The Power You Wield

Radio! It’s always been about Radio.

 The problem with streaming services is apparent: very few musicians and even fewer song writers make real money from Spotify or Apple Music.

And, according to THIS excellent article from VOX, streaming is breaking the necessary relationship between artist and listener that used to work so well for both.

It’s no secret that streaming has changed everything, providing unfettered access to the largest catalog of music in human history…It also presents a paradox of choice: What should you listen to when you can hear nearly any song that’s ever been recorded?

In 2018, Trevor Daniel released the song “Falling” to little fanfare…But two years later, “Falling” blew up, thanks to the internet. First, it was picked up by influencers on Instagram, then it became a TikTok meme featured in more than 3 million videos. The social media hype led to traditional media success: The song spent 38 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100, peaking at 17. It was streamed more than a billion times on SpotifyThen Daniel attempted a star-studded follow-up, ”Past Life,” featuring Selena Gomez and produced by Finneas. The song peaked at No. 77 on Billboard, left the charts in 5 weeks and had just 10 percent of the streams that “Falling” achieved on Spotify. Daniels has yet to come close to replicating the accomplishment of “Falling.” 

For an artist like Daniels, streaming both gave him the opportunity to break out from obscurity and made it exponentially more difficult to have a follow-up hit. That’s because like so many other viral hits, the song, not the artist, became the asset.”

To help listeners find their way in the endless aisles of digital music, streaming providers created playlists — but this new way of listening has created unintended consequences for artists and songwritersThe challenge for most artists is that playlist listeners frequently don’t know who they’re listening to. A song with high completion rates on a playlist might end up on more playlists, accumulating millions of streams for an artist who remains effectively nameless. In the best-case scenario, these streams, which pay very low royalties compared to radio, could help land the song a coveted advertisement, or better yet, pique the attention of Top 40 radio programmers.”

Now songs develop on social media platforms, and grow on playlists, before making it to radio…This is one way would-be pop stars suffer in the new music economy: Playlists have become such an essential part of a song’s success that an underworld of playlist promoters have emerged to exploit this musical ponzi scheme. Independent artists often pay hundreds of dollars to them hoping for exclusive placements on popular playlists. The labels are in on it, too.

Spotify has its own program to boost the likelihood of landing on a playlist if artists and songwriters are willing to accept a lower royalty rate on promoted songs. Called “Discovery Mode,” it’s currently being probed by Congress for the practice of forcing lower royalties; representatives from the House Judiciary Committee want to find out if Spotify is limiting choice and hurting artist revenues.”

But overnight viral stars are rare, and building a lasting audience is harder than ever as social media platforms are flooded by celebrities and established acts. Many artists who break out on TikTok become one-hit wonders. Their songs eclipse their short-lived public identities as audiences move onto the next meme. And those who do break out still need to work their way up the ladder from social media to streaming, and finally, to radio to reap financial rewards.”

Performers aren’t the only ones affected by streaming. Though streaming has been a financial boon for labels, songwriters still depend on radio play for the bulk of their income — radio pays much higher royalties to songwriters compared to streaming. Emily Warren, who has written hits for Dua Lipa and the Chainsmokers among many others, told me that she knows songwriters with hundreds of millions of streams and Grammy nominations who still drive Uber for a living. But she says that a songwriter with just two big radio hits is set up to retire.

It’s a fascinating article.

We – radio programmers – wield more power than ever, but how many actually use it anymore? How many PDs at local stations, regardless of market size, have the freedom to pick the new songs they think their listeners will love?

We should bang the drum about this issue.

Most listeners I talk to, not only in America, but Europe and Asia too, have NO idea Spotify and Apply music are actually hurting the music business at its core level: impoverishing those who write and produce songs they love.

If we don’t find a way to make this widely known, and then offer listeners real solutions, like ridding music stations of much of the clutter that forced them to streaming services in the first place, we’ll not only kill our business, we’ll kill music’s most creative sources as well.

Doug Erickson

Doug is a former Major Market award winning Program Director of the Year. He was VP of Programming for one of the first large consolidated radio companies before leaving to open his consultancy. He works with most of the largest media companies in the world but, uniquely, he consults every adult format, including News/Talk, where his stations have won the distinguished Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in journalism. Doug helped NOSTALGIE, an OLDIES-based station in Paris, become the fastest-growing radio station in French history. His American clients include one you can hear this week, MIX 92.9

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January – Your 2021 Radio Goals – Virtual Event
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