'What is Radio's Future Role?:' Tastemakers Discuss Listening Trends at EDMbiz Panel

What is radio's role in the rapidly changing digital climate? A six-person panel of experts and on-air curators sought to answer that question and more at today's EDMbiz Conference and Expo in Las Vegas.

Moderated by Clark Warner, Beatport's executive creative director, the "Radioactive: Listening Trends in a Changing Media Landscape" session opened with a broad discussion of what makes a modern radio record.

All were in agreement on one timeless truth: You know it when you hear it.

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Ian Cee, owner of FOUR80 Music, said the Internet has eroded the authority of major labels to dictate what the hits are and forced them to react to new sounds and trends as they arise.

"What’s a hit today might be out of fashion in a week and a whole new genre may pop up by the time we’re done with EDC," Cee said.

Michelle Boros, music director/on-air personality, KAMP-FM Los Angeles/97.1 AMP Radio, added: "Even though we're on terrestrial radio, we look for stories."

Citing the success of instrumental dance hits like Martin Garrix's "Animals," Warner asked the panel members whether having a vocalist was still essential in the present day.

Geronimo, the director of music programming for electronic and dance formats for BPM/SiriusXM, said that while instrumental songs had their place on certain formats like Electric Area, his listeners still responded best to vocal tracks.

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"For a channel like BPM, vocals are pretty essential," he said. "They want to feel emotion. But sometimes if a vocal is added to an instrumental track, the fans just kill it. They're like 'you ruined the song, why'd you do that?'"

Asked about when a song's life cycle has run its course, Joel Salkowitz, president of Sound Ideas Programming Consultants, said radio programmers should trust their audience rather than themselves.

"Right about the time that everyone in the building is getting sick of something we’ve been playing is right around the time that your audience is getting into it," he said. "You live in a different world than your listeners."

Warner solicited questions from the crowd for the panel's waning minutes, giving the floor to an aspiring artist who asked about the best way to get on radio.

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George Hess, CEO of Zero2Fifty Group, recommended that the questioner put their music online in popular formats like YouTube and Soundcloud to build an audience.

"You don't have to sell your soul at this point," he said. 

The panel concluded with a discussion of music streaming and its role in shaping the future of radio. 

"It's the same analogy as what cable and satellite TV did for network TV," said Salkowitz. "Pop radio in particular is getting into a pissing contest with everyone’s iPod. If you have a satellite in the sky, you can’t compete with my iPod. If I want to hear Rihanna every 15 minutes, I can do it myself."

Marc van der Aa for Insomniac at EDMbiz