It Used to be That You Need Radio to Make Hit Songs. Not Any More.

The old formula worked like this: A label found an artist, paid for recording a song and then lobbied radio stations to play it. The more radio played the song, the more copies the song/album sold. With a little luck (and the public willing), you had a hit.

Points if you’re able to find the formula’s fatal law in today’s digital world.

That’s right, sales don’t matter anymore. At least not as much.

With labels now seeing the majority of their revenues coming from streaming, the radio part of the equation isn’t as important as it used to be. New hits are discovered online immediately and spread rapidly among other streamers. By the time radio discovers a hot new song, those Spotify-bred tastemakers have already moved on.

Broadcasters are then faced with two choices: (1) Play the hot new tunes in the role of an old media validator; or (2) Ignore the hot songs on streaming services in an attempt to convince themselves that the old ways are best and that tens–hundreds!–of millions of streams don’t matter. “I’ve never heard of that artist, anyway,” many will say. “We don’t play unfamiliar songs!”

Uh-oh. This isn’t good.

Vulture has this article that explains the new star-making machinery behind the popular song, a machine that doesn’t need radio like it once did.

In this new digital era of music consumption, brought about by streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, many hip-hop artists have rejected the traditional blueprint for releasing new music, which mimicked Hollywood’s rollout of a blockbuster film: a lavish, many-months-in-the-making marketing campaign, led by one or two radio-friendly singles designed to create maximum exposure for a record company’s big moneymaker, a proper studio album. Streaming is built on a song-based economy, though, and young MCs like Uzi are too savvy and restless to play by the old rules: They spray-hose new tracks when the mood strikes, and fans binge the content like couch-bound Netflix addicts inhaling new episodes of Black Mirror. “Hip-hop artists have liberated themselves from the shackles of the album,” says Lyor Cohen, co-founder of pioneering rap label Def Jam and now YouTube’s global head of music. “The album is far less important than just putting out music.”

Read the whole article here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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