By now you realize the ways of music distribution have changed. We have the internet, social media, consolidation in the radio industry which prevents getting airplay on local broadcast stations, and an exponential rise in the number of musicians seeking exposure (because they can more easily).
The confluence of the above is creating a systematic way for artists who create new songs to: a) feel more empowered than ever, and b) feel more screwed than ever. What follows helps explain this paradox.
Audio Graphics runs a system designed to allow indie artists exposure to internet radio programmers. It’s based on a simple principle that at the beginning of an act’s attempt at fame, the artist needs exposure more than anything. At the same time we have thousands of internet radio stations looking to avoid devastatingly high copyright royalty fees. (The imposition of these fees goes back more than a decade, in my opinion is unfair, and merits another article in itself.)
To aid artists and internet radio stations, a decade ago I created RRadioMusic. There, artists sign waivers giving stations permission to play their songs in exchange for exposure. No money changes hands. I feel it’s a straight-up attempt at matching two groups that need each other.
Some artists disagree. An example is in response to a distribution page I put out by artist Willie D. Davis IV. He contacted me through Linkedin with the following: “so we pay you to get our music played to which we get no royalties? I’m sorry but doesn’t that make the artist out the money to which they’re trying to make?” No, it doesn’t. But it does give exposure, allowing the artist to build a fan base and find alternative forms of revenue. (The “so we pay you” reference is to a $9.95 fee I put in place to keep hundreds of wannabe musicians from submitting each month. This service was free for its first 4 years, until I was pummeled with bad music.)
Here’s a simple theory I’ve carried for a long time: I believe that artists should be paid for airplay, but only if they have attained a level where their music is a drawing card. If not, then they are putting the station in a position of risking tune-out by the very audience the artist wants to be exposed to.
We all know that qualified artists (those who have mastered their instrument and vocals) produce quality music. What is not accepted is this judgment call being made by the radio programmer, or fan, rather than the artist. At an artist’s initial stage of exposure, it is the station taking the risk. At this stage, nobody knows if people will like the music.
An independent artist’s music is usually interpreted by them as being a knock-your-socks-off song. At the same time, until established, nobody knows if others feel the same way. The radio station owner who has placed substantial money into creating an audience is literally betting that the song will keep people tuned to the station. Those bets often go awry.
There’s a new world of music distribution taking hold and indie artists may choose to chase individual stations down, seeking to have their music played. In these cases those stations usually pay the required BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, and performance royalty fees distribution to the song’s writer, publisher, and artists.
On the other side of this new world of music distribution is the fact that reaching out to stations or placing your songs on SoundCloud, Facebook, Reverbnation or any of the hundreds of other services takes enormous amounts of time and money.
We can cheer on how the internet is leveling the playing field, but it’s really not. It’s only making it possible for indie artists to reach out in the same way major labels have done in the past; the caveat is still in how much time and (especially) money it costs for “do it yourself” (DIY) music distribution.
It is a new world order for musicians. There’s also a high degree of change in the world of radio. Expectations, though, shouldn’t be changing all that much due to the complexities of rising to the top in a still very difficult system.
Artists can DIY their music distribution, or choose to use a service to help. Just keep expectations for how much you should be paid in the beginning in line with the true worth of your product - the song.
The internet has unleashed a torrent of music, and placed it within easy reach of everyone with one principle remaining unchanged since all of this started - the economics of supply and demand.
Unfortunately for artists, the internet now fragments demand across an exponentially growing supply. And a new song isn’t worth quite what it used to be.
Welcome to our new music world
Ken Dardis is President: Audio Graphics, Inc.
He’s a former musician who worked at WLAY Radio in Muscle Shoals, AL when that town was the “Hit Recording Capital of the World,” and had access to most of its recording studios. (It’s where Ken learned the art of making records.)
Being involved with internet radio since its beginning, his background includes SVP at Spacial Audio, a leading developer of audio software used by multiple major radio groups. He also had the opportunity to work with the Google team creating its online audio ad delivery platform.