You know that one friend that doesn’t see a movie like Get Out until six months after it’s out of theaters but wants to talk about it like it just dropped? That’s how I feel about radio these days.
As a 28-year-old, I can remember a time when radio still felt like a viable method of discovering new music. Granted, my music tastes hadn’t yet wandered into obscurity at the age of 12 so it wasn’t that hard to spring a new track on me, but my point remains.
Until the mid-2000s, it was entirely possible to hear a song on the radio from an artist you’d never heard before, even if you were a dedicated fan of a particular genre. In 2017, however, by the time radio gets ahold of its next “hit,” it’s usually already been streamed to death and the only segment of the populace surprised by its appearance on the dial are the type of casual listeners that say things like, “I don’t listen to music all that much.”
Who are those people by the way? I digress.
Case in point: this week, Ugly God’s viral smash “Water” just broke into the Top 30 at Mediabase, a service that tracks the most popular songs being played on radio throughout the U.S. and Canada. That’s right, the same “Water” that was released on SoundCloud on March 16 of 2016, the one that currently has over 76 million streams.
Going back to my previous analogy about the friend that never sees movies on time, “Water” is currently experiencing radio success a full 369 days after the track was released. While it’s awesome that Ugly God is getting some solid spins, it highlights just how far behind radio has fallen when it comes to breaking new artists.
I understand that radio is still largely dominated by corporate interests and I wasn’t the least bit surprised when Charlemagne admitted to Pharrell that radio no longer has the power it once did, I see evidence of it every day. But, I also know that the ultimate corporate interest is making money, which can’t happen if radio crashes and burns.
If radio wants to remain relevant for the foreseeable future, stations are going to have to do their best to keep up with streaming services like Spotify and SoundCloud, which are now early on everything. Again, it’s great that “Water” earned 837 spins last week but it would’ve been much more impactful to radio’s relevance if it was getting that same number last spring.
In terms of speed, radio is obviously never going to be able to beat the streaming services that these songs are being uploaded to in the first place, but a quicker response time and some legitimate risks that buck the trend of corporate safety might be the only way for radio to slow its sprint towards death to a crawl. This will become especially important as more new model vehicles come equipped with dashboard apps and WiFi, providing ease of access to every streaming service and a no-brainer alternative to the AM/FM dial.
If radio wants to survive, and possibly even thrive once again, it would behoove them to start paying more attention to their interns’ SoundCloud habits than the numbered lists the suits at Clear Channel sends.
Until then, expect to hear a heavily-edited version of “No I.D.” four times a day in 10 months.
Photo Credit: YouTube