivals on terrestrial radio.

But over the past few years, one element has eluded Regan and his team: a weekly show that unveils the newest of new sounds in the alternative world, grouping the music together in a single, streamlined playlist rather than dotting fresh tunes across the Alt Nation daily airwaves. That changed in January, with the launch of "Advanced Placement."

"Advanced Placement," which joins the long-running "Alt 18 Countdown" among the channel's original programming, kicked off Jan. 14 as a weekly showcase of what Regan calls a "concentrated dose" of new alternative rock. And while more established acts like David Bowie and Santigold have since graced the half hour-long rundown, make no mistake: this is a place for discovery of new talent, not necessarily the new single from one of Alt Nation's core bands.

In six shows since its premiere (with the seventh debuting today, Feb. 25), "Advanced Placement" and host Regan have spun tracks from, among others, The 1975, AURORA, the Strumbellas and St. Lucia, acts that have gone on to make Billboard's rock airplay charts, often with the song that Regan played. On the docket most recently: the premiere of Miike Snow's "The Heart of Me," the new single from Catfish and the Bottlemen (which managed two top 30 hits on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart last year) and "2AM" by Bear Hands.

Even in its infancy, the show has already spawned a forthcoming North American tour via a partnership with Live Nation: Alt Nation's Advanced Placement Tour featuring POP ETC., The Moth & The Flame and BANNERS. The trek shines a spotlight on the three up-and-comers, all featured at least once on the show so far. The 15-date North American tour starts Feb. 27 in Toronto.

Speaking with Billboard, Regan outlined the beginnings of "Advanced Placement," while also explaining its mission statement for the future, both for artists and in its own right.

Billboard: Why was 2016 was the time for Alt Nation to start a new music discovery show?

Regan: We looked back over the last couple of years and we've been able to play a bunch of artists first who have gone on to succeed, not just in the alternative space, crossing over into mainstream music. It seems like in the last couple years, alternative is stronger in the sense that a lot of artists are getting an opportunity above and beyond the alternative charts and are more apt to get played on mainstream pop channels and exposed in a much bigger way. Whether it be top 40 or [other avenues], alternative artists are now able to be a part of that discussion, whereas for a while it wasn't really like that.

So, we said, let's try this. Let's give them ... it sounds hokey, but I call it a concentrated dose of new music, not just willy-nilly. Let's throw whatever we have at them. Let's curate, just like we curate every hour of the day, every day of the week, and say, here are some hand-selected songs and hand-selected artists that we truly believe have an opportunity to resonate very strongly with our audience.

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It seems that "Advanced Placement" has a fairly focused goal of bonding listeners with new artists.

We want to put a spotlight on artists who are putting out records either that week or within the week. We want to show the depth of artists that that listeners have discovered here. We put a band like Nothing But Thieves on the show with something different from their record, Pop Etc., St. Lucia, all these cool bands who are still just getting recognized in the alternative chart world, but that we know our listeners very much like.

My goal, and the goal of the platform, really, is to show some depth and go, "Hey, there's more than just this song. Get to know the artist, find out about a couple of songs." That's crucial, that's so important to me, that's so important to the channel and the show, that it's not just, "Here's nine bands you've never heard of with nine songs you've never heard of." I want there to be a little familiarity in the sense of, "Hey, you know this artist because we play this song, but have you heard this one yet?"

What feedback have you gotten on the show so far?

My pitch [to artists, labels and managers] is I'll present these songs; yes, these are hand-picked, these are curated. I feel as though there's something to this song or this artist that might be interesting or cool. But after that, I take that step back and watch the listeners. They send me feedback. I see them reach out to the bands and I see the bands reach back out to the listeners, which is such an awesome thing. Back in the day, when I was discovering alternative rock in the '90s, if I could have discovered a new band and they wrote me back, how cool would that have been

So, even six shows in, response has been strong?

Luckily, to the credit of our listeners, they were very, very fast to respond. Just after the first airing, [saying] "Thank you for this, this is cool." What I love about it is ... I'm not naive, I know that if I'm gonna play eight or nine songs that nobody's ever heard of, they're not going to love all of them. And that's fine. I always encourage them and say, "Hey, maybe you'll pick up two or three here." That's a great batting average.

I'm also very excited to see how engaged the artists have been, and how the industry has been. It's great because now bands want to find out how to get their song onto "Advanced Placement." It's already branded itself in the sense that they know what it is, they've seen the effects, them being listeners themselves or bands that they're friends with getting their song on. Managers and labels big and small have seen daily sales increases jump because of the show. People are tracking it by day, like, "Yeah, we were selling 20 downloads on Wednesday … the show debuted on Thursday and it went up 100 percent … and then another 100 percent on Friday," and so forth. So, there's that kind of excitement.

How did the "Advanced Placement" tour, featuring POP ETC., The Moth & The Flame and BANNERS, come about?

It was a conversation that started last year, and it comes from our partnership with Live Nation. Part of the conversation shifted to, "What about a package of Alt Nation bands on the road together?" It was something we'd always thought about, but we're not set up to do that internally and that's not our business. But when we partner with Live Nation, that's what they do. So they said, "If you guys find this interesting, let's put together a list of artists that you think would benefit from being in a package together and playing these types of cool clubs across North America, that you think have potential, that you think your audience would like to discover." We put together our own list and they had a couple artists that they were going to be working with down the road, so we cross-referenced. Much like the [weekly on-air] show itself, these are specifically chosen, curated artists on this bill.

Because we felt like we've seen some success with The Moth & The Flame and Pop Etc., we knew that they had new music ready and we've heard the music and we were excited by it. And I'd heard a lot from Banners, as well, and I see it as a band to watch for 2016. To have an opportunity to have the band involved was great.

Kind of like the [weekly] show, they're not just one-song bands. We want to help artists that develop. Artist development is so important to us as a platform. It's certainly important to me. I want these artists to have a chance to be heard on more than one song, have people go out and see them and sing along with a handful of songs.

How about a couple more acts to watch for this year?

They're not a new band, but what we're seeing from Miike Snow right now and what we've heard from the new record [iii, due March 4] is super exciting. I think they'll be a band that will really take another step, if not two, toward the collective alternative consciousness out there. We're psyched for that because they're talented guys. We've been playing their music for years now.

And an artist that we played first on our show and we've seen quite a high level of feedback on, all positive, has been BISHOP, from Los Angeles. Although she's up to only two songs on the Internet and she's currently unsigned, the feedback has been great.

Alt Nation Advanced Placement Tour Dates:

Feb. 27: Toronto (Mod Club Theatre)
Feb. 28: London, Ontario (Rum Runners)
Feb. 29: Minneapolis, Minn. (The Triple Rock Social Club)
March 1: Chicago (Subterranean)
March 2: Detroit (The Shelter)
March 6: Albany, N.Y. (The Hollow)
March 7: Boston (Brighton Music Hall)
March 9: New York (Santos Party House)
March 10: Philadelphia (The Foundry)
March 15: Houston (House of Blues)
March 19: Dallas (The Cambridge Room at House of Blues)
March 21: Denver (Marquis Theater)
March 30: Los Angeles (Club Bahia)
March 31: San Diego (House of Blues)
July 15: Louisville, Ky. (Louisville Waterfront Park)

 

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