|Radio Airplay 101 - Traditional Radio vs. The Web
How is web radio (and downloading and file sharing) going to impact your efforts in reaching mass numbers of people with your songs? Fortunately, for those who have studied media (yes, "media" is a topic in and of itself,) there is an answer that we can use. But you need to separate "radio" from "web" in order to understand it.
"Radio" (web or broadcast) is the "cause" step; it causes the awareness and desirability of a song to be built. "Downloading" (and file sharing) is the "result" step; it is the result of what happens after radio causes the song to be desired. And this is true whether the radio and downloading are free or not.
Web radio will soon be just another box that we tune-in to. The biggest web stations (meaning the ones that have the most listeners) will be run by those that know how to run big stations: Traditional radio operators. There will always be tons of small stations (web and broadcast)... just as there are already tons of small AM and FM stations (there are 12,000 stations in the U.S. alone.) But most listeners, since the beginning of radio, have always been concentrated on just a few stations on the dial. Why? Because those stations can afford to promote themselves. Adding a few more thousand small web stations is not going to affect the balance that much... most listeners are still going to be packed into a few (200 or 300, worldwide) big stations, just as most web users today are packed into just a few search engines, even though there are thousands of search engines to choose from (bet you didn't know that!)
So, just like today, the future of radio will consist of key stations (web or broadcast) that you will want to get your songs onto, in order to reach the most people. 50 big stations (web or broadcast) that reach 50,000 people each will always be preferable to 5000 stations that reach 5 people each... because of the amount of work it takes to get on EACH station. (Note: As of the year 2003, the average number of listeners to a web station is less than 1. Yes, that's less than one listener per web station, on average.)
Thus, what happens in the future is that the difficulty in getting your songs on the big web stations becomes the same as getting your songs on the big broadcast stations. It's just like if you were opening a new restaurant: It's more difficult getting your new restaurant into a crowded mall than it is getting it into an area that is deserted. It's always more competitive when there are a lot of people.
Next, add to this the fact that within a few years you will not have to manufacture CDs anymore (all stations will play music files directly... mp3 or otherwise), and what you end up with are artists and labels with a lot of money saved that they are going to use for promotion (phone calls, email labor, visits.) This will make it imperative that big stations get the most push to play your songs, because they will (and are) getting the most push from everyone else. This is nothing new... it's the way music and radio have worked for 80 years. And even before radio, when the best you could do was have your songs sung in theaters and music halls, the biggest places always got the most push to use certain songs, because those places had the most people.
As for "downloading" a song, it will always be the end result of hearing that song. Nothing changes here. And no matter which "result" you want... charging for a download or giving it away for free... the "cause" is going to be the same: Hearing it on a web or broadcast station (or, of course, live.)
Thus, the amount of work it takes to get your songs heard will always be directly proportional to how many listeners you are trying to reach, just the way the bigger clubs that you want to play in are always going to require more work in order to book, compared to the small ones. Amazing!
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