1. The major music business, the “new music” business, is built upon radio, it depends upon it.

2. There’s a fiction that we still live in a monoculture. This concept has been blown apart on television, where there are five hundred channels available, but the Luddites in radio still believe the Internet didn’t happen, that we’re all prisoners of the dial, where there are few stations and little innovation.

3. There are radio alternatives. I.e. Pandora and the forthcoming iTunes Radio. Please don’t confuse Spotify and Rdio and Deezer and MOG/Daisy with radio, they’re nothing of the sort. Oh, they might have a Pandora or iTunes Radio component, but these streaming services are retail replacements, lending libraries wherein for ten bucks a month you can go into the store and borrow anything you want, as long as you return it. Also, you’re not limited to one album at a time…

4. The radio alternatives represent market fragmentation. Because Internet in the car is not yet here on a widespread basis, they’ve had little impact on car listening… Then again, we’ve experienced tapes in the car, CDs and iPod hookups. Terrestrial radio listenership is not close to what it once was. Radio used to dominate, it’s still the biggest player, but its market share has receded dramatically.

5. Satellite, Sirius XM, benefits from its automobile deals. That was the essence, even more than the programming. At this point, ten years past launch, almost all cars are satellite-ready. Not everybody pays, but subscriptions exceed twenty million. How can Sirius XM get the rest of the public to subscribe? By utilizing Internet techniques, i.e. social networking. People go where their friends are… Right now, Sirius XM has not leveraged its subscriber base.

6. When wi-fi hits the car, or whatever type of cheap Internet access deploys in automobiles, Sirius XM will be challenged too. Right now, Sirius XM’s Internet play is laughable.

7. Most people under age twenty have never experienced good radio. So when baby boomers and Gen X’ers start waxing rhapsodically about their old time favorites, wanting them to come back, it’s the equivalent of wishing that music videos would come back to MTV. Music videos are now an on demand item. No one is going to sit and wait for their favorite. And this is the same challenge facing all radio outlets, from terrestrial to satellite to Pandora to… They’re all based on an old model. Which is you’ll sit through what you don’t like to hear what you do, paying for the experience, whether with cash or by listening to ads. At this point, ads on Pandora are limited. But it’s the ads that will kill terrestrial…

Never forget Sirius XM’s channels are commercial-free. The public hates commercials, despite all the b.s. propagated by advertisers. The absence of commercials is satellite’s number one selling point.

8. Insiders believe that there’s no revolution in terrestrial radio because the owners know it’s headed into the dumper. They’re just milking it for all they can before it falls off a cliff. So if you’re waiting for format innovation and fewer commercials…you’ll be waiting forever.

9. The challenge of Spotify/Rdio/etc. is…to tell their subscribers what to listen to. That’s what traditional radio has done best. So far, these services have not succeeded because they’re run by techies, and curation is all about human effort, not algorithms, otherwise we’d all be in relationships determined by computers.

10. Indie and left of center musical acts cannot get on terrestrial radio.

11. Terrestrial radio sells records and builds careers. Just not as well as before. The reason we see so few diamond sellers isn’t because of piracy so much as the fragmentation of the audience. In the old days of the walled garden, of radio and MTV dominance, if something got airplay it went nuclear, now radio just plays to its niche.

12. There’s very little innovation in the music played on alternative and active rock stations. Hip-hop killed rock and roll, but rather than innovating, rock and roll stayed the same. And now electronic music is killing hip-hop. Sure, kids want something different from their parents, but even more they want to own the scene, they don’t want to be dictated to, they want something that’s testing the limits!

13. Pop/Top Forty has more innovative music than alternative and active rock. Because the largest rewards are in pop/Top Forty, the best people gravitate there. I know you hate this, but it’s true.

14. Young people, prepubescent people, listen to Top Forty to be a member of the club, it’s a rite of passage, discovering pop after Disney…before you become an adolescent and want to express your identity by finding your own music, when you stop inviting all the kids in your class to your birthday party and only the few you like, who you gossip with about those you hate.

15. Baby boomers and Gen X’ers control the big time music business. They’re inured to the past, the dominance of radio and MTV, and they only want to be involved with that which pays, heavily… So they’re not about to put a decade into building your indie band, never gonna happen.

16. The young acts of today have to depend upon the young entrepreneurs of today to build their careers. It wasn’t oldsters who built classic rock, but a totally new generation of young players and young business people, only the young business people understood it.

17. Look at trends. Ten years ago the major labels said no record ever broke on the Internet. Look at PSY’s “Gangnam Style”! Radio is dying and YouTube and other alternatives are growing.

18. If you want to gain the most eyeballs, you must be controversial, tweet-worthy. If I can listen to your station and have no opinion, not hate or love your deejays or hate or love your music, if you give me nothing to talk about other than the same damn thing, then I’m not gonna talk about it, I’m not gonna bring new people in, you’re going to be living in an echo chamber.

19. Just like music piracy is a dead conversation, just like streaming has eclipsed it, terrestrial radio is dying…however, its replacement has not reared its head yet. Therefore the oldsters say radio is forever. But lousy sales figures of today’s mass market records proves this to be wrong.

20. We, as a culture, want to feel included. That’s what the radio of yore was all about. To grow mass, you’ve got to make us feel included. In other words, it’s all about culture. Talk radio has culture. As does public radio. After that, it’s a vast wasteland of sold-out stations with the same flaw of network television… Trying for broad-based appeal, they appeal to no one, and cede their market to excellence. HBO and the cable outlets killed network with quality… If you don’t think new services will kill terrestrial radio, you must like inane commercials, you must like me-too music, you must think airplay on one of these outlets will sell millions of albums, but that almost never happens anymore.

~~~


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Category: Music, Weekend

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

6 Responses to “Lefsetz on Radio”

  1. BennyProfane says:

    Wow, it’s a long list

    “Right now, Sirius XM’s Internet play is laughable.”

    Not really, because you can stop at Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour 24/7, but, I won’t. I just added it to my Sirius account, after buying a new A/V receiver, and, it’s pretty cool. Most if not all stations are offering a “listener modified station” “MySirius” that mimics pandora, and eliminates DJs, which is an improvement.

    “9. The challenge of Spotify/Rdio/etc. is…to tell their subscribers what to listen to. That’s what traditional radio has done best. So far, these services have not succeeded because they’re run by techies, and curation is all about human effort, not algorithms, otherwise we’d all be in relationships determined by computers.”

    Precisely my issue listening to a computer DJ’d station, like Pandora. That thing may have won on Jeapordy, but, they still haven’t figured out cool segue way.

    “Hip-hop killed rock and roll”

    No it didn’t. In your dreams. Please.

    “13. Pop/Top Forty has more innovative music than alternative and active rock. Because the largest rewards are in pop/Top Forty, the best people gravitate there. I know you hate this, but it’s true.”

    No it’s not. After I read that, I realized you have no taste or soul.

    “15. Baby boomers and Gen X’ers control the big time music business. They’re inured to the past, the dominance of radio and MTV, and they only want to be involved with that which pays, heavily… So they’re not about to put a decade into building your indie band, never gonna happen.”

    So, explain all of the indie bands that have been nurtured for about the last twenty five years by……Boomers.

    “17. Look at trends. Ten years ago the major labels said no record ever broke on the Internet. Look at PSY’s “Gangnam Style”! Radio is dying and YouTube and other alternatives are growing.”

    Dude, The history of recorded music is filled by novelty acts and songs that explode on the scene and make a few people rich for five minutes.The internet is just allowing that to continue.

    “If you don’t think new services will kill terrestrial radio, you must like inane commercials, you must like me-too music, you must think airplay on one of these outlets will sell millions of albums, but that almost never happens anymore.”

    Terrestrial radio will live because we are increasingly a society that has no disposable income to waste on pay radio. It’s free.

  2. ptm says:

    Back when I was commuting I discovered the memory chip fm transmitter – since I was in an urban area with 50 stations to choose from I ended up plugging it in and never listening to commercial radio again. That’s been 10 years. My children, into electronic music, are asking for the same privilege now that that fm transmitter is bluetooth enabled and they can use their phones for the music. I have no idea who is paying for the the air time and the wasted watts of most stations, but somebody is really spending a lot of money for no effect whatsoever. And personally, if commercial radio was off the air tomorrow, I wouldn’t miss it for a minute.

  3. rd says:

    Sirius XM and NPR these days. I haven’t listed to a commercial radio station in years.

    I grew up with a great album rock station and a great “Top 40″ station in the 1970s. Both played new music that was not heavily publicized and brought small acts to town for concerts. They were able to actually make some bands in North America by building a local base for them that was able to spread. I have seen no evidence that anything like this still exists in North America, outside of music available on the Internet. I actually find out about more new music from various program on NPR and affiliates than just about any other source, which I find to be truly bizarre.

  4. Richard W. Kline says:

    What’s suffocated terrestrial radio isn’t the delivery mechanism; it isn’t the adverts either, though they’re truly abomidable. It’s the corporate asshatery of those who control the formats. We hear gelitanized hogshead cheez cut with saccharine because that’s what the corporators are backscratched and/or paid off to put on by their equivalents in the musican endenturing indurstry. The product is rancidifying tripe because those bozos have moved tons of it in the past and made money off it; because crap like that is sufficiently formulaic it’s readily reproducible; because it’s leached of all politics and so ‘safe’ for the center-right to waaaaay right moneybags who own the stations and dictate what _doesn’t_ make the airwaves. Now, the bell curve being what it is, there is a fat, dull market for that crap, and that keeps the broadcast moghuls convinced that there’ll never be a large enough dieback in that mass cadre to seriously harm their own ad margins. No one with a shred of taste or a sense of pitch would be caught dead listening to any of that, certainly not to tolerate the adverts, above all not when there are alternatives. Sooo those with taste and a brain cell select out, which only drives the homogenization of what’s broadcast due to the nature of the remaining audience.

    If terrestrial radio is junkfooding itself to oblivion, it could reverse that tomorrow. Two good DJs are worth a thousand ads; two and a half can push a station to the top of the sweeps. That’s been my experiene through nearly fifty years of moderate radio listening. But that means empowering those jockeys to pull in and cue up a wide range of the best stuff out there—because there is ALWAYS a ton of good music out there. I’m not talking about some joe-bro playing continuously the tiny niche sound he and his three friends listen to, but a broad array of jumping music. People will bring their ears for that, ads notwithstanding (or just filter the ads nowadays, but the stations are still paid so why should they care). The broadcast corporate moghuls will never do it, so yeah, they’re killing their product, but it’s an assassination not an expiration from natural causes.

    Electronic music may become the ‘sound of a gen cadre,’ but it remains extremely disappointing. I’ve been waiting for thirty five years for the stuff to take off, and it never has. I was listening to early ambient music, produced by individuals with actual musical and production mojo . . . but there just weren’t very many of those, and aren’t. Even now, when I, very rarely, hear a smoking good electronic mix what stands out to me is both the rarity of the event, and the even greater rarity of anything of actual musical richness and mood. There’s something in the livewire emotionalism of someone cutting chops on a 12-string or a trumpet or a drum kit or their natural born voicebox into a microphone that no amount of on-beat, on-tone, on-program sonic flatulence can match. This is much of what keeps rock alive, to me. I keep waiting for some innovaiton in the basic rock instrumentation, and it keeps not happening, in part because the genuineness of the ‘music’ makes up for the tirednes of the sound and the bleached out hokum of the compositions.

    And to me, Sirius and Pandora are serious programming flops. It’s amazing that with the enormous cataloge of music available to them they could wedge their head into a bucket and stay there, but they seem to have, from what I can hear. They’ve bought into the ‘folks will only sit still for their nich’ meme. It’s not true but it is stultifying. Yes, I’ll hear cuts I’ve never listened to by bands I hardly knew or not at all, but the _narrowness_ of the sound on the niche-locked bands kills the resonance of the music, to me. After a half hour, everythings sounds the same—becaue it’s meant to. And the computer mix, ‘let us push just the THREE BANDS YOU LOVE’ is brutal. I _know_ everything they did, and listening to anything once every 36 hours kills the joy. It’s an asinine approach by non-innovative corporate tone deafs who just want to get paid. Again, these channels should be DJed by folks of actual taste, breadth of experience, and the gonads to want to climb in your head and make the pleasure centers fire. The point isn’t to hear the same three chords forever but to have contrasts and segues which are different enough that each cut lights up something in the other. Broadcast music by any medium has completely forgotten this reality, and that is what’s killing their audience response. Think about this: There was a time when I could listen to a radio station which might play Bobby Goldsboro, Kenny Rogers, Tim Buckley, the Stones, Toots and the Maytals, and the Temptations _in sequence_. Their DJs had that kind of latitude. We couldn’t even get Toots on the air today with ’5446 Was My Number,’ that’s who dumb the sound is—and they want me to hear their ads too! I’d break the receiver before I’d listen to what most corporate music casters are pushing. In the absence of a good medium, I’ve spent most of my time learning the jazz and Classical libraries I never had time for. Scriabin has it going on; I’ve all the time in the world for Metheny or Gary Burton or Donald Byrd; fado is worth buying and sitting down beside. There is one alternative radio station I listen to at work; imperfect, but they dig up some clever bijous I’d never have time to find; I even buy some of that stuff. None of which would EVER be on the air or Sirius . . . .

    The future of broadcast is with an outfit of less than a dozen people backed by big time streaming from a little facility in a country you don’t know how to spell pushing out incredibly intelligent queues laying end to end the zest of the new, the best of the old, and the brass of the rest. The transmission method it uses to reach your ears is far less relevant than the mix they’ve got the nerves and hormones to push under your nose. Corporate asshats shopping cheez to morons will never get this business right, again.

  5. jwagner says:

    Internet radio is in the car now. My kids don’t know what FM or AM is, they just plug in their phones and stream or play their MP3s. Sometimes they play CDs, but that’s mostly CD images they trade back and forth (remember mixtapes?). The only thing that will change with car-based internet radio is that the song/artist display will move to the dash.

    Top 40 >> alt – WTF?? Top 40 is totally controlled by the same archaic music industry you’re railing against.

    Old people listen to terrestrial radio, and even some of us have turned it off. There is some great internet radio available. Try radioparadise.com for a mix of new and old rock, and some esoterica.
    Jim

  6. [...] Twenty notes on the future of radio.  (Bob Leftsetz) [...]