Radio is Dying, Should We Be Celebrating?

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If you read RefinedHype, or really anyone who writes about the music and isn't in the pocket of

the RIAA

, you're familiar with the common jabs at the music industry. As the world exploded with new technologies, instead of innovating, the labels and industry power brokers jumped in their bunkers, more interested in squeezing every last breath out of a dying business model (physical music sales) than building their businesses to survive into the future. And accordingly, here we are, with

once powerful labels shutting down left and right

CD sales at historic lows

, and an

black market "ghost signings" system emerging

. At this point the major label as dinosaur analogy is old news. 

But another historic media titan, broadcast radio, is perhaps in even bigger trouble than the label system, only that story isn't being told nearly as often. Which is why I was so interested in pouring over a

new report by Recode

. In short, just as the industry was adjusting to the collapse of CD sales, the collapse of mp3 sales looks imminent; some analysts say digital sales could fall as much as 40 percent in the next year. At the same time, music streams on services like Pandora and Spotfy, as well as YouTube, are exploding because...of course they are. From the earliest days of 45s to the advent of iTunes, history has taught us that consumers, as a whole, will always prefer convenience and lower cost over audio quality. Why "buy" a song for $1.00 when you could listen to it any time, on any device, and for the price of ten songs per month, listen to literally millions? 

Since the creation of the FCC in 1934 broadcast radio has enjoyed a near monopoly on streaming music, but the recent exodus away from iTunes and towards the new wave of Spotifys has injured radio severely, and the wounds might be mortal. While a projected 170 million people will be listening to digital streams by next year, those same projections have "time spent listening" to radio by consumers declining by over 40 percent over the next four years. 


...at any given moment among online listeners (Monday-Friday, 6 am to 8 pm), Pandora has more than three times the audience of all of the thousands of radio stations owned by Clear Channel (iHeart), CBS (Radio.com), Cumulus, Entercom and the next six broadcasting companies combined. - Paul Goldstein

Even more worrying for radio, advertisers are following consumers away from radio and towards those streaming services. The now $16 billion in ad dollars that supports radio is being

steadily shifted away from the FM dial towards digital

as advertisers chase their audience, and the more specific ad targeting a service like Pandora can offer over broadcast radio. (For example. If I'm Nike, I'd rather pay Pandora to display my ad to people who have searched for shoes in the last 24 hours than pay broadcast radio hoping to reach a percentage of the overall audience I'm-kind-of-maybe-sure is looking to buy shoes.)  

So that was a lot of facts and numbers and history lessons and whatnot because I'm

a very serious journalist

who backs up his opinions with careful research. The much more interesting part comes when we try to figure out what this means for the music we all love, and how we're going to listen to it. 

First, one last word

on the money

. It's always been strange (aka hypocritical) to me that many artists so indignant about the miserly rates they're being paid by services like Pandora have simultaneously

spent

thousands on marketing campaigns trying, and largely failing, to get broadcast radio to play their music. So while, on the whole, artists are lucky to make enough

from Pandora to buy a burger

, they were equally lucky to

not lose

thousands of dollars pursuing broadcast radio. It's a major reason why I've argued before that, especially for indie artists, to best approach to incorporating broadcast radio into their marketing and promotion plans is to

not give a fuck about radio

More importantly though, the cold reality appears to be that while it won't be tomorrow, or next year, or even the next, broadcast radio's days as a media goliath are numbered. As their audience shrinks so will the ad dollars, and like artists they're either going to have to

find some new revenue sources

, or get comfortable being relegated to the minor leagues of the music media game. (

Get it? GET IT???

)

In fact, at my most optimistic, the impending demotion of radio could be a great thing for hip-hop...on the radio. Streaming services are increasingly filling the "I"m stuck in a traffic jam and want to be distracted by music" territory broadcast radio once dominated. But what Spotify can't do, and will actually create the need for, is someone to sift through all that music and let us know what's worth listening to. Spotify currently has over 20 million songs in its database, a number that's simultanesouly impressive and

panic-attack inducing

. I barely have enough time to do laundry once a week, let alone go through 20 million songs to find new great music.  

If only there was someone who would devote their life to playing me only the music that's worth my time. Someone like...I know there's a word for this...ah yes, a DJ. And I don't mean "DJ" in the now common radio sense - aka someone who talks in between pre-programmed set lists determined by algorithms. I mean the return of the traditional DJ, someone who breaks music from artists I've never heard before, who champions quality above all else. It's that kind of radio that fueled my early life-long devotion to hip-hop (

RIP 88.9 at Night

), and that kind of radio I would be willing to put down my Spotify and turn the radio back on for. 

So everyone who complains that radio never plays "real" hip-hop could soon be living in a future where radio has to play "real" hip-hop (and other genres) to even survive against the streaming service onslaught. Of course, more realistically radio, like so many other businesses, will continue to cling onto its outdated business model until it's far too late, and it might already be too late. 

Farewell radio. I can't say you will be missed, unless you can survive by once again becoming something worth missing. 

[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth, the proprietor of RefinedHype, and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome.

This is his Twitter

.]

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