In the last month or so, we have had the pleasure of getting to know Jean-Paul Yovanoff, the founder and artistic director of Musical Theatre Radio. He recently interviewed us on his cool podcast (you can listen to it here). Incredibly charming and inventive, Jean-Paul has combined his knowledge and many skills to create a highly-addictive web-based radio station (which you can find here).
Having tuned in on numerous occasions in the last month, I’m always shocked by how many songs I don’t know (and, as a rep coach, I know a lot of what’s out there). The station is a veritable smorgasbord of beloved and obscure musical theatre songs, many of them contemporary (thus our cross-over).
Also similar to us, Jean-Paul has created a platform to support emerging and established writers. We recently sat down with him to find out what led him to this medium.
When did you first know you held a great fascination for musical theatre?
The very first show I was involved with was Oklahoma! I never got to be on stage though because during rehearsals, I was minus 3 months old. Yup, my mom was pregnant with me while she was getting ready for the show. She always tells the story that I would kick along to the beat of the music. The truth is, I’ve always been exposed to musicals. My first memory of musical theatre is of my dad playing the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. As I got older, every year the family would go to Stratford here in Ontario and see a musical, most of the time a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. I guess I was always destined to be involved in the musical theatre world in some shape or form.
You have a Diploma in Musical Theatre Performance from Sheridan College and a BA in theatre studies at York University. Tell us a bit more about your evolution as a musical theatre artist.
I didn’t decide to pursue theatre as a career until grade 12 when I played Mr. Mushinick in Little Shop of Horrors. After that, I spent grade 13 taking grade 9 and 10 singing classes, taking dance classes and preparing myself for the world of theatre. I auditioned for Sheridan and got early acceptance, so I guess they saw something in me. But when I was there, they didn’t know what to do with me. I am not leading man, pretty boy material. I had this big, tenor voice but, weirdly enough some teachers didn’t consider me a singer. So I got stuck with the character roles that didn’t really sing. But one teacher did think I could, Christina James, and because of her support I got through. After Sheridan I went to York University in Toronto and got a BA in Theatre Studies. It was during that time I realized I didn’t need to be on stage to be happy, so I started writing musicals, and directing and producing. And that is where I am today. I don’t need the spotlight to be on me. I’m just as happy to have it shine on someone else.
What inspired you to create a radio station? Had you any background in radio previous to this?
I was out of the theatre scene for about six or seven years. Your readers might not know this but there isn’t a lot of money in musical theatre. I can visualize those shocked looks right now. I was living in the business world, either managing a DJ company or running my own during that time. But after a while I realized that I was just spinning my wheels. I wasn’t getting the traction for my companies that I wanted, so I closed them and had to figure out what I wanted to do next. I decided I wanted to do something that would make me happy. So I did my research and started up the radio station. So, I was going to be happy now. Poor, but happy. As for experience in radio, back in the day I did work for a number of radio stations but in the promo department as their mascot. But as for being on air, and all the things that come with running a station, I had to figure it out from scratch.
Tell us a little about the day-to-day responsibilities of running your own station.
The station runs 24/7 and I program all the shows. Some are easier like the Best Of segments because I have it set to automatically play random songs from our database. But then there is my show, “Showtime with Jean-Paul Yovanoff” which runs Monday to Friday from 9 to noon then repeats 12 hours later. I record the show the night before but I still have to come up with the patter in between the songs and hand pick every song played during the show. Then there is the “Be Our Guest” program, where I interview people from around the world who are in the Musical Theatre community. That requires conducting the interview and then the editing process after. And then there is the everyday social media content and the updating of the website and the adding of songs to the database and the this and the that. It never ends when you run your own company. Especially when the internet has a global reach. It’s not only the station that runs 24/7.
Can you talk a bit about the logistics of playing recorded work on air for novices like us? Do you have to get any permission? Do you pay royalties?
Today’s technology has made creating and running an internet radio station relatively easy. I don’t think that this could have been done 15 years ago. The website I use Live365.com takes care of so many of the logistical issues such as the music licenses and the royalties. I pay a monthly fee and it allows me to use their program which takes care of the license and royalties for the UK, Canada and the United States. When doing my initial research, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to pull this off because of the shear cost of the licenses alone. For music produced by major publishers I don’t have to get permission to play the shows, I just have to prove I obtained the music legally or received permission from the creators to play their music. Every mp3 has metadata attached to it, which Live365 can submit to the proper licensing boards in order for the artists to get paid.
What non-artistic skills have you developed through creating Musical Theatre Radio?
Luckily, I had been running companies before I started the radio station. So I lived in the business world for a long time and had to develop completely different skill sets and vocabulary to get by. This helped immensely when starting the radio station. I already had the know-how of putting together the marketing, the press releases, the legal and logistic problem solving skills that come from running a business.
What have been some of the great surprises and unforeseen challenges of this venture?
I’ve been told many times that I am really good at interviewing people. I honestly didn’t see that coming. I watched videos on how to interview and read about it but, what I watched and read didn’t resonate with me, so I just decided during the interviews, we are just two friends sitting down and shooting the shit together and whatever happens, happens. I have two questions I always ask: Give us your 30 second bio and Were you always into musical theatre? After that I have an idea of what to ask. If we go off on a tangent, then so be it. I feel the conversations should come organically from the moment before.
One of the biggest challenges has been to get the musical theatre community, for lack of a better term, to trust me. I built the station to help people and support them and promote them but for some reason they don’t always engage when I reach out. I think many artists forget the second word in “Show Business.” They love doing the ‘Show’ part but forget that there is no show without the “Business.” There are so many musicals out there that people spend years and years creating but are impossible to find because they don’t have a website, or don’t maintain their social media presence. I used to reach out to many musicals via their twitter account to get to know them, but either they don’t respond or they have not maintained their presence on social media. Don’t you want you shows to be discovered?
How do you envision the station growing in the coming year and years to come?
I’d love to be able to hire a few people to take over some of the tasks I do. Get another DJ or two or three from around the world to have 2-hour slots to promote where they live and the people they know. Someone in the UK and California and New York and Montreal for example. Playing some of their favorite songs and talking about what’s going on in their part of the world. Our mandate is to promote new and lesser known musicals to a larger audience, so I’d love to be able to see some of the shows we promote be performed somewhere. Have a producer hear the songs on the station, contact the creators and mount the show. I want the station to be recognized as one of the top 5 places for lovers of musical theatre to go and listen to popular and rare, new and classic shows. I want to add even more shows to the database. I believe we play the most variety of any station in the world. For example, we play not one, but two musicals about conjoined twins. Side Show and Cheng & Eng: The Musical, and I’d love to add a third if it’s out there.
What else would you like us to know about you?
I like fruit cake and pineapple on pizza. I know both things are controversial and divisive but that’s the type of guy I am. The radio station is like me: it’s a little different, and there is nothing else like it in the world.
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Visit www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com for more information on over 180 contemporary musical theatre writers and 600+ songs, all searchable by voice and song type.