Meet Our Judges! Q&A with Sarah Burke

Sarah Burke
Sirius XM Canada Music Programmer & Host

Ever wonder what radio music programmers look for when searching for the new great song? Lucky for us, we have Sarah Burke on your judging panel! Burke is a Sirius XM Canada Music Programmer and Host, with a background in commercial radio. Read on to learn about what it’s like to work in radio, what Sarah loves about the Canadian music scene, and why London Ontario’s Call the Office is still one of the best venues!

What do you love about the Canadian music scene?

I love how musicians aren’t afraid to shout about who inspires them, reach out for collaboration fearlessly, and find ways to re-invent their own sound.  You’ll find the Wintersleep drummer (Loel Campbell) on the new Matt Mays record and he also had a hand in production.  Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea put together a supergroup of Canadian musicians for his new solo effort, including the fiddle player from Spirit of the West (Kendel Carson).  No one is afraid to share the music. And I dare you to mention Justin Bieber around Kim Mitchell…he’s his biggest fan!

Did you always know that you wanted to work in radio? How did you get into it?

I wasn’t sure I wanted to work in radio at all, that was a complete gamble.  My interest began in music, I guess. I quickly realized I don’t have much skill on an instrument or counting time or EVEN singing in the shower (I must apologize again to previous roommates and my poor boyfriend).  My interest in music became a question of how can I get closer to the music and passion I see in some of my favourite bands and radio stations.  I originally went to school for journalism hoping to become a music journalist, and in a way, I did, just not so much via print journalism.  I was much more interested in audio recording and interacting face-to-face.  I switched programs a few time before I figured out the right fit. I ended up in a joint program between Western University and Fanshawe College – one of which taught media & communications theory, and one that forced me to choose a specialization.  As torn as I was choosing between “Broadcast Journalism” and “Radio Broadcasting” I figured there would be some skill overlap between the two and took a gamble on the former. It was a tough transition into radio from a more news-focused program but I have several great mentors to thank for helping me find my voice behind the mic.  School can’t teach you everything, but you need the foundation before you can perfect anything!

What would be your advice to someone who wants to work in radio?

Don’t you dare complain about your hours, especially when starting out. Acting entitled won’t get you anywhere and it’s important to remember you COULD be driving a truck for a living, or working in a mine…

What do you look for in a song, when programming for SiriusXM?

If I may, three things.

  1. Make Me Want to Know More

There is so much readily available music in 2017 in every genre and for every niche audience. It’s up to each band to find something to hook the listener, the fan, the radio programmer.  A catchy hook isn’t enough. A sweet producer or guest doesn’t necessarily mean anything.  There needs to be something that peaks my interest. There needs to be something that makes me ask questions about your band, your music, and your history.  Make me google you dammit!  Make me subscribe to your channels. Maybe it’s a cool lyric. Maybe it’s a weird instrument.  I don’t have a straight answer on this but the creativity lies in the hands of the musician behind the track.

2.  Quality Production

While a clean-produced sound can be really great, there’s also something so lovely about a fuzzy garage-rock sound.  I will say the quality matters though, whatever production you’re going for. I don’t want to ask your management why you recorded in a tin can.  I also want to be able to hear your lyrics.  The mix must allow for a pleasant listening experience.

3.  Work With Us, We’ll Work With You

The more willing a band or musician is to make a personal connection with a radio programmer at a station or satellite channel, the bigger the fanbase will be. If you get a programmer excited about your music, they will talk about it on-air. They will share news about your band and music as you do and grow your network as a fan themselves!  Maybe it’s just a follow-up e-mail asking if I have received the track, but ask for feedback! We love helping a band decide between two singles and we are happy to pump your tires when the time is right. We’re just as happy to be honest with you.

You’ve said that you love live music. What are some of your favourite Canadian venues, and one of your most memorable shows you’ve attended?

My favourite Canadian venues include The Horseshoe Tavern (duh, cliché, I know), Massey Hall, Call the Office downtown London (I don’t care how it smells, every band ever has played there and the room has a vibe I haven’t found anywhere else), London Music Hall (what a beautiful renovation and set-up…highly recommend seeing a show there if you get a chance), Budweiser Gardens (the biggest-small arena you’ll have the BEST view from, also in London), and a field near you. I love festival gigs. The crowd always has a different energy.  Since I’ve just moved back to Toronto to work at SiriusXM you’ll forgive my London, ON bias but here goes for memorable shows: The Tragically Hip @ Budweiser Gardens on the Man Machine Poem final tour…crying with 9,000 of my closest friends and strangers.  Arkells at London Music Hall on my 28th birthday (very cool having Max wish me a Happy Birthday from the stage after his radio visit that day), and Danko Jones at Call the Office…a gazillion times. A hot, sweaty dance party that never disappointed.