Clear Channel Radio and Front Line Management are creating artist personal experience (a.p.e.) radio, a stand-alone company that will allow musicians to produce their own online radio shows, Billboard can exclusively reveal. The channels will run 24 hours a day and play songs chosen by the artist, interviews and commentary. The program will launch in July with the Eagles, Christina Aguilera and Weezer.
At a time when artists are looking for ways to forge deeper connections with fans, Front Line and Clear Channel will use ad-supported a.p.e. radio to market albums and tours by offering fans exclusive content as well as an inside look into the musical taste of their favorite artists. "We feel that the old model of trying to get radio airplay and some video play is broken," says Front Line founder/CEO Irving Azoff, who also serves as CEO of Ticketmaster Entertainment and chairman of a.p.e. "We were looking for a seven-days-a-week, 24-hour artist online venture, and the radio channel seems to make real sense."
The a.p.e. radio channels, which will also be open to acts not represented by Front Line acts, can be heard on Clear Channel's local radio station Web sites, through the company's iheartradio iPhone and BlackBerry application, and widgets placed on the artists' Web sites. "We want artists to host the channels, tell stories and turn new fans on to new music," says Evan Harrison, president of Clear Channel's digital division and CEO of a.p.e. radio. "It's really a different approach, and we wanted to give the artist the foundation and infrastructure to let them do their thing."
In recent weeks, Clear Channel programmers went into a studio with Aguilera for a three-hour session during which the singer discussed motherhood, fashion and music. Aguilera's playlist will feature songs from Santigold, Black Sabbath and Etta James, Harrison says. "I am so excited to be one of the first artists on a.p.e.," Aguilera says in a statement provided to Billboard. "Fans always write to ask me what I like and listen to, which makes this such a great opportunity for me to share my musical inspirations with them. My channel is going to be a special place for my fans to find out about my new music, upcoming tours and lots of other news and original content. It's going to be fun."
Each online channel will feature about 1,000 songs, plus stories and comments from the host. The channels will be updated weekly with new music and content.
"When you talk about an Eagles-hosted radio channel, most people would assume they're going to hear Eagles music all the time," Harrison says. "The truth is, you'll hear an Eagles song every hour or so, with a story around it. But what's really exciting is that Joe Walsh will invite his friends to help participate, talk about destroying a hotel room or tell a more personal insight about where he was during the Kent State shooting."
Azoff points out that Clear Channel can reach more than 22 million online users per month through its digital platforms. "Our job as managers, and part of the service we offer to artists, is bigger distribution channels that nobody else can get them," he says. "And bringing Clear Channel in as the partner here is the big play." An artist's channel also "becomes an entry point off of which you can go to the artist's Web site and buy tickets, merch . . . and hopefully engage them in some kind of social networking," he says.
Clear Channel plans to use its on-air DJs to push radio listeners to the a.p.e. channels. "It's very natural for our programmers and on-air talent to tell our listeners, ‘Hey, I'm sitting here with Christina Aguilera,' and then to talk about the fact that she's hosting her own channel that lives on their Web site," Harrison says.
In addition to programming the channels, artists will share in the profits they generate from ads. "Is it going to make a lot of money? No. It's more of a marketing tool," Azoff says. "But what is recorded music? It's mostly a marketing tool, right?"