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Thursday, April 5, 2012
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Music Discovery and the Radio Industry Mirage

We've all heard the quote on how the radio industry is a "primary source for music discovery." We've also heard the complaints on how radio has tightened playlists, and it offers fewer chances for new artists to emerge than at any time in its history. So, which comment is being "stretched" for impact?

Because Audio Graphics runs RRadio Music, a web site that connects indie artists with internet radio stations, I get queried by bands on tactics for getting exposure.

I took another phone call yesterday from a manager of multiple indie artists. As most of these calls go - and I receive many - he wanted to know why it is so difficult (actually, he used the word "impossible") to get a new artist's song on broadcast radio. For those who work in the radio industry, you know the reasons. We'll not go into them here.

"...we are seeing the radio industry deliver less of a selection of new music and artists to the masses." What's not so obvious to a radio insider is that though the industry sees itself as introducing new acts, that's not the same view held by the people who produce music.

To the indie artist, getting airplay on a broadcast radio station is a dead issue today. On the other side of the speakers, for listeners in the 12-34 demos, it's an almost intuitive act to search for new music online.

Here's a simple exercise. Google "find new music," "hear new songs," "independent country artists" (substitute rock, pop, rap, etc. for country, too), and even try the cumbersome term "discover new music." Go 3 pages deep on each search, as that's about the maximum a normal search reaches. Here's an indisputable fact that you'll uncover which nobody in the radio industry can explain - you won't find a broadcast station link. (The one exception is the North Carolina public radio station WUNC, which shows up on the "discover new music" search in the 20th slot. It features a page linked to the NPR "Discover the Music" initiative, which is quite a cache of sound.)

Here's another fact, and a most probable cause as to why you'll not hear many new artists on broadcast radio - finding good new music takes time. Someone has to listen, and the industry has been downsized to where there's nobody left at a station who has the time. Consolidation's approach to controlling the distribution of music is another cause for the downturn in new tunes aired, but you'll not hear that discussed at a radio convention or read about it in a radio trade.

Radio once was where new music was found on a regular basis. Whole programs were devoted to new acts and songs back in the "good old days." But we can't go back to then, nor do I want to.

Similar to how local information has evaporated from the majority of radio programming and is showing up in greater amounts online, we are seeing the radio industry deliver less of a selection of new music and artists to the masses. They (the masses), in turn, are looking online to discover new music in greater numbers than just a few short years ago.

If the radio industry wants to believe it leads as a primary source of music discovery, its leaders are making the same mistake as when they thought nobody would turn to the internet to listen to radio. The broadcast radio industry may be in front today due to its much larger base of listeners, but trends are not on its side.

The perception within may be that plenty of new music is offered by broadcast radio, but it's only a mirage to those who won't do the research required for uncovering trends.

For independent artists, managers of indie acts, and - most importantly - for the public which seeks out new music (because they're tired of hearing the same songs played ad nauseum on the air), radio is quickly sinking into a non sequitur. That the people leading the radio industry don't see this train coming is equivalent to them missing the movement of ad dollars to online, or their audience to internet radio.

Perhaps all have been too busy keeping the mirage alive to open their eyes to reality of change, again.

For artists looking on tips to getting exposure, try this Audio Graphics' article: "Getting Your Song Played on Radio."

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