What Was Project M?

Features 19 Jul 2009

projectmWhat Was Project M?

Okay, a show of hands: “What was Project M?”

Let Local Sounds help…

Project M was a contest sponsored by Madison’s Triple M (105.5 FM) radio station with support from several sponsors.  It was billed as a reality show, which made the follicles on the back of my neck bristle but I pressed on for more information anyway.  That was not easy.  Since I barely listen to any radio at all, the only clue that this contest even existed was an ad in a local rag.  A further online search turned up one hit: a short article that interviewed two of the contestants and was exactly three questions long.  After lots of further digging I finally rounded up enough information to enlighten myself – and now others – on Project M.

At first glance the prizes looked pretty nifty: the winning song received a month of rotation on Triple M, and its author a meeting with an A&R representative from Atlantic Records as well as a performance with an Atlantic Records artist to occur before the end of 2009.

A closer look at the rules revealed the following:

  • The “regular rotation” was defined as a “minimum of one play per day for four weeks.”  There was no indication of the time slot in which this would happen.  The dollar value was stated at $980.  I thought it was odd that a dollar value would be placed on the airing of a song.
  • The meeting with the A&R rep rule stated that he/she would “provide music career advice, answers to the winner’s questions and/or listen to any music…”  Here I felt the “and/or” qualifier was important. There was no minimum time allotment guaranteed but the meeting was to be no longer than 120 minutes, which did not seem likely.  In fact, the meeting was not guaranteed at all as the station assumed no responsibility should the rep cancel.
  • The performance prize was actually just an “opportunity,” with no guarantee either. It was explicitly stated, however, that should such a fortuitous event occur, there would be no compensation for the performance.  The meeting and the performance were valued at $1,000 – $2,000, presumably for unlikely travel expenses to the unlikely meeting.

The bottom line on the prizes is that the winner gets their song played at least once a day on Triple M for four weeks at God only knows what time of day.  Since the winner was Mike Droho (and this is no critique of him), he presumably won what he was already getting as one of a handful of local artists who actually receive commercial air.

Actually, those who got booted off after each challenge (more on this) probably got the most out of it as some of them appeared on the John & Kitty in the Morning show and had the chance to play their (losing) song.  They also probably took a lot of good-natured ribbing from John and Kitty who are always witty and enjoyable. One contestant, Scott Lamps, actually landed a gig from his appearance. 

A Triple M representative indicated that 25 or 30 artists signed up for the contest.  The Triple M judges then picked the ten contestants.  The contestants were touted as “10 of Madison’s finest musicians competing in Triple M’s first-ever reality show: Project M.”

 Here are the ten contestants (quoted info is from their profile on the Triple M site):

  1. Mike Droho – the eventual winner – one of Madison’s most under-appreciated artists and actually deserving of not just a meeting with Atlantic Records but an actual recording contract.
  2. Scott Lamps – another extremely undervalued talent who just returned to Madison from a stint in Chicago. Oddly enough, he’s a former band mate of Droho’s.
  3. Hugh G. Gogh – an eclectic Madison artist who probably got his only media exposure in the pages of Rick’s Café.
  4. Whitney Mann – a newcomer on the Madison scene who’s been creating quite a buzz. (Hey, not too bad on these contestants so far.)
  5. Patrick Sweeney – a Madison guitarist who founded the jam band Good Time Camper. Sweeney is just getting back into the scene as a solo artist since the band broke up.
  6. Nick Matthews – a Madison singer/songwriter who, admittedly, has “had his career put on hold while raising three kids.”
  7. Michael Tecku – a “crew leader for [the 2010] census, substitute teacher and a model” who plays in a band called Eden’s Empire.
  8. Mark Harrod – a Madison singer/songwriter who recently turned to a career in music after recovering from a broken neck he suffered in 2000.
  9. Tyler Kapla – from Racine – wha???
  10. Garrett Ramquist – a full-time student who works part-time at Woodman’s and a Madison guy who’s been “singing/songwriting for five years.” According to the Project M blog, an all-out fist fight broke out between two unnamed contestants on the first day they were summoned to the Entercom building.  My money’s on Ramquist.votedoff_garrett

Ameri-Project M-Idol

In the true reality-show fashion of ensuring the losers become the main event, Project M was designed as a cross between American Idol and (insert name of any dumbass reality show here).  The contestants were given a task to fulfill, the results were taped (video and audio) and then one of them was to be eliminated.  Voting was done by the public online, where the submissions could be reviewed.  This seemed somewhat pointless, however, as the Triple M judges could overrule the vote and did so when they decided Ramquist’s 40,000 MySpace friends shouldn’t all be allowed to vote (This is not an exaggeration; the dude has 40,000 friends on MySpace).

Each week the remaining contestants met at Entercom (Triple M’s parent), where they consumed Old Styles and got their challenge for the week.

The seven challenges:

  1. Write and perform an original song no longer than 2 minutes.
  2. Write and perform an original song inspired by our hometown…Madison, WI.
  3. Write a song from the perspective of the opposite sex. (no one eliminated – technical problems)
  4. Write and perform a song with a title that Jonathan and Kitty make up.
  5. Do a duet.
  6. Create a jingle to sell Old Style Beer.
  7. Perform the original song that best represents you as an artist. Your signature song.

All the videos are still on Triple M’s site. It’s very entertaining.  Then there are the posted comments that degenerate into name-calling and petty jealousies. 

While it is commendable to pay notice to local music in any way, why does it have to be so gimmicky and misleading?  While Triple M does play some local music (we’d all like to see the log), WJJO has the Local Stage and 92.1 the Mic has its Open Mic program (which actually approaches the artists as having artistry), I think we all dream of an alternate reality where local musicians are given the chance to earn rotation on commercial radio the old-fashioned way: by adding and charting.  This should be their right.


(Disclaimer: Since WORT is not commercial radio, they were not mentioned. But we all know who plays the most local music.)

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About the author

Rick Tvedt

Rick is publisher of Local Sounds Magazine, formerly Rick's Cafe, Wisconsin's Regional Music Newspaper. He is also the Executive Director for MAMA, Inc., a non-profit organization that produces the Madison Area Music Awards and raises funds to promote youth music programs.

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  1. Rick Tvedt
    July 20, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Rick – I’m so glad you are publishing again! I have read all your current content and I’m hungry for more.

    Regarding your Project M article: You said “Wha???” only one time and I found myself saying it over and over again as I (intermittently) listened to the contest unfold. I did follow one of your links to the WMMM page… and I’m sure I will watch one or two of those videos someday soon… but it was Jonathan Suttin’s bio that made me chuckle. To the question “CD’s I’d have if I was stranded on a desert island:” he says “Robinson Caruso Instructional CD”. I find it comical that he is evaluating a group of writers while being unable to differentiate between real-life opera singers and 400 year old fictional characters.

    Thanks Rick! The Madison Music Scene (whatever that is) owes you big time for this one.

    Thomas Burns

  2. Chainsaw Curtis
    July 27, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    I really like Triple M as a fairly good commercial station. It is my go to when public radio wears out my brain and the eclecticity of WORT is more than I can handle.

    That said, when Project M first started a thread showed up on the Daily Page Forum and that was the first I had heard of it. This was my first response.

    “First off, I had to sit through the logo for every video – phhhttt. And there was no “stop loading” button on the player so my meager 1 1/2 meg broadband and I had to sit through the “judges” who seem to know nothing about music. Consequently it took almost an hour to go through all the videos. Couldn’t you guys have just done mp3s or maybe had an alternative site with just the audio?

    Contests like this are the reason songwriters/musicians need A & R people and producers – to tell them that while they may have a modicum of talent this might not be the hit song you think it is.

    MMM is all about the hook. None of these songs had hooks or, really any time to develop one. “Bread Lady” maybe but not a great song.His talent was slide guitar. The promoter guy actually mentioned a hook but a chorus is not a “hook” necessarily.

    Best guy – piano dude. I watched him twice.

    Johnathan Suttin doesn’t understand blues. Great. What’s he doing working a radio station? The promoter guy didn’t like the chorus in the “Matter of Time” song.” That was as close to a hook as anyone got.

    Oh great. A whiny chick doing a whiny song about being a groupie. If this were the Apollo the giant shepherd’s crook would be out after the first line. The guy with the Strat? How did he even get a second listen?

    I stopped Mike Droho in the first 5 seconds.

    I really like Triple M as an occasional listen but this is ill conceived coming from a staion that’s supposed to be “world class rock” and “all about the music.”

    Let’s ask Bob. ‘Hey. Bobby. Can you pare down that ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ song to two minutes?'”

    And when one of the forons suggested I lighten up this was my response.

    “Sorry. After almost forty years of being a semi-pro musician I can be a little acerbic when it comes to the challenges involving the business of music. It just looks like MMM is trying to make radio relevant by using the web video/American Idol thing and I’m ok with that. It just took forever to go through all the contestant videos and it irked me considering the challenge of the original post and her reply to eastsidetom.

    Here’s a challenge for the contestants – break out a stop watch and write a song in two minutes.

    Here’s one for Triple M – take Brown Eyed Girl off the playlist and pick something from one of Van Morrison’s other thirty-odd albums to play once in a while.”

    Because of it’s unfriendliness to anybody who doesn’t have huge bandwidth streaming capabilities (me, for example), I only went back once and that was for the Old Style jingle. Absolutely the best was the guy who played the slide guitar. He really had it nailed and the judges seemed to agree. I don’t know which one he was.

    It’s almost like they didn’t want any real talent to try out for the show. Plus, I think you are right on target with your assessment of the prizes. It cost Triple M almost nothing to do this contest and if less than thirty people signed up to try out, they and the winner got what the deserve I guess. $980 divided by 28 is a neat $35 a play. Whose pocket does it go in to?

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