Satellite radio content czar oversees a programming team of actual tastemakers
Amid an onslaught of new digital competition, SiriusXM Radio stands out as a music discovery vehicle not just for listeners but also labels.
Last May, “Chillin’ It,” from then-unsigned artist Cole Swindell, received its first airplay on SiriusXM’s country channel the Highway, which led to a bidding war and a deal with Warner Music Nashville. It was a similar story one year earlier when Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” led to a signing with Republic Nashville and an eventual record for the top-selling country digital song of all time, at last count topping 6.4 million downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Satellite radio’s subscription-driven model doesn’t live or die by audience ratings like broadcast, affording Scott Greenstein’s programmers more latitude to take chances on unproven acts.
“We’re able to break new bands and be aggressive,” he says. In addition to the country coups, Alt Nation programmer Jeff Regan has been praised by label executives for spotting groups like Atlas Genius and Capital Cities early and backing his instincts with airplay.
Once a staple of FM rock radio, live concert broadcasts now frequently air on SiriusXM, including recent sets from Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, the National, Cage the Elephant, Mumford & Sons, Phoenix and Metallica. Starting with Bruce Springsteen and Eminem, the satcaster pioneered the artist-branded channel concept and has since doled out channels to roughly 15 other major acts that possess a vast body of work, a hardcore following and a willingness to collaborate with the company to offer content not heard elsewhere. For example, Pearl Jam aired multiple shows from its U.S. Lightning Bolt tour on the channel that bares its name.
The company has nearly 26 million subscribers, a credit card-carrying crowd that Greenstein characterizes as “a more valuable audience to the artist and the music community.” And as consumption shifts to mobile devices, the company has made around 50 of its music channels customizable for subscribers to its My SiriusXM offering. With the trend in digital music moving from algorithms to human curation, Greenstein is betting that carefully crafted, commercial-free music channels programmed and hosted by music experts will continue to set it apart.
“It’s a pretty special group when you have Marky Ramone curating punk rock and Eminem and his team putting together Shade 45,” he says. “The challenge is keeping our content relevant, special and evolving while maximizing awareness.”