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Tuesday
Sep202011

Do You Have To Choose Between Being An Internet Star And A Radio Star?

I’ve started to notice a trend. Radio doesn’t like the internet. Actually, most of the music industry doesn’t like the internet. The traditional music industry can’t do much about file sharing, loss of their brand, the flattening of recording technology, etc, but they can do something about radio and traditional media. They can use their power in both worlds to ignore nearly every music star the internet has created.

Rebecca Black wasn’t played on the radio. Not because she had a horrible song, no, it was because she was created outside of the system. Other internet music stars like Kina GrannisPomplamoose, etc, have more than enough fans for radio play, but because of the tight relations between the Major Labels and Corporate Radio, those internet artists aren’t receiving the attention that they should. They’ve been created without the Majors profiting and therefore they’ve been blacklisted.

Of course we do have the curious case of Justin Bieber. Arguably the biggest star the internet has ever produced. But when you look at the main differences between Bieber and other internet music stars you quickly notice that Justin Bieber signed with the Major Label world very early on. His manager, whom discovered him, was already involved with the Majors and Justin was quickly groomed to be very much a Major Label artist. For all the good his mother did him in his early years of his career, she didn’t want to keep controlling it in a DIY fashion like many of today’s internet music stars want.

The difference between the two types of music stars is quite obvious. When bands sign with Major Labels they are signing to old media. Radio, TV, Newspapers, (other things that your father grandfather talks about) have a long and storied history with Major Labels. The internet is new; it’s brash, bold, and will probably kill most of the old media if it has the chance. Of course radio won’t play an internet artist. It would be tantamount to giving it all up. They still must up hold “standards” even if it kills them.

It seems that, at least today, 2011, you do have to choose between being an Internet Star and a Radio Star. if you reject the Majors and go it your own way, you also reject traditional mainstream radio. For indie bands, psych jam rockers, underground electronic hip hop beatmakers that will probably not be a problem. But if you’re aiming at a bigger audience, the kind that the pop stars of yesteryear had, then you’d better figure out away to do it without mainstream radio, because most likely, you’ll be left out.

———

Voyno: Co-author of The New Rockstar Philosophy book and blog. 

Reader Comments (9)

Where would indie labels fit into this paradigm? If you are presented any choice it would be - would you rather sign to an indie or a major? And even then, a lot of indie labels license their music to majors in order to reach the audience majors have with traditional media.

I don't think anybody chooses to be an 'internet star', rather, if they are being honest, they are probably just waiting to be signed to the right label (unless they have specific reasons for being DIY). If a major sees an artist is popular they're going to want to capitalise on that, i don't think being the focus of online hype tarnishes you if that's what you're implying? I think it's simply a case of, do you make radio-friendly music?

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterMarco

A couple of points...

Record companies love the internet ... their A&R staffs are all over the Net looking for fresh talent. And, they are signing artists that fit into what radio wants to offer to the public.

Remember, radio is all about attracting large audiences that fit within certain demographics so they can sell advertising. Radio ISN'T about the music, it's about selling its advertisers products to its audience.

But there is another reason radio shies away from playing music from unknown sources - and that has to do with unions. Most radio stations are union houses ... They CAN'T play non union music without taking the risk of being hit with heavy fines and wildcat strikes. So, most of them reject music from unknown sources out of hand.

The stations know that established record companies offer music that is fully cleared. No muss, no fuss.

They also know that record companies will provide promotional support for their artists that will help bring the artists to the attention of the public outside of the radio play they receive. That support enhances radio's credibility with its audience ... which, again, helps sell advertising.

Finally, most radio stations that seek audiences that are the most interested in music that is socially acceptable to its peers (young people) have found that limited, targeted, playlists are the most effective in reaching and retaining that audience ... You know ... the audiences their advertisers want to sell their products to.

Broad playlists, while interesting background noise and may sell products ... don't advance an artists career because there is never enough concentrated exposure of any one artist to make and impression on the listener.

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterTonsoTunez

so, that's why I still head Led Zepplin 4-6 times a day?

September 20 | Unregistered Commenterme

* hear* as in Clear channel

September 20 | Unregistered Commenterme

TonsoTunez says: "But there is another reason radio shies away from playing music from unknown sources - and that has to do with unions. Most radio stations are union houses ... They CAN'T play non union music without taking the risk of being hit with heavy fines and wildcat strikes. So, most of them reject music from unknown sources out of hand."

Clearly you're not employed in radio.

You did get part of this right: "Remember, radio is all about attracting large audiences that fit within certain demographics so they can sell advertising. Radio ISN'T about the music, it's about selling its advertisers products to its audience."

Just as restaurants sell only their top 25 menu items ... and car dealers stock only the most well-known brands ... and athletic stores carry the most popular, name brand shoes ... radio does the same with songs. It's gotta pay the light bill and you can't do that by playing Rebecca Black's novelty song every 3 hours. Hit songs = listeners = ratings = revenue = paying the light bill, the employees, etc.

Would radio programmers like to drop in an Internet-only 'star' now and again? Sure, but how will they know if it helped or hurt? Until every single radio listener is carrying a 7th gen PPM you'll have no way of knowing if the song is popular or not. Today programmers have to sit back and wait for the next ratings report ... and by then it's too late to not play the song that turned off half the audience that dropped the ratings that killed the revenue that caused the termination of one on-air person, a promotions part-timer and a sales assistant.

Commercial radio plays the hits. The top stations are the top stations because they give the majority of listeners in that demographic what they want: the hit songs.

Radio listening's been up the last two years. Could it be that when people want the Internet 'stars' or obscure club artists they use their iPod and YouTube, but then turn to their old friend Radio for what they really want 90% of the time? Seems like it.

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

One huge exception to this rule is Soulja Boy. His song "Crank That", the millions of MySpace plays (remember those) and the accompanying YouTube video lead to his getting a major deal with Interscope. The popularity of his YouTube video and his ability to mobilize his fan base resulted in his songs being embraced by radio. This was in 2005 during YouTubes's relative infancy. Very few artists understood how the internet could propel their career. Having an internet following is the first step. The next is to have your fans speak truth to power. If your fans demand that radio plays your songs (and they are between the ages of 13-25) they may listen.

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterJA

Hello Matt, and thanks for your article!

Matt Voyno said: "The traditional music industry can’t do much about file sharing, loss of their brand, the flattening of recording technology, etc, but they can do something about radio and traditional media. They can use their power in both worlds to ignore nearly every music star the internet has created".

That's true. Many internet music stars could get radio play, but, as you said, because of the tight relations between the record labels and radio stations, those internet stars aren’t receiving the attention they should. I am not a radio listener, but I still remember one day, when I went to my brother's work and had to stay there for at least 4 hours. Believe it or not, the radio producers played the exact same songs over and over and over and over again. All of the songs were major label songs. Even if the radio producers "run out" of hit songs, they prefer to play the exact same songs again and again and again and again rather than play a new hit song created by an unsigned/indie artist.

Matt Voyno said: "Of course we do have the curious case of Justin Bieber. Arguably the biggest star the internet has ever produced".

Who knew Bieber before 2008, when he wad signed to Raymond Braun Media Group? Nobody. Bieber was never an internet star. He was never discovered by the internet audience as some people think. He's a major label artist.

Sakis Gouzonis
www.SakisGouzonis.com

September 21 | Unregistered CommenterSakis Gouzonis

@ JA But was Crank That on the radio BEFORE he was signed? Yes the internet can help artists be DISCOVERED, but the author isn't contending that.

I think his question/point is totally valid - artists can build a good career online, but I'm not aware of ANY who have gotten significant radio play PRIOR to being signed.

Is it possible to make it to top tier commercial success WITHOUT radio? Maybe, but nobody has done it recently (early gansta rappers through Priority Records when radio wouldn't play it comes to mind).

Sobering thought but thanks for posting here, Matt (sw it first on New Rockstar Philosophy, another of my fav music blog reads).

September 21 | Unregistered CommenterDG

Soulja Boy has had such success at radio I think many forget he once was an independent artist. He was a pioneer in proving that the views and plays on internet portals may translate to actual fans, sales and celebrity.He was big before the major deal. It was the major deal that enabled his true popularity to come to light.

He was Rebecca Black in 2005. An unknown, who gained celebrity with 1M+ internet impressions for a song many thought was without artistic merit. However, his story didn't end there. He was not the one-hit wonder others have proven to be.

Many didn't understand his approach (and still don't) or the impact his d.i.y reality-show approach would have. The relationship he established with his fans on-line enabled him to mobilize them. As a result, he has continued to remain relevant and produce material supported by major traditional outlets, if for no other reason that to appease his vocal fan base. His relevance is derived from his energetic fan base not major label marketing dollars.

@DG Yes he was receiving regional airplay prior to his major deal signing. His records were being played and only the teenagers requesting it knew who he was. The signing was a result of his ability to break the record independently at radio as an unknown artist. To your point, he did not receive significant airplay but enough to be recognized. In 2005 any airplay without support was nearly impossible. The corporate structure was well intact then.

Unfortunately it is impossible to be a commercial success without radio play, since the definition of commercial success is earning money through mainstream outlets like radio, television and film.

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterJA

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