Flawed New Music Strategy is Hurting Artist Development and Station Image

Audiences say they want more new music, but what they’re really saying is they want better new music. And that’s precisely what Alternative and Triple A radio stations are failing to deliver…

One hit wonder imageBy Paul Marszalek
TheTop22.com

In doing some listening over the weekend, I was a bit stunned by the amount of B and C-level music currently on the Triple A Chart.

The Alternative Chart sounded even worse – loaded with sound-a-like tracks from artists who cannot be distinguished from one another.

Yes, music taste is subjective, and perhaps it’s just that there’s very little out there right now that’s floating my boar. But I offer some evidence to the contrary, starting with radio’s addiction to playlists driven by sequential singles.

Whether a station plays 30, 40, or even 60 currents, virtually all play 30, 40, or 60 different tracks from 30, 40, or 60 different artists. Listeners hate this. The label-driven strategy of sequential singles runs directly counter to what they actually want, which is multiple songs from better new releases.

If I had a nickel for every time a focus group participant asked for this, I’d be in Bali right now.

40 new songs from 40 different artists leads to another problem — quality control. Marginal stuff starts creeping on to the air because instead of playing secondary tracks from the more developed artists, the sequential singles mentality leaves open slots that programmers feel compelled to fill.

Programmers justify this approach because the audience says they want more new music. That’s what they’re saying, but research shows that’s not exactly what they mean.

What listeners want is better new music.

Look at what those same consumers are doing with television — cord cutting and cord shaving. Just as nobody wanted to pay $18 for filler tracks from a full-length CD, nobody wants to pay for indistinguishable, filler cable channels. So they’re dropping big cable packages for skinny bundles, or cutting the cord altogether in favor of Netflix, HBO, and à la carte sports packages.

They don’t want more channels, they want better channels – or more specifically, better shows.

There are other red flags that radio is not delivering in terms of new music. An obvious one is the virtual non-existence of indie label music on the Alternative Chart. Sure, there are small labels — but they’re all associated with majors. Nothing from Sub Pop, Ghostly, Dead Oceans, Jagjaguwar anywhere to be found. As of this writing, the highest charting true independent is Sundara Karma (on Bee & EL via RED) at #35.

Alternative’s allergy to indie labels is, at best, lazy. And it leads to dissatisfaction among listeners who are new music fans. They will, after all, find this stuff online and it makes your “alternative” position look silly.

There’s nothing wrong with the occasional one-hit wonder. But the amount of one-“hit” wonder material currently in the mix is out of hand, and it’s probably going to get worse.

There’s lots of buzz in the industry about the decline of A&R. As label revenue streams increasingly lean toward streaming, A&R departments will increasingly start throwing more undeveloped material from undeveloped artists against the wall — just to see what sticks — hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.

If you’re not careful, some of that clutter is going to end up on your air.

You can instantly improve your radio station by dedicating a minimum of 10-15% of your playlist to secondary tracks from your best artists and albums.

Will the labels be grumpy that you’re playing “the next single” too early?

Yes.

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  1. Lance Hendrickson says:

    Hear, hear! I’d guess “… [T]he decline of A&R…” has a lot to do with it. If you sit back in the office and wait for “Next Big Sound” graphs or whatever to tell you what the good music is supposed to be? That’s going to have this precise effect over time.

    Then again, having the guts (and the ear/talent) to go into the boss’ office and say “this band hasn’t sold 50,000 on their own, but I’ve listened, and I know they’ve got the stuff” is a rare, rare thing nowadays. It’s a good way to get fired if a) you pick wrong one time, and b) you can’t point to a graph or a chart or a zillion YouTube plays to back up your argument. Much, much easier to let rich-guy bands buy up lots of statistics, and then go pitch that package to the corner office.

    Add in some corporate consolidation at radio (where only “label” artists get into the music meetings anyhow, assuming a one-guy meeting really is a “meeting”), and you’ve got the perfect storm for sending listeners back to their iPods.

    Here’s what I think A&R reps used to say, but don’t anymore: “Yeah, yeah, here’s one song — but does this band have a second song? A quality album? A second album?” — And, say, maybe, just maybe, that’s because: what indie’s buying up lots of Spotify plays or YouTube streams for more than one song at a time, if one song’s worth of fake stats is good enough to get some label to come along and buy your EP or whatever?

    Until the industry goes back to using genuinely-talented A&R people (and puts its faith in them), and until radio finds a way to spend less time on the “label acts only” bandwagon, ’twill ever be thus.

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