On the eve of its 35th birthday, the annual CMJ Music Marathon (Oct. 13-17) is, it hopes, just about over a mid-life crisis that saw the brand slowly lost influence over the last decade and change. It’s a fact new owner Adam Klein is willing to admit.
“You’re right, it had some challenges,” Klein tells Billboard, delicately, going on to explain his purchase of the company was driven by opportunity, not existing value. “The brand name is very credible, and the college radio network has been underutilized — it’s the largest radio-affiliated platform for emerging artists in the country. We are excited about what we can do with all of this.”
CMJ’s role as a fulcrum for the national community of college radio stations — it has relationships with 455 campuses — waned along with its relevance through the ’00s, when ownership changes and revenue troubles began to chip away at the volume of its voice. Klein describes a strategy that would bring its base of member stations back into the conversation, through shows held throughout the year, unassociated (save the CMJ umbrella) with the flagship, New York-based Marathon. As well, a summit of sorts is planned for the coming year that would bring together stations for a knowledge-sharing and talent-exploring event.
Extending beyond the Marathon and into communities — Klein says venues like Brooklyn’s Silent Barn and Trans-Pecos will be hollered at — will be a key part of CMJ’s reintroduction into the cultural consciousness. CMJ’s value was always scrappy, talent up-and-coming artists from nowhere that would soon be everywhere. The trick, quite a trick, is to get them to show up again.
Of course, no talk of brand rejuvenation in this day (minute) and age (day) would be complete without an app; CMJ’s new one will incorporate Marathon band recommendations and planning as well as its charts (its top 20 currently reads like an excellent mixtape, if those still existed) and streams of member stations. Klein cites college radio’s large audience as a key factor in CMJ’s rebirth.
And, finally, a new home. The Marathon will move from its longtime headquarters on NYU’s campus to the posh Dream Downtown, where starry-eyed DJs a month into their sophomore year of college will descend to pick up sock-and-USB-drive-filled gift bags and shake hands before scurrying across town to the Lower East Side and Brooklyn for one of a dozen showcases.
This year’s Marathon marks the halfway point for Klein’s two-year turnaround strategy. Who’s ready for CMJ Marathon 2016?