A survey was completed by a professor in a marketing class regarding the students’ media habits. Much of the data was to be expected; twenty-somethings receive a vast majority of news via the Internet or social media. Television viewing has moved online, particularly to platforms such as Hulu or Netflix. The most surprising category to me was the fragmented radio section; most people had completely abandoned traditional radio. Additionally, college students in a city are rarely driving cars–an activity they said involved more traditional radio. The fastest ways to get around Boston are by foot and by MBTA, and most travelers have earbuds on and iPhones on. Pandora, Spotify, Songza, and iTunes have taken combined control, but each one individually owns only a small portion of the audience.
The complaints about traditional radio included excessive advertising, repetition of songs, and lack of choice in music selection. All the applications mentioned solve those problems; a paid version eliminates advertisements, the songs rarely repeat, and there is the ability to thumbs up or thumbs down a track. Additionally, as hard as traditional radio has tried to venture into this platform, these other applications are far more accessible on mobile.
This isn’t the first time I have heard about grievances with traditional radio. The Wall Street Journal wrote this article describing the tactic of playing the same few songs frequently, and some might say, excessively. Listeners are more likely to stay on a station when they hear a familiar song; therefore, new ones are introduced with great care. It greatly relates to Blockbusters, a book by Harvard professor Anita Elberse about how the heavy investment and promotion of a few entertainment products is far more profitable than a consistent investment and promotion of many. Rather than disperse the radio waves with a multitude of diverse songs, it has become more profitable to transition stations over to pop music and homogenize the available content.
From personal experience, the ten minutes I listen to the radio in the morning is enough for me to hear all the songs the stations are currently playing thousands of times a day. It wakes me up, keeps me up to date with current music, and gives me a few of the day’s trending topics before I’m able to read Twitter. I heavily rely on iTunes, use Spotify for songs I like but am not ready to commit to, and regularly explore Soundcloud for new music.
Traditional radio still has its advantages: there is talk integrated in with music. Radio personalities are an asset to this medium. Boston’s AMP 103.3 has capitalized on this; Loren Raye and TJ Taormina‘s program “The TJ Show” has kept the station head-to-head with Boston’s long-running “Matty in the Morning” by Kiss 108. Loren and TJ break up the music with commentary on current events (let’s use the term “current events” loosely here) and different packages that usually involve pranks. AMP 103.3 is creating promotional events in new ways; they’re offering more meet and greets with artists (you can view Flo Rida’s here) and interviews with artists than I’ve seen on most stations. The Birthday Bash thrown by AMP Radio in City Hall Plaza to celebrate their first year in the Boston market attracted over 35,000 people for a lineup that include Cambridge-native Sam Adams, Selena Gomez, and Jason Derulo.
Traditional radio is still one of the few channels that can directly catapult an artist to superstardom. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis went from a modest following to a tremendous one in under a year thanks to “Thrift Shop” being played on radio stations across the country. This leaves open the question of music discovery; if the same songs are being played across all platforms, how do those quieter artists crack onto the scene and how do fans learn about them?
As with most trends, there’s always a new movement against the old ways. Mergers and conglomerates are creating larger and larger entities, leaving more room at the bottom for small initiatives to take off. As I write, Soundcloud is playing East of Ely, a group I discovered this morning thanks to The Kollection. 8tracks has long been a favorite for its innumerable playlists. These platforms are also highly sharable; they can often be linked to Last.fm to record which songs have played and easily connect to social networks.
What does it mean for musicians? An internet presence is important; the chances of joining the ranks of mainstream radio are far slimmer than gaining a following on Soundcloud. Concerts are a great moment to expand your fan base; after seeing Down with Webster at a Radical Something show and being impressed by the their performance, I began to follow their music online. Connecting with fans will always win support; Watsky makes a point of meeting people after shows and replying their tweets.
Music is about the experience; it’s something that innately connects with people. If traditional radio ignores the highly personal aspect of this art, it will greatly suffer as other platforms capitalize on its weakness. Musicians are getting more savvy at taking control of their tours, promotions, and branding, and fans are ready for new content. It’s a transforming marketing and i’m excited to see where to 21st century will take it.