This week we spoke with Bill Johnson, Jr. Billy is the Senior Program Director – Urban at Yahoo! Music and was kind enough to take the time out to chat with us about what he does at Yahoo! He also gives some great tips on how to get hired at Yahoo! and how programming music on the web is (or isn’t) different than programming music for broadcast radio.
BW 2.0: So tell us what you do at Yahoo!?
Billy: My title is long: Senior Program Director – Urban / Video Programming Lead.
Billy: As the lead video programmer, I am responsible for overseeing the music videos on the site. I manage our Video Premieres program, and following the receipt and encoding, our music videos. I also make sure that priority videos are in appropriate rotation and get proper featuring on the site.
Billy: I manage the content from some of the record labels like Interscope and Universal Records.
Billy: But because I am a music journalist and was hired in that capacity 10 years ago, I still maintain some editorial responsibilities: on camera interviews with urban and pop artists and I also write a blog — Hip Hop Media Training.
BW 2.0: Very cool!
Billy: And then there are the bugs, trouble shooting why things are not publishing on the site and communicating with the engineers to help get these live and communicate our priorities to the rest of the team and other Y! properties for cross promotion.
Billy: 8 years before joining LAUNCH, I had worked as a journalist for the Black Voice News and Rap Sheet Newspaper. Over the years, my work has appeared in Vibe, The Source, Entertainment Weekly and the Hollywood Reporter.
Billy: I know I’m long winded. LOL.
BW 2.0: Not a problem, we like long winded ?
BW 2.0: So how did you make the transition from content creator (writer) to programming content?
Billy: My job has changed a lot since I’ve been here: Rap & R&B Editor, West Coast Urban Editor, Music Director, Sr. Music Director, Sr. Program Director.
Billy: I have ridden the wave.
Billy: My transitions have all kinda been the same.
Billy: I’d come to work one day and get the news: Your position has been phased out, We sold the news department, You’re getting promoted…
Billy: And I roll with the punches.
BW 2.0: LOL
Billy: To be honest, I had been primarily working in an editorial capacity for the first four in a half years before I got the news that the news department–then called LAUNCH Radio Networks–was being sold off.
Billy: My wife was pregnant with out twins. She had been having a horrible pregnancy. Very sick. And on bed rest for 4 months.
Billy: At 8 months, we finally had a good doctor’s appointment. I called up our grandparents to tell them the news.
Billy: As soon as I got back to my desk there was a note that the president of the company wanted to see me.
Billy: I was very cool with him, but I was nervous. He never called me for a meeting. When I sat down at his desk he told me: We sold the news department.
Billy: I swallowed deep, just thinking about the two kids on the way. But he said, “But you’re staying.”
Billy: The news team had like 30 people on it between the offices in LA and NY.
Billy: He said your job is going to change. Instead of writing news, we will syndicate the news from LAUNCH Radio Networks and you will publish it. And you will also begin transitioning into the programming department, working on music videos and radio stations.
Billy: Well, what do you think I said?
BW 2.0: LOL
Billy: I said, Thank you, and I am very interested in learning the programming side of things.
BW 2.0: ROFL
Billy: It’s why I left a print magazine to come to the Internet in the first place.
Billy: So that’s pretty much how it’s been.
BW 2.0: Sweet!
Billy: Over the years, I picked up more and more programming responsibilities and it’s been great.
Billy: I really love writing and want to do more of that, so I just find the time when and where I can.
BW 2.0: Ok so what type of skills would you say one would need to land a programming role?
Billy: Funny questions. It’s not that I don’t think of these things as skills, but when you love what you do, I’m not necessarily thinking of it in those terms.
BW 2.0: Totally understand
Billy: The obvious is a love for music, a good ear for determining what songs are going to be hits and an interest in keeping up on breaking music.
Billy: However, my programming philosophy is part gut response and data.
Billy: I am very confident in my gut reaction to music and am often right. But paying attention to all the data available is also helpful.
Billy: How many people are searching on Yahoo! Music or Yahoo! for a particular artist. How many times are the songs and or videos getting played? How does this compare to what’s happening on traditional music video and radio charts?
BW 2.0: It sounds like programming for radio just a different medium?
Billy: My only radio experience is college radio for which I was a DJ for five years at two different stations.
Billy: It’s very similar, but different in the sense that online the playlists’ are limitless.
Billy: We can add as many songs and videos as we’d like to our rotations.
Billy: So it isn’t a scenario when you have a limited number of songs.
Billy: Our system is smart in that it pays attention to the ratings that the Billy: users give the music they are listening to and it plays what the users want to hear. This personalized experience is incredible.
Billy: The listening experience is unique to each individual and I think that is a major advantage to traditional radio. Also, we don’t have to wait until a song is a big hit before we add it to rotation. We also add album cuts.
BW 2.0: How is it working @ Yahoo! in general, and what advice can you give people who would like to try to work there? (Outside of the typical HR routine.)
Billy: I am an easy going person.
Billy: One of the reasons why I was excited to take the job at LAUNCH (which is what we were before Yahoo! Music) was because of the energy I got from Dave DiMartino, who is the Executive Editor who hired me.
Billy: I was looking for a place that would let me spread my wings, get as deep into the music as I wanted, all without the politics and B.S. that I saw my friends going through at other places.
Billy: And that’s what it has been.
Billy: Everyone is hardworking and loves music, but there aren’t a lot of egos.
Billy: I love that. We work together as a team. I was recently out of the office for a month because I broke my ankle and had to get 9 screws and a plate inserted. While I was out, they took care of everything for me.
BW 2.0: Wow
Billy: When I came back to work, I was really humbled. That was a good feeling.
Billy: That’s not to say that we don’t have politics and B.S.
Billy: Because we do. And there are times when it was crazy. But I’ve always been able stay afloat by the grace of God. LOL.
BW 2.0: Tips on how someone can get in?
Billy: Oh yeah. That was the other part of one of the questions.
Billy: You know how these entertainment jobs are?
Billy: Positions are never advertised.
Billy: Even though that is the case, I would still say check Hotjobs.com, which is where we post many of our jobs, and find something and get your resume in the systems.
Billy: Actually, here’s a great example.
Billy: Here’s how a good friend of mine got a job here.
Billy: He was a user of the site and developed a pretty good understanding of how it worked and its offerings.
Billy: Somehow, he got the contact info for the then Head Of Programming and Label Relations and emailed him, expressing his interest in landing a job at the company.
Billy: He explained his thoughts on the company and what we felt he could contribute.
Billy: I know that the former Head Of Label Relations… was impressed by his pro-activeness and also his experience in radio.
Billy: Ironically, there were a couple openings at the time and he was brought in for an interview.
Billy: I think it took three to six months before he was hired.
Billy: But I think that’s how it works. Get in where you fit it. Learn as much about the company so that when you are able to make a connection with someone there you can woo them.
Billy: And have the skill set or related skills that will get their attention.
Billy: I know finding a new job is a grind. But I think that’s how it goes.
Billy: Network. Network. Network.
Billy: You never know when an opportunity is going to be there.
BW 2.0: True and great tips for our readers
BW 2.0: Now lets get to some fun questions:
BW 2.0: Dream vacay spot?
Billy: We’ve been to Aruba twice and loved it. Would love to go back and stay longer.
Billy: I haven’t been to Europe, but would love to go there.
BW 2.0: Fave Yahoo! Music Video Station?
Billy: I think our Video Premieres station is great because it includes all of our top premieres.
Billy: It’s programmed so that the Premiere of the day is the first video played. I don’t know why I think that’s so dope. LOL.
BW 2.0: What is your most used social network?
Billy: I intended to update my status while doing this interview.
BW 2.0: It sounds like programming for radio just a different medium?
Billy: Man. I really love Facebook. I need therapy.
BW 2.0: LOL
BW 2.0: I know! It’s so addictive!
Billy: I’m always having the MySpace v.s. Facebook debate.
Billy: It’s no competition.
BW 2.0: I agree
BW 2.0: Fave gadget you own right now?
Billy: Well. I’m short on gadgets.
Billy: But it would be a toss up between my portable XM player or the BlackBerry.
Billy: I wish the portable XM player got better portable reception.
Billy: But during a recent drive to Vegas, it was great to have such great clarity the entire way. You could never get that with traditional radio during such a drive. Plus, the variety of the music and talk options are incredible. It’s addicting.
BW 2.0: Last one…Describe yourself in 1 word?
BW 2.0: Nice
BW 2.0: Thank you so much for participating!
Billy: Wow. Thank you. I am honored and really appreciate it. This is very cool.
BW 2.0: Thanks! That means a lot coming from you!