Backstage with a radio journalist: Carsten Holm

Established artists with a record deal, as well as the upcoming ones working in a more DIY style, need to reach the audience somehow. Radio is one of the oldest media where music lovers still go in search for inspiration. But who is out there, on the other side, playing the music for the listeners through the radio? How does the job of a music radio journalist look like? What is the role of public radio in Denmark? Carsten Holm is the voice of Danish Radio who has been relentlessly sharing his best music discoveries with the listeners for almost 20 years. His shows offer a wide range of genres and a fresh insight into the Danish and international music scene. We got a chance to talk to Carsten about his radio career, work process, and other aspects of the music industry.

As this was an interview with a radio persona, and one who is sometimes described as having the most pleasant voice in Denmark, it seemed appropriate to record as an audio piece. You can listen to it on our SoundCloud in full and read the snippets below.

What is your approach towards music blogs? How do you feel about them?

I feel very good about music blogs, I like music blogs. I occasionally visit the big ones, like Pitchfork and Stereogum. I also visit Good because Danish sometimes. I even have my own music blog that I share with 15 people. It’s focusing on music from Aarhus, where I live. It’s called Aarhus Echo. We publish stories about music from the past, the present and the future. We also share stories about people who are not involved in music on stage, like your Backstage Talks series; producers, people in studios and in different music-related organisations. So I like music blogs, I use them and I work with them.

Do you find them somehow taking the professionalism out of the job? Or do you treat them as something separate?

For me, it’s something completely separate. It’s just people sharing their taste in music, more or less. I see them the same way I see people commenting on the music I play on my radio shows. I think that music blogs give a huge variety of what music is out there. All the big magazines, big media, radio and especially – at least in Denmark – television, they don’t focus that much on electronic music, death metal, or all these genres and niches. You can find a lot of this music on the blogs, which is good.

How would you define your role and your job these days?

I do a lot of things. I have a radio show on Mondays on DR P6 Beat, which is Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s alternative radio station. I play a lot of Danish music but also international indie and alternative stuff. Then on Sundays, I have a radio show at another public radio channel called P4, it’s just about Danish music with a wide perspective on it. P4 is for a bit more mature audience. So I don’t go much into what is popular among the kids and the youth. However, P4 is the biggest radio station in Denmark with a lot of listeners.

I am also a moderator or a presenter at festivals. Not this year, because of Covid. There is a metal festival I represent. I also do talks with musicians, live in front of an audience. I’m about to host a listening party with a band called Barselona. They have a new album, and we will have a listening party with around 300 fans at a venue in Copenhagen. The band will talk about the album, the anecdotes, the instruments, and then we will listen to the whole LP.

How did your adventure with music and radio journalism start?

I went to a business school 30 years ago, and somehow I got into metal and followed that scene. There was a guy at the school who said to me, “well, I have this radio show in a city very close, so bring your albums and we will talk about music.” That’s how I found out that radio was quite fun, so I started my own radio show with another friend. Once I was talking to a guy at a public radio station, and he asked me if I could do a public radio show, also heavy metal. So I did that. After the show he asked me if I could do it again, because he had to do something else. Eventually, I took over that show and started to learn about different radio jobs. That was in 1994, I think, and I’ve been there ever since.

How would you describe the role of radio in the era of streaming services and podcasts, all these new ways of presenting music?

Eight or ten years ago I was a bit scared or worried that radio stations could struggle with the new streaming services that were and still are so popular. But I find that radio in Denmark is still very popular too. There’s a tiny decline in listeners, which is a bit surprising. I think the listeners enjoy how radio hosts in Denmark present music. They get some stories about the bands, they get some emotions from the hosts, they get more than just music. They also get some facts and feelings surrounding the music, which is something they can’t get from streaming services.

Is there something in the Scandinavian approach to radio that helps it to still have a big influence on people?

I don’t know if it’s a Scandinavian thing, but in Denmark we value public service very much. Especially when it introduces people to something they didn’t know they would like or hear about. That’s the way I present music on the radio. I think that’s the key thing that makes people come back to radio more and more. We have something else to offer.

How do you prepare your programs? Do you use rotation playlists? How do they work?

I think that rotations are a great tool for radio hosts like me. A couple years ago, I barely had time to prepare my shows. So it was nice to come into the studio, see the playlist on my computer and say, “that’s a great song, as well and this one and that one, this one is not so great but instead I can play that song”. I didn’t have to think about finding the music for the show’s three hours every day.

Now I prepare my radio shows by listening to a lot of music. I get many songs, tips, and I search for music on the streaming platforms. I then contact record labels, managers, or musicians and ask if they can join me on one of my shows. When I come to the radio station and open my computer, I will see a radio playlist. I have the freedom, so to speak, to just delete everything and put my things. But I often use some songs from that playlist.

What was the last release that you fell in love with?

That must be a Danish band called Joyce. They released an album “Formskifter” this summer. It’s very good. It has this semi-punk, semi-rock attitude, but some of their songs are pop. They have great energy and instrumentation, good vocals and lyrics. That’s the album of the year, in my book.

There’s also this Aarhus-based band called Trader. Their new album “Social Life” is also great. It’s like pavement (Sandy) Alex G, Nirvana. It’s very heavy, very slack music, it’s great.

Do you share your opinions on your radio shows? How do you tackle topics of sexism, gender equality and other “difficult” subjects?

I have strong views on things, but I don’t really share them as a professional on the radio, not that much. Mostly, it’s just about presenting the music. Occasionally, I’ve played only female artists on the radio. But I didn’t say, “today it’s all female artists!” The people could put two and two together. In my world, men and women are equal. I try to have a balance between male and female guests on my shows and in the music I share. Sometimes I talk about the music that is political or speaks about gender equality. But I realise that when I speak to 800 000 people via public radio, and it’s a music show, then it should be just about the music. But I’d like to have some good karma about music and some good karma about people. That’s important to me. So everybody is welcome on the radio show, everybody.

What is your most special work memory?

It has nothing to do with Danish music. There’s a British band called Underworld. I really like some of their music, not all of it, but some of the songs are absolutely amazing. I don’t have any friends who love them as much as I do. So I was talking about them on the radio and I said, “sorry guys, now I have to play a song from this band called Underworld.” I talked about why I like them, about seeing them live at a festival in Aarhus, which was amazing, and I played their song. A week later, I got a message from a guy called Niels from the island of Bornholm. He said, “I think you’re the same age as me. I’m 47 and I just heard you play this band Underworld that I haven’t heard of before. And I can’t understand why I’ve never heard of them.” I don’t know how many hours a day he spent listening to Underworld. He wasn’t into electronic music, but he thought that if a guy like me talks so caringly about it, then there must be some quality in it. He told me that he’d been listening to all of their records. I think 8 out of his 10 favourite songs were also my favourites. It’s amazing to think that I can influence people in that way. Not because it’s on my agenda; I just play the music I like. And if somebody wants to listen to it with me, then it’s just nice.

Do you remember some troubles or screw-ups which have been a good lesson?

I’ve done radio interviews that didn’t work out right. I remember talking to Jonas Bjerre from Mew when they had just released their first single and album. I was presenting a radio concert with them. During the interview, Jonas said something about the vocals and I said, “oh yes, and who’s the girl singing on that single?” He answered, “well, that’s just… it’s me.” That was a bummer. There have also been some  technical f*ck-ups. In the studio, I don’t have a technician, I am my own.

What is the most exciting part of your job?

For me, it’s thinking “that was a good radio show” after I leave the studio on a Sunday or Monday night. There might have been small mistakes here and there, but it was still a very good show. The technique was good, the songs were good, I had some interesting talks with the listeners, creating this community around music, playing songs that people didn’t expect, helping them discover something new. To be able to do that is a huge gift. I like to feel other people’s engagement in music.

It’s not about meeting people. Obviously, I meet a lot of exciting people, like artists, or radio listeners, procedures, organisers. Music is a creative space with a lot of fun and creative, intellectual people. But it’s about being a part of the community, being a voice for the music.

 

Head to Backstage Talks to learn about more people working in the Danish music industry.

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