By guest blogger Taylor Lambert and Kevin Erickson
In the age of on-demand streaming, it’s common to hear people talk about music as “limitless”— something that flows forth endlessly like water. Indeed, musicians around the world release a huge volume of new music every day. But in practice, most consumers’ exposure to the world of new music is extremely limited. It’s one of the thorniest problems—if there’s so much music out there, why do consumers end up being exposed to so little of it? Why should the music marketplace be a winner-take-all system?
Of course, whether or not you view this as a problem to be solved could depend on whether you’re fortunate enough to be one of the “winners.” Still, media critics have long pointed to the role of gatekeepers who exercise considerable control what music reaches audiences. From radio programmers to retail managers to talent buyers to music reviewers and beyond, the most powerful labels do their best to keep their offerings front and center—often at the expense of independents. Radio is the still the number one source of “music discovery,” but commercial AM/FM radio broadcasters in this era of ownership consolidation tend to be highly risk-averse in their programming choices. Playlists are narrow and repetitive, as our research has documented. It has been the strong hope of the independent sector that online music services would be more democratic, allowing more artists to find audiences than was possible in the old-school media world.
Over the years, the major labels have their fair share of critics; FMC has certainly been among them. You’ve probably heard the stories: artists arguing with their labels over issues of creative control, withheld royalty payments, shady accounting practices, payola, anticompetive activity and other shenanigans that rankle musicians and fans alike. These problems are well documented and still occur. This has resulted in a well-perpetuated meme that circles: that labels can do no right. And unfortunately, this narrative has become so fashionable that it’s frequently advanced at the expense of factual accuracy.
Take, for instance, the recent story about YouTube’s massive cuts to the view counts on both Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group’s channels. The majority of the press coverage following SocialBlade’s initial report on the 2 billion view count cut jumped to the conclusion that Sony and Universal had artificially inflated their numbers… because that’s what a good-for-nothing company would do, right?
Let’s cut to the chase: urban radio sucks. You know it, artists know it, and programmers know it too. It offers little room for creative programming, tends to favor established artists at the expense of new voices, and kills any halfway-decent song that does manage to land in rotation by playing it as much as three times an hour. Most of all, urban radio sucks because it rarely meets the needs of the local community from which its listeners are drawn. read more