Radio, the Culprit
Radio is probably the key problem, right now. Check out Neil Strauss's
article of 2/4/96 for a real-world confirmation, but this has been growing since
the early 80s. A checklist of items:
- Ever since the 70s radio audience surveys, such as conducted
by Arbitron (the "Nielsens" of the radio business), provide crude data
regarding demographics and product use, along with a sampling of the size
of radio stations' listening audiences. These are "niche" mass-market
totals that provide rough averages of behavior, but not a lot of accurate
detail. They lead to:
- Radio marketing consultants, who help devise music-programming
"formats" that will attract a "typical" or "average" listener from a
demographic group with higher than average consumer spending. There is a
great deal of competition for the largest share of the consumer listening
audience, so that advertising can be sold at higher rates (closely tied
to these audience levels).
- The increasing conservatism of radio programmers in this
environment leads to a narrower and narrower choice for programming, and
thus for listeners to hear.
- But -- record companies still overwhelmingly use radio
promotion to market new records! Why? Because it's free, and it gets
out to a large audience. (Of course, the record companies spend tons of
money to support the radio stations playing their records. Large numbers
of field reps are coordinated across the country from central promotion
directors at label headquarters, to make sure that airplay is given the
greatest chance of occurring all at the same time, to make a dent in the
charts.) The audience gets a free sample, before deciding to spend money
on a purchase.
- So, what's the solution? Detach the record marketing process from
mass-market radio, and replace it with something with a wider range: the
net! When people can listen to samples of new music from the net, and can search
from a wide variety of artists, that could crack the addiction to radio.
Instead of putting lots of money behind radio promotion, record companies
could redirect those resources toward making samples available at the same
place people can purchase them, like a record store kiosk, except that
the kiosk has maybe a few hundred titles while the net sites can store
practically as many as they feel like -- tens or even hundreds of thousands
already for places like CD Now! and others.
- There's still a problem: with huge numbers of titles available
(consider this: each month close to a thousand new titles or re-releases
are issued in the commercial market), finding the new
material that you want (as a consumer) is difficult. It still relies on
name recognition, to a large extent. Record companies make money on high-volume
sales of a single title, and that leads to a cult of celebrity for successful
musical acts -- success is tantamount to widespread mass-media recognition.
- But, if the net can make sales of smaller-volumes of a title more
profitable at smaller margins (instead of reproducing the
promtional effort over hundreds of radio stations, you set it up once in a central
location, and even multiple entry points are represented simply by extra
in-links), perhaps we might see the rise of more lesser-known
"middle-class" musicians, who can make their music with more artistic
freedom, but still make enough of an income to pay their rent, and send
their kids to school, and basically live a comfortable existence without
having to be rich and famous. Those artists who are in it mostly for the
fame, they can take care of themselves.
-- Dan Krimm, 3/96
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