Tuning Out: Why Radio Sucks!
In their quest to stomp out the competition from indie record labels, the major labels have created a monster that has continued to grow and the costs, which started out relatively modest, have skyrocketed over the years to become one of the major expenses of music labels. But people have to hear the songs in order to know to buy the CD’s and radio is the most effective way to expose songs to a mass audience of potential consumers. As the story from the book “Hitmen” illustrates, indie promoters can actually keep a song off the air.
Even with labels shelling out large amounts of money to promote songs, that doesn’t insure airplay. In fact, over the past few years indies have been known to collect money simply for having an exclusive contract with a radio station, whether they get the song on the air at that station or not!
To be fair the indie promoters don’t simply pocket all the money, some goes to the radio stations they “service” and there have been allegations that some of the money might even get kicked back to executives at the labels for giving the indie the contract for a specific song.
Radio's Changing Landscape And The New Battlelines.
Recently the sands have shifted and some indies are being forced out. When their contracts with stations come up for renewal in a lot of cases the radio stations are no longer instantly renewing them but instead taking bids from competing indies. If you are a large owner of radio stations like Clear Channel, these indie contracts offer a very lucrative “alternative” source of income.
The emergence of Clear Channel has paved the way for the demise of indie promotion. I was told by one indie promoter, who wishes to remain anonymous, that one of the largest record companies recently dropped one of the largest indie promotion companies and actually hired away some of the indie’s employees to work the indie’s radio stations in-house.
Clear Channel’s rise to power in the radio industry has opened some doors for the labels and has weakened indie promoters but the alternative to indie promotion offered by Clear Channel may end up being worst with one company controlling the major airwaves, concert promotion in major markets and also running a record company of their own. We will explore the questions surrounding Clear Channels rise in the next rant but for the sake of this article it must be pointed out that they have had a major impact on indie promotion.
What will the future hold for indie promoters? We will have to wait and see but it is apparent that they are getting pressured from many fronts including Clear Channel, the record labels who are trying to cut their budgets in anyway possible due to falling profits and the United States Congress. Actually the indies aren’t the only ones who have to worry about Congress, Clear Channel and the record labels should be weary of one Senator who has made it a mission of his to help fix what seems to ail commercial radio.
Earlier this year Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wis., reintroduced a bill to Congress that would, in part, close loopholes in the Federal Communications Commission's payola laws.
Feingold feels that the system that radio is working under not only diminishes the quality of music Americans get to hear on the radio but also threatens the very fabric of American democracy.
We will have to wait and see how things shakeout. Whether Senator Feingold will actually follow through with his quest. (Former Vice President Al Gore talked about investigating the problems with radio back when he was in the Senate but after he got his headlines and sound bites he moved on to other things and didn’t follow through).
The indies have faced adversity before, especially with the boycott in the 80’s, but they emerged stronger than ever. It’s too early to tell if they will survive the series of storms they are now battling, but one thing is for sure; people are paying attention and never before has the indie promotion system faced such dire circumstances that seem compelled to force them into extinction. Will they survive? Will they be replaced with something far worst? Will artists eventually get a better shot at airplay? Who knows? But change is definitely in the wind, and people are finally figuring out that indie promotion is a big reason why commercial radio sucks! But in the end it may be too far gone to remedy. Only time will tell.
Be sure to check back next month for a RANTitorial on the rise of Clear Channel!