After several years of free fall, the music industry has begun to regroup but still has not returned to significant growth. The industry is trying to make up lost ground through marketing initiatives
Harold Childs (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a marketing consultant who has held executive positions at A&M Records, Warner Bros. Records and PolyGram Records. Hilary Clay Hicks (email@example.com) is a veteran publicist, marketing consultant, writer, producer and university professor.
After several years of free fall, the music industry has begun to regroup but still has not returned to significant growth. The industry is trying to make up lost ground through marketing initiatives mostly centered on delivering established artists and catalog. The question remains, how can the industry create excitement about new artists and bring back growth in unit sales?
To decide what needs to be done next, it's only common sense to ask what was available in the past that's not available now. One of the missing links is personality music radio. We must encourage its return.
Think about it. DJs played new, grass-roots music. DJs were part of the entertainment. DJs were facilitators who provided a human connection between the music and the audience, so that the listeners were participants. (One of the reasons talk radio is the most successful form of broadcasting today is because somebody is there on the microphone.)
DJs shared their excitement for the music and praised its creativity. DJs sold listeners on the music and the artists, stimulating sales. DJs in one format discovered music with broad appeal that would then cross over to other formats, expanding the sales potential of any given hit recording.
DJs are the life that's missing in the programming, marketing and sales chain today.
Historically, independent music programmed on personality radio made possible the incredible growth arcs of the '50s, '60s and '70s. Independent labels have always been the farm system for the majors. The industry has always expanded because of the independents. It has contracted upon mergers and acquisitions, and then expanded again thanks to the next wave of independents, often helped by new platforms such as FM radio.
In the past, independent labels were always able to find a way to get their artists onto radio to kick off a wave of expansion; however, that's not possible with today's programming practices. Until this changes, the music industry will stay in the doldrums.
People are longing for a return to excitement and creativity, to love the music rather than merely be its target audience. It's up to the music industry to help make the connection again.
In the '60s and '70s, personalities across the country, like Tom Donahue in San Francisco and Scott Muni and Frankie Crocker in New York, began programming new music on the unexplored frontier of FM. The music industry supported this new outlet through contests and giveaways of FM radios for automobiles. The industry advertised on the new medium. We supported concert tours for the new artists. We spread the word.
As a result, new retail structures like Tower Records emerged. In the end, everybody prospered, and people were excited about music.
To bring back growth, the industry needs to get behind personality radio wherever it is programming new music. Satellite radio is in the same position that FM was 35 years ago. When satellite radio provides personality-based programming that can break new artists, the industry should step up to the plate with support for promotions and contests that underwrite and promote the medium. When opportunities to advertise emerge, these should be supported as well. Distribution systems such as Sony BMG's RED and Warner Music Group's Alternative Distribution Alliance should encourage artist development. New retail structures will follow demand, just as they have in the past.
Sirius Satellite Radio's hiring of Howard Stern may draw listeners who are also music consumers, but he is a talk host, not a DJ. It will take music personalities to create excitement for music. The new breed of radio personalities might spur interest and sales not only in the United States but also among an international audience.
What can independent artists do? Keep the revolution going. Make great music. Perform often. Make the most of local opportunities for the sales and promotion of your music. Dominate your local market to the best of your ability. Continue developing alternative marketing and distribution channels. Don't worry about competing with the big guys at the national level. In time, the industry will reach out for you.