Radio Didn't Kill The Music Star. The Golden Rule Did.

I came across an interview with Michael Chugg earlier today, via a posting in Facebook. (Amazing that Facebook now appears to spread news in the long tail better than any other technology). He was talking about the lack of support for new and emerging musicians by commercial radio in Australia.

Obviously a comment of this kind goes down well with the musos in the room. But the reality may be that they are just not getting how things actually work. I have known Chuggie for a long, long time, and I know that he seriously knows how things work, so this is not aimed at him at all. He works all sides of the room all the time… a great promoter does that.

No, the way that radio works is that radio is not anyone's friend except itself.

Radio's view of the world is that music is virtually free content. There is some overhead because of the statutory payments that go to PPCA and APRA for the use of copyright recordings and songs respectively. But the reality is that the payment for content makes audio media an absolutely level playing field – unlike TV. In TV there is a mix of programming and exclusivity of content that provides differentiation for the consumer, whereas in radio the differentiation is much more limited, revolving around the personalities of the presenters and the formatting of the radio station rather than on the content itself.

What that does is to ensure that radio becomes extremely competitive in terms of meeting its critical internal targets to maximize its numeric ratings targets. Ratings are what enables the rate card for ads to be driven up. So the music that is played absolutely has to fit the format of the radio station in order to be usable on the air.

If the music doesn't fit into the very narrow parameters determined ultimately by the audience and filtered by the programming staff and all the tools that they have available (including comprehensive listener research) then it just won't get played.

So the fault here is not with radio stations not be prepared to support Aussie talent. It is the fault of the talent in not making the right records that fit the tastes of the audience. Now that is a really tough call because a lot of artists actually need to go on the road and play in front of audiences and learn how to write, perform and deliver music that is both satisfying to themselves and also interesting to the audience. It is really hard to jump in the deep end and suddenly make records that are the peers of whatever great records are coming out of studios from all around the world.

But it can be done.

The real issue here is this. Artists need to understand that from radio's point of view their music is just filler between commercials. That is not to say that their music is bad. It's just that this is the reality they need to take on board. If musicians studied behavioral economics before going on the road, there might be a lot more successful acts. But if they want mainstream media to support them they had better start understanding that the people who pay the salaries of all the people in radio are the advertisers. And the golden rule is still the same as it ever was – he who has the gold makes the rules.

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