Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Mix 102.7: Music for Manicures

Today I got a manicure! Umm. Well. Normally I don't get manicures - today was my second, the first was right before a job interview a year or two ago. But today they were offering them for free at CNBC's Global Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, where there is some sort of CNBC Global celebration going on. (I also got a free shoe shine as part of that celebration. Cool.) I don't work for CNBC actually - I work for NBC Universal's Cable Networks, where I format TV shows for USA Network and the Sci Fi Channel on the second floor. Formatting TV shows means I get them ready to go on the air - I make sure they look OK, sound OK, are edited to an exact time length, etc. etc. Exciting stuff.

So I go and get my manicure, things are slow and behind schedule, there are many women milling about, I'm the only guy there, I'm embarassed. (Look, y'know, I am confident in my sexuality, but... getting your nails done seems like such a... girlie thing. One of the manicuristas assures me she does the nails of a garbageman every Friday, so his nails can look good for the weekend. OK. Umm.)

At some point I notice that, in the background, the sound of Mix 102.7, "New York's Classic Dance Mix", is gently wafting across the executive dining room. The manicure ladies have brought their own boom box with them! And the station's women-in-the-office-friendly "Mix" indeed provides a reassuring sound; we hear Prince ("When Doves Cry" - still a genius song, one of the ladies getting her nails done sings along with every word), and - and... I'm trying hard to remember the other songs, but, a hour or so later, I can't. I do remember there was a new-sounding cover of the O'Jays classic "I Love Music", sung by a female group. Looking at the station's current advertising banner, the artists pictured are: Madonna, Tina Turner, Cher, Prince, Jennifer Lopez. All incredibly famous and Oprah-ready women, with the exception of Prince, an incredibly famous and Oprah-ready guy very much comfortable with his femininity.

I get the feeling that the Mix 102.7 songs are not designed to be listened to in the same way I listen to, say, the music-nerd-friendly songs on my current favorite radio station in the world Sirius Disorder. The Mix songs are familiar, gently aggresive, upbeat, workmanlike (workwomanlike?). The songs sound right as the nice manicurist lady works on my nails. (A pleasure, by the way.) The songs sound just right as I chat with the ladies, playing my role as the bashful guy who's interupting this pleasant office girl ritual.

Some music radio stations - maybe most of commercial FM stations in New York, now that I think about it - play their songs because they "sound" right. It has to do with sound frequencies plus "vibe", and the body's reaction to those frequencies and "vibe". I can imagine music directors being able to choose whether new songs can fit in their playlist within seconds, just because it's not too hard to know if the song's "sound" is right, once you know what the intended audience is gonna be. Definitely Lite FM, for instance, or WPLJ - two other stations that are competing for the same audience that Mix 102.7 looks for.

Years ago, I used to work an occasional night shift, editing promos for USA Network in Jersey City; if you worked late enough, you could get a town car to drive you back to Manhattan (where I lived at the time). Always - always - those town cars would have their radios tuned to CD101.9. And I would sink back in those Lincoln Continental seat cushions and gaze sleepily at the walls of the Holland Tunnel, and damn if those "smooth jazz" songs didn't sound just right. Now: I am a hardcore rock snob, and I wouldn't want to be caught dead admitting that I enjoy the gooey pablum of CD101.9-type music.

But - in those moments of sleepiness after a hard night's work of tension and coffee - I swear to you, that gooey pablum sounded right. It was as if the frequencies of the songs were perfect. I could feel my brain and body relax, I could feel myself feel safe as I unwound, as the Lincoln Continental bounced comfortably across Houston.

Sometimes the sound is what matters (he typed with his newly-manicured fingers, strangely relaxed and at peace with the world.)

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