BEHIND THE SCENES: IDOBI RADIO FOUNDER TOM CHENEY
Since 1999, idobi Radio has connected listeners with artists through interviews and up-to-date music industry news. Started by Tom Cheney (then a producer for MTV Networks), running the station off his home computer in Washington, DC. The station started on the Live365 radio platform broadcasting two formats, Alternative Rock and Top 40. When the internet and the iTunes radio grew and the station also started promoting itself through a variety of tours and the Vans Warped Tour the station gained listeners.
In 2003, the station dropped the Live365 platform and Top 40 stream so they could focus on the Alternative Rock stream and to launch a new website similar to AbsolutePunk and Buzznet. The Alternative rock stream has an excellent track record of playing tracks from top unsigned artists, many times before they make it onto terrestrial radio stations or MTV rotation, most notably having featured artists like Good Charlotte, Fall Out Boy, and All Time Low prior to the bands' mainstream successes.
In August 2006, Simple Plan guitarist Sébastien Lefebvre and merchandise manager Patrick Langlois agreed to do a weekly show on idobi named The Man of the Hour. The show was a mainstream success, increased the station's listenership significantly around the world.
Another show that idobi is famous for is “The Gunz Show”. DJ Gunz combines his passion of music with his extensive knowledge of both music and the music industry. The show broadcasts on idobi Networks every Wednesday and Sunday night from 9pm EST – 12am EST.
Nowadays, the modern rock station has around eight million listeners a month and its website consists of music news, album reviews, concert videos/photos, artists' bios, and concert dates.
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you decide to start idobi? Did you ever think it would be this big? Before you started idobi, you worked for MTV Networks. How did you know you wanted to pursue a music industry job? What inspires and motivates you to still pursue a career in music? What does music mean to you?
idobi started in 1999 as a project to test out available streaming technologies. I tested a lot of open source and proprietary technologies at the time, from Shoutcast (which we're currently using) to Live365 to RealNetwork to Quicktime Server. At the beginning it was less about the content than about how best to deliver music to people. Cable and DSL service was just starting to heat up, but a large percent of the population was still using 56k modems. Even though I've been working with various aspects of the music industry for a long time, it's been the the geeky technical aspect that's driven my career. The best part is that I've been able to combine two things that I love and gotten paid to have fun.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned working in the music industry?
It's ultimately a small industry. You run into the same people over and over - sometimes years apart. There's the usual sharks and slime bags, but there are also a lot of nice people helping each other out.
What is your favorite interview idobi has ever done?
There have been so many. The best interviews have been with people that are relaxed and have a little fun, like Pete from Fall Out Boy or Kenny from The Starting Line.
Since its birth in 1999, idobi has featured tracks from top unsigned artists, sometimes before they make it onto radio stations or MTV rotation. What are some bands that you remember hearing that you absolutely knew were going to be a hit? Any unsigned bands at the moment you think that of?
Good Charlotte was one. They started out the same time as idobi and we're both from DC. For those first couple years, we grew together. Then there was Simple Plan. Sum 41. Fall Out Boy. All Time Low. Fun. Bands to watch today? Keep an eye on Mitchy C, T Mills, Matt Toka, and What Looks Like Crazy. There's a young band from DC called The Baby Grand that's promising.
When the station decided to drop the Top 40 stream in the early 2000’s to focus on the Alternative Rock and to launch the new website, did you think it was a big risk?
I didn't. There are tons of Top 40 stations available, and it's not something that takes a lot of effort to run. I'd rather try to find bands and help them grow than just play what's popular.
There are number of different shows on idobi Radio every week, including The Gunz Show and the Man Of The Hour with Simple Plan’s guitarist Sébastien Lefebvre and merchandise manager Patrick Langlois. How did the idea for these shows come up?
I don't exactly remember. I'm sure they were born out of some late night IM chat - the ones that we remember about the next morning anyways. The Gunz Show was the result of Gunz pestering me and our program director, Eddie Barella. We decided to give him a chance - he was awful in the beginning, but he grew into it quite well.
How do you think being in radio now, in this age of social media, differs from before?
Being a 24/7 medium makes it a different than anything before. You can see right away how your audience reacts to your decisions. On the other hand, you have to be disciplined in your program decisions and not pander to the lowest common denominator. You can always get a huge audience by having Jason from Artist Vs Poet take his shirt off and arm wrestle someone. You wouldn't want to do that all the time though.
What’s the biggest surprise about working in this field? What’s the best and worst part about working in the music industry?
I don't know if surprise is the right word, but I'm encouraged by how helpful everyone is and how much people help each other. The worst part of that is how some people exploit other people's helpful nature and give up their integrity for some short term gain.
Who do you think changed the music industry? Why?
I don't think there's any one person that changed the music industry. Napster introduced the mp3 era, and the iPod enabled you to carry every song you've ever owned in your pocket. Today it isn't one person changing the industry. It's the combination of all the individual people recording music on their computer or putting a video on YouTube. It's the original songwriters and singers that put their hearts into their music and release it to the world and bypass the gatekeepers of the industry. It's Logic and Protools and Garageband and YouTube and Tunecore that allow a kid to create something and share it with the world. It's the songwriters like Alex Day from the UK who release single after single and make a better living than people who sign to major labels.
Is there a moment that sticks out in your head that made you realize that this is the perfect job for you?
There isn't any one moment, but there have been letters and mementos from bands that said we've helped them in their careers. There was a letter from a soldier serving in Iraq who wrote me and told me how much idobi Radio helped him get through the day. Those things make me feel good about doing what I do and I'm encouraged to know that I've impacted someone's life.
What classes/degree did you take to get ahead in this field?
I was a chemical engineering major. Yeah, that had nothing to do with music.
What would you tell other people who want to work in the music industry/at idobi?
Be prepared to work long hours for very little money. Take your enjoyment from what you do and living your life. It's not a get-rich-quick scheme, and sometimes it's not even an I-can-pay-my-bills scheme.
Lastly, what are your feature hopes and goals for idobi?
I hope idobi helps bands find an audience, and I hope our listeners find music that has meaning for them.