Tune-Yards' Take on Radio: Spotlighting Women & Embracing the Mainstream

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Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards performs during the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover on Aug. 22, 2015 in Salida, Colorado. 

Merrill Garbus, aka Tune-Yards, talks about how she has taken her talents from the recording studio to Red Bull’s streaming station, RBMA Radio, where she hosts C.L.A.W. (Collaborative Legions of Artful Womxn) every third Thursday at 6 p.m. ET.

Nail the Concept

After label heads at 4AD couldn’t find a single female producer for her to work with, Garbus, 37, realized that bringing women to the forefront was exactly what the music world needed. “There are great, unsung female MCs and producers — I wondered how many of them had worked together,” she says. “As it turns out, not a lot.” Now, with C.L.A.W., she premieres an original track from two female artists every episode.

Find Your Voice

One would imagine that getting on the mic is less intimidating for someone who does it professionally, but no such luck: “I cannot stand the sound of my own voice talking about other people’s music,” says Garbus with a laugh. “The first few episodes I used a lot of effects, like, ‘I’m going to put this extreme delay on my voice so I can’t hear myself.’ ” 

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Go Old School 

Though her own brand of offbeat indie pop is likely to be found under the hippest of call letters, as a DJ, Garbus, who is originally from Connecticut, takes inspiration from the mainstream. “I grew up listening to Z100 in the mid-’80s — when it was all Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam,” she says. “What I loved was when they had an actual DJ mixing live — it wasn’t just about singles; it was about having a dance party in your house.” 

Dig in the Charts

“The research has been ongoing for months — we have this huge spreadsheet,” says Garbus, who has a theme for each episode (e.g., women in synthesized music, female MCs). But the process is worth it: “It makes me question my assumptions and leads me to music I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.”

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 3 issue of Billboard.