Radio Remains The Gold Standard When It Comes To Breaking Acts

If you want to achieve success and you are an up-and-coming act, don't waste your time waiting to be discovered using social media because you are nothing more than another voice blowing in the wind.

Raw numbers tell us that 90 percent of the nation 18+ are listening to conventional radio compared with 27 percent who using streaming music services in Canada on a weekly basis.

Raw numbers tell us that if you are going to build a fan base online, know that 40 percent of your possible audience uses YouTube and a much smaller percentage is tuned in to free and fee-based streaming music services in Canada.

More important, conventional radio pays way higher fees for broadcasting music — and an act that both writes its own material and performs it is going to win double as much in payments from FM radio.

This isn't quite the interpretation analyst Jeff Vidler from Audience Insights Inc. spins in his latest survey of 1,505 Canadians 18+, but strip the tinsel and the measured opinion from his recent audience insights data and the facts speak for themselves.

 “Social media plays heavily for new acts in building a conversation with an audience," Vidler tells me over the phone, and YouTube is important for 'discovery' and 'sharing', he explains — but the rub is discovery doesn't pay much of anything in the short run. So, until you build that fan base, having people add you to curated playlists and sharing you on YouTube can be akin to knowing lots of people and not actually having any friends.

Audience Insights' latest poll reveals slightly under 10-million Canadians 18+ actually use music streaming sites such as Songza, Spotify and Deezer on a weekly basis, whereas 81 percent acknowledge having listened to conventional radio in the same time frame. Separately, diary and PPM audience data reported by measurement service Numeris conclude that as high a number as 90 percent of the nation 18+ are listening to radio at least once a week  The difference between online and on-the-radio is the difference between playing a coffee-house and an arena when it comes to audience reach.

Vidler at Audience Insights advises that up-and-coming acts need to use social media, streaming and YouTube to " share, build and develop personal connections" with audiences, and that all of these online forums provide easy access for new talent to showcase themselves. But it is a case of not placing all one's eggs in one basket.

"Fundamentally, music streaming, specifically on-demand streaming, is really the music industry's Zip Car moment. Why own a car when you can get the car you want when you want it?"

It is a dilemma that offers no instant solution. Until music streaming reaches a tipping point, it's a pennies business compared with conventional airplay and selling CDs and downloads.

Add to this the fact that music streaming services in Canada do not offer a real opportunity for expanding a developing act's audience as adoption of these online services here lags significantly behind per capita listening in the US and Europe. A reluctance to pay for the music services is part of the equation, but (mobile) data charges are also a deterrent. Vidler is half-way in agreement with these arguments, but he is much more upbeat: “Though streaming is starting to hit its stride in Canada, the late arrival of Spotify and the continued absence of Pandora mean that it’s only now getting out of the starting gate.”

Clearly not every act with a new release is radio-friendly, and this fall the greater number of  available slots for Canadian artists on mainstream radio are usurped by a hit-parade of domestic and international Canadian superstar acts that include The Weeknd, Drake, Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, ahd homegrown fave Hedley.

So second-best means gaining traction by building support using social media and in a seemingly infinite universe or voices shouting to be heard, it takes more than a great song and a fantastic performance to draw eyeballs and elicit an enthusiastic response.

Rappers, hip-hop stars and Justin Bieber have won media real-estate using choreographed tiffs with opponents and competitors. Dissing and failed romances play into an economy that churns infotainment into ratings bonanzas. News today is about what sells, so folk singers and love-me-do pop songs have about as much appeal as lamb chops at a vegan buffet.

"It's tough to build those fan-bases that can gain the attention of radio programmers, but how did The Weeknd get where he is?," Vidler asks rhetorically. "Social media is about building narratives and if it takes a grudge match to build that narrative, then that's what it takes. Artists and managers today need to be smart about how they position themselves to be different and selling their story. A song is a song, but making that song stand out and be heard is about understanding media and making one's self heard."

It's about supply-side economics: Knowing who your audience is, what percentage is willing to pay for the music, and how much they are willing to pay. Like the campaigns waged by Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau, the key to success is making yourself heard in a world where it would seem everyone wants to be heard but few have anything of substance to say.



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