Rollo & Grady Interview // Nic Harcourt

Rollo & Grady Interview // Nic Harcourt
Nic Harcourt is arguably the most famous DJ in the world. He was born and raised in England and lived in Australia before moving to the United States. He landed his first radio gig doing fill-ins, with no prior experience, at WDST in Woodstock, New York. Before long, he was running a daily show and programming the station.

When the slot opened up for Morning Becomes Eclectic at KCRW in Santa Monica, Harcourt landed the job after an nationwide search. At both WDST and KCRW, Harcourt earned the reputation of spotting talent way ahead of the curve; he’s regarded as the ultimate “tastemaker” in music and was an early proponent of Coldplay, Dido, Damien Rice and Moby to name a few.

He stepped down from Morning Becomes Eclectic and as the station’s music director last Thanksgiving after a 10 year run to build his own business SamLuna Media. He won’t be splitting from the station completely; he’ll continue to do 3 hour Sunday evening show. Harcourt has already earned credits as a music consultant or music supervisor for several movies and television shows and in 2005 completed his first book, Music Lust, a collection of essays about popular music.

I caught up with Nic recently to discuss SamLuna, radio, music and where it’s all heading.

Rollo & Grady Interview // Nic Harcourt

R&G: How does it feel to be retired from Morning Becomes Eclectic?

Nic: How does it feel? I have mixed feelings. I went to the same place every morning for 10 1/2 years, so it takes a little bit of adjusting to, but it’s good. It was time for me to move on and do some other stuff.

R&G: Prior to coming out to Los Angeles from Woodstock, did you realize the traffic conditions here would present an opportunity for you to reach a captive audience?

Nic: I don’t think you can ever really know what you’re getting into whenever you take any job, to be honest with you. But, my market before L.A. was Poughkeepsie. I think that market is 150-something, so there’s a big difference, obviously.

R&G: You were considered a tastemaker before you came to Los Angeles. When did you feel like you earned your stripes at KCRW?

Nic: I don’t know. People started telling me that I was a tastemaker. I never really thought about it. I moved to L.A. because it was an opportunity for me to do something different and to move on in my career. To be honest with you, before I left Woodstock I was happy where I was. I was at a small independently owned alternative station. I was the morning guy, the music director, the program director and the promotions guy. I had a lot of stuff going on there that was keeping me busy. It wasn’t until people started taking notice of some of the stuff that I was doing in L.A. when they started saying, “You’re a tastemaker now. How does that feel?” I was like, “I don’t know. I’m just doing my thing.”

R&G: Was Coldplay your first major discovery?

Nic: I think so. Before Coldplay, we played Dido before her album came out. That was probably the first year I was at KCRW. She didn’t really break through until a year or so later. I think she broke through before Coldplay, if memory serves me correctly. I’ve learned, in hindsight, not to say we were first because there’s always somebody that’s going to be pissed off when you say that. When I was hosting Morning Becomes Eclectic, we were way early with people who went on to fame like Travis, Norah Jones, Dido and Damien Rice. A lot of that stuff happened somewhere between 1999 and 2003.

R&G: I’ve read that you listen to 400 CDs per week. Do you know if a band is worthy of your time and your show within seconds of listening to it? What’s your secret?

Nic: You know, I think you have to like it. That’s the secret. The first thing Chris Douridas said to me when I joined the station was “Don’t play it unless you love it.” It’s a good rule of thumb.

R&G: But I’m assuming you had to be efficient with 400 CDs.

Nic: You learn to be efficient as you go through those demos and CDs, obviously. When I first started listening to that much stuff, it was probably a couple hundred. I would listen to two, three, four tracks then go a little bit deeper and see if there was anything I liked. I realized after a year or two that usually my instincts were correct. When you have so much stuff to listen to you just sort of trust your instincts. The truth is very simple: if you miss something, somebody is going to point it out to you real quick.

R&G: Did you feel any pressure that you could make or break bands?

Nic: No, not at all. Once you start thinking that, you’re second-guessing yourself.

R&G: A year after you started Shawn Fanning created Napster. Did you realize at the time that it would change the face of the music industry?

Nic: I think I knew before Napster came out that stuff was going to change. It was obvious to me that once you could digitally put stuff into your computer, there was going to be a way of circumventing record sales or CD sales, or whatever. Nobody could really foresee exactly how it was going to change, but I figured quite a long time ago, before I even came to LA, that once you could make digital copies of thing, then it was going to shift some.

Did you think it affected your ratings?

Nic: I don’t know if I can tell you that directly. What I can tell you is that there is a whole generation of kids, of people who like music, who don’t even listen to the radio any more.

R&G: What’s your opinion of the current state of the music industry, specifically CDs and the labels?

Nic: Well, it’s completely different. The only thing that labels have left is marketing and promotions. They don’t have distribution anymore. There are still people making money out of publishing. Managers are still making money, and the people who tour are still making money. The concert business is still good.

R&G: Did you champion KCRW’s Internet initiative?

Yes. I was a big part of that. They were already webcasting when I got there, but I introduced the videocast and was aggressively promoting shows out of town. I started the KCRW Presents series and then expanded it to New York, San Francisco and a couple of other cities that presents.

R&G: Do you think the Internet will become the new radio?

Nic: Absolutely. It’s all about the web. You can already listen to Internet radio on your iPhone, and if you have the right attachment you can plug it into your car. It’s just a matter of time before people are exclusively listening to Internet radio.

How do you think à la carte downloads with iTunes and other e-tailers affect album sales?

What I think is the album format is probably dead. People don’t listen to albums anymore. They just listen to songs and buy the songs they want. I think the world has to adapt to that because clearly that is how people are listening. The Internet had a lot to do with that. The iPod and MP3 players have an awful lot to do with the way people listen to music now.

R&G: Can you tell me about your new venture, SamLuna?

Nic: It’s a business I set up a little while ago. I do music supervision, and I’m beginning to produce some television stuff. It’s just an umbrella, really, for all the stuff that I do. Right now, I’m actively looking to build my own business rather than somebody else’s, which is what I did for ten years at KCRW. That was great and fine and beneficial to everybody, but as you get a little bit older you look at your financial responsibilities. That’s what it came down to. It was time to build something for my future and for my kids.

****I highly recommend reading Music Lust (buy here)



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