By Zach Collier
Let’s be real. BYUtv is kind of strange. Throughout its history, BYU Broadcasting – due to significant support from the ecclesiastical leaders of the LDS Church – has challenged the perception of what university broadcasting is capable of. BYU Broadcasting launched in 1946 as an AM radio station, capable of only reaching specific areas on BYU campus. 
Fast forward roughly 60 years. BYU Broadcasting launched BYUtv in 2001 with the hopes of reaching a global audience, tapping in to the solidarity of the Mormon community. After outgrowing their crowded wing in the Harris Fine Arts Center, they relocated to the newly built, state of the art BYU Broadcasting Building next door to the Marriott Center.
Since then, BYUtv has grown from a relatively unknown cable channel on a single satellite TV provider to coverage in more than 53 million households on Dish Network, DirecTV, and over 800 cable systems in the United States.  Pretty impressive for a university broadcasting program.
While their technological accomplishments are impressive and groundbreaking, their programming was (and to a lesser degree, still is) in a state of bizarre flux. Trying to fledge the nest, to spread their wings and fly, the well intentioned but horrendously awkward bird that was BYUtv couldn’t quite figure out where it wanted to fly to. For example, until Scott Swofford took over as BYUtv’s director of content in 2010, BYUtv’s top-rated show was Love of Quilting.  Roundtable discussions about LDS theology, boring summary reports about each of the Church owned universities, and re-runs of films created by the BYU Film Department in the 70’s and 80’s rendered the channel nearly unwatchable. It was of no particular use to anyone except the devout Mormons tuning in for their semi annual General Conference.
Thankfully, Swofford’s direction took BYUtv in exciting new directions. Discovery-channel esque documentary series like Turning Point, The Story Trek, and American Ride helped create a soothing, engaging, educational feel for the channel. Scripted dramas and comedies like Granite Flats and the wildly successful Studio C  helped attract new viewers from varying demographics, both Mormon and non-Mormon. The BYU athletic department’s decision to go independent allowed for the creation of an Emmy award winning sports broadcasting program – thanks in no small part to the hiring of a former ESPN employee or two.
Of particular interest to our publication is the way BYUtv has attempted to foster and promote a positive music culture. Sam Cardon, a well known composer in the LDS Music Industry (whose more interesting compositional credits include video games World of Warcraft and Twisted Metal) helped create the show The Song That Changed My Life.
“We were going to do a live show, sort of like ‘Austin City Limits,'” Cardon told The Daily Herald. “[But] the consensus was, ‘We\’re not sure people watch TV for music anymore… The general suggestion that emerged was for a show that gave unique access to artists, and featured something that wasn’t available anywhere else.” When Stuart Maxfield, lead singer of the Provo band Fictionist, began discussing how a particular song had changed his life, Cardon said, “‘Wait a minute! That’s it!'” 
Shot by Kaleidoscope Pictures, The Song That Changed My Life is a beautiful docu-series discussing the paramount musical influences of well-known artists. It also provides biographical information and explores other experiences that had a profound impact on the careers of featured artists. Included in each episode is an exclusive cover performance of the song that changed their life, played right alongside other songs from their repertoire.
Featured artists include Fictionist, Sixpence None the Richer, Duncan Sheik, Lonestar, and Over the Rhine. The show won a Rocky Mountain Emmy in 2013. The same guys who put on the Primetime and Daytime Emmys, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, are the same ones who judge and award submissions in regional categories.  That’s a huge accomplishment, and a testament to the quality of the show.
Audio Files is another – and perhaps superior – offering from BYUtv. At the helm of Audio Files is filmmaker Matt Eastin. Eastin has directed music videos for many famous acts with ties to the Provo music scene. Mindy Gledhill, Mideau, Joshua James, New Shack, The Moth & The Flame, Neon Trees, and Imagine Dragons are all on his resume. He’s worked with other nationally recognized acts as well, with some of the most notable being Mates of State and Foster the People.
In addition to Eastin, the Audio Files team features Corey Fox (owner of Velour Live Music Gallery) as art director, and Sam Cardon as executive producer.
Fox told Salt Lake City Weekly, “I think the show being produced here brings more credibility to the local art culture. Hopefully, that brings more talented touring artists to Provo.” 
The purpose of Audio Files is to feature notable indie artists as they rise through the music industry. The series combines interviews, concerts, and behind-the-scenes footage. The pièce de rèsistance of the show, however, are the exclusive stripped down performances. Seriously, you need to watch these. Of particular note is the Mates of State performance of their song, “Desire.”
Featured artists include Neon Trees, Imagine Dragons (before stardom), Low, Paper Route, and Nada Surf. Nada Surf’s episode is particularly interesting, as they discuss the challenges that come from a breakthrough single that doesn’t accurately represent a band’s overall sound. After a prolonged break, Audio Files will begin a third season in 2016.
The music here in Provo is a powerful force – one that requires slumbering giants like BYU Broadcasting to take notice and send it to the world. We hope that educational and ecclesiastical bureaucracy won’t prevent BYUtv from continuing to develop engaging, high quality programming. We also hope that local artists will continue to hone and refine their craft so that when the time comes, they’ll be worthy of a national audience.
To watch full episodes of The Song That Changed my life, click here. To watch the exclusive live performances from Audio Files, visit their YouTube channel here.
One reply on “BYUtv offers surprisingly refreshing music programming.”
[…] to perform, Fox has also worked as an art director and production designer for music videos and television programs like BYUtv’s Audio Files. Fox helped co-write and direct Imagine Dragons’ “On Top Of The World” music […]