for May 20, 2004
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for today's rant...
[Inscrutable Links: John Peel Says "Hi". FM106.3 Staff List. FM106.3's 1988 playlist.]
by Mike Taylor
[Editor's note: To the average listener, radio seems simple; you turn on the radio, tune to a station, and listen to the music that someone else plays for you. What could be simpler? Of course, the reality is much more involved. License money changes hands in a number of ways, and the desire of a station to keep its users involved with the best new music doesn't necessarily jibe with the record companies' marketing aims. Some of this works to the detriment of Internet-only players. Mike Taylor, Program Director of WOXY, Cincinnati's 97X, took a moment on the WOXY.com message boards to set the record straight; he's given Altrok.com permission to relay his thoughts...]
By and large, royalty payments go the label first, and to the songwriter /
performer second. Individually, song by song and per station it isn't a lot,
but add 'em all up and it does just that: add up. The RIAA basically has a wink-wink agreement with terrestrial radio not to bust their chops for royalty
payments while lowering the boom on internet radio, demanding a much higher
royalty structure under the guise of 'protecting the work of musicians &
Hogwash. It's the RIAA & Big Media working in tandem to make the
costs of competition (streaming radio) prohibitive for anyone who dares
encroach on their turf.
Record companies are a funny sort. Most major labels solicited 97X airplay on
certain individual tracks solely so the number of times we 'spun' (played) it
would help them in the charts. We were reporters to the Billboard Modern Rock
panel, monitored by Broadcast Data Systems (BDS). Label reps worked us to play
a designated track, preferably at a designated time, as much as possible. And
you wonder why most radio sounds the same? The labels want it that way.
As a listener, it should come as no surprise that 97X didn't "play ball" nearly
as much as a label would like. We'd do such ghastly things as playing a
designated track prior to its "add date" (the designated date set by the labels
to have radio stations report that they were 'adding' the track to their
playlist) or choosing to play another song, or more than just one, from a given
Example: "Float On" by Modest Mouse (all dates below are guesstimates).
Epic Records sends the single to the "panel" of stations contributing airplay
spins to the chart, well in advance of not only its add date but the CD's
release date. Let's say we receive it in late February. 97X, being the
progressive, Modest Mouse friendly station that we are, immediately adds the
song to our heaviest rotation, about 25 times a week.
Meanwhile, Epic hadn't set an add date for the song yet. Epic would view this
as spins 'wasted' because their goal is to get the maximum number of stations
to play the song concurrently. They'd assume that two months down the line, say
May 1 or about 8 or 9 weeks after we received it, as most stations are slowing
beginning to play "Float On", 97X would likely be decreasing airplay. We'd have
the full disc and be going deeper into it.
For the label to push the song up the chart, they want have the maximum number
of stations spin, and increase the frequency of spins, from one week to the
next. To most stations in the format, MM is a completely unknown commodity, so
if a station likes, or is enticed to add the song to their playlist, they'll
adhere to the labels wishes and wait to add the record until the add date,
which let's say is April 7. This way, the label can trumpet the fact they
got 'XX' number of stations to add the song, hoping the number will WOW other
stations into doing the same. It's kind of like first-weekend box-office
numbers, as a comparison.
So in their marketing plan / strategy, "Float On" gets serviced to radio in
late February, an add date is set for early April, and is radio asked to hold
airplay until then? You betcha. Do labels care if stations play other or even
more tracks from a disc? Absolutely, because most would view a spin for an
album track as one spin less for the single. Or as a rep told me once, "if
you're not playing the single, you might as well not be playing the record at
For the most part, being a record rep is a pure sales gig. Some really like the
music, many only know that their job is to solicit airplay for a certain song
from stations in a certain format. Most reps have to work several different
formats, meaning have to work a multitude of stations with divergent
philosophies and needs.
Back on point: a lot of major labels didn't bother with us too much because
they knew we were going to do what we wanted under any circumstance. One could
make the case that we couldn't be swayed, one could make the case we couldn't
be bought. 97X played by its own rules and to many, it wasn't worth their
effort preferring to travel the path of least resistance. You're right, in most
cases radio airplay is the lynchpin to sales but for a lot of labels, the
comparatively small audience for 97X vs. other stations meant that we weren't a
huge priority for them ... unless they needed something from us.
By contrast, most indie labels don't have the resources to have a dedicated
radio promotions person or persons to push a song or record to radio. Virtually
all indies, save the well-financed wanna-be majors like V2 and Wind-Up and
successful stand-alones like Sub Pop rely on e-mail marketing, ads in
magazines, etc. to get the word out. It doesn't matter the size of a label,
some of the better ones are very appreciative while some offered no more than a
half-hearted "thanks" and that's it. We never playlisted a record based upon
how well a record company would think of us - no matter how big or small the
label - but if we felt it would fit 97X. The large majority of indie labels put
out records without any hope of radio airplay, save the odd college radio
[And with that, Mike turned his efforts to more pressing matters. He remains
an active participant on the message boards that continue to represent the 97X
community, and we'll be happy to relay his opinions here at Altrok.com whenever
he pauses to commit them to ones and zeros.]
©2004 Mike Taylor
All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.
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