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RADIO/RECORD COMPANY RELATIONS

QUESTION FOR DAN O’DAY:

I am responsible for the music at a radio station in Germany.

Currently there is a big discussion within the radio and record industries over here about their relationship and their role in promoting new music. For example, our station used to pay a plenty of money to receive many many CDs every month -- most of them useless. Because our market research showed us that our target-listenership is not very keen to hear the latest singles, they want rather "big hits." So we canceled our contracts with the record industry because they had almost no benefit for us. The record companies on the other hand are not very happy about that step. They blame us that they "do all the work" in promoting new music and new artists and we "just make money" with their work.

Of course we are interested in a cooperative but also fair relationship to the record-industry. Currently we are thinking of new ways of cooperation and there are many discussions about that. And here we need your help:

How is the situation in the States? How is the general relationship? Are there contracts between the stations and the labels? Do stations pay money to get singles before their official release? What is the viewpoint of the record industry, how do they see the role of radio in promoting new music? How do stations in the States deal with the discrepancy between the wish of their listeners to hear "hits" and the need to promote new music?

DAN REPLIES:

>How is the situation in the States? How is the general relationship?

The relationship is one of seducer and seducee. The ones with the money (record companies) try to seduce the ones with much less money (radio people). Record companies see radio solely as medium with which to drive record sales. (They never actually say that in public, but that is their view. And if you and I owned a record company, that would tend to be our view, too.)

That relationship is one that corrupts radio. Here's how the relationship should work:

  1. The record company decides which artists it hopes will get airplay on a particular station.

  2. The record company provides (at no charge) copies of those artists' CDs to those radio stations.

  3. The radio station appoints someone (a Music Director) to determine what songs will be played on that station.

  4. The Music Director makes those choices based solely on the impact any particular song will have on the station's audience.

  5. The radio station decides what procedures the Music Director should follow in finding & choosing the songs that will get played. Hopefully this will include auditioning all incoming new music, but this is a decision for the radio station to make.

  6. To help the Music Director make those decisions, the record company might choose to provide the radio station with pertinent information: Previous or new sales & airplay patterns, current break-out markets for the artist, upcoming concerts or tv shows or movies or videos (which might stimulate interest in the artist and/or record), etc.

  7. The Music Director selects the station's music to the best of his or her ability, and according to established station procedures.

  8. The Music Director advises the record companies when they add or drop one of the company's songs.

  9. When the radio station adds one of the record company's releases, the record company rejoices.

  10. When the radio station decides not to add one of the record company's releases, the record company silently curses the radio station.
>Are there contracts between the stations and the labels?

No. But recently some radio companies have signed agreements with independent record promoters that guarantee the record company access to designated high level station employees. For example, one independent promoter is paying one large radio group a million dollars a year for the right to "pitch" songs directly to the group's national program director.

Predictably, the radio group says this presents no ethical problem. "We would be stupid to play any record for any reason other than because it's right for our audience," they say. "We cannot be bought or influenced by such an arrangement." But if they can't be influenced by such an arrangement, then that independent promotion company must be incredibly stupid: They are paying a million dollars a year and getting nothing back in return!

Such an arrangement - whether for a million dollars a year or for free trips to radio conventions - corrupt the radio station.

SCENARIO:

The record promoter says to the national PD, "Look, my job is on the line with this one. This is a great, great record. You know you're going to play it anyway; all I'm asking is that you add it this week instead of next week. If I tell my boss that you said no, I'll probably be fired. And even if I manage to keep my job, I don't think I'll have any chance at all of convincing them to renew our million dollar contract for next year."

And the PD thinks, "Good grief. How can I tell my boss that I lost us a million dollars over this one new record? Besides, he's right: I know I will be playing it sooner or later...."

And what do you suppose the PD ultimately decides?

More commonly, independent promotion companies (which exist partly because they are freer to engage in some activities that large, publicly held record companies would avoid) have established many relationships with many radio stations. Some of these relationships are formal; some are legal. Some are informal (i.e., not written down anywhere); some are illegal.

A TRUE (AND NOT SO RARE) EXAMPLE:

The Program Director of one particular radio station objected to the heavy-handed, sometimes illegal pressure tactics brought to bear on him by one particular independent promoter. The Music Director finally told the promoter, "Don't call me any more. Feel free to send me copies of your new releases, and if I think they're right for my station I'll play them. But don't call me and don't come to the station any more."

The next day, the station's general manager fired the Program Director, saying, "That guy's company has given us $50,000, which just happens to be our promotional budget for the entire year. And he says you're just too difficult to work with. So...."

Successful record promoters are master manipulators. And many radio people are sitting ducks.

> Do stations pay money to get singles before their official release?

No, absolutely not. Record companies provide "promotional copies" (i.e., at no cost) to stations because they want the airplay that they hope will result. Radio stations in large markets (and influential stations in smaller markets) get more promotional CDs than they know what to do with. KIIS-FM in Los Angeles might receive (without asking) 100 copies of a hot new CD; meanwhile, a small station in a small market might have to beg for a single copy to play on-the-air. Often those small stations pay an outside company an annual fee to obtain promo copies for them. Other small stations arrange "trade" or "contra" deals with local record stores (which are no help for pre-releases, of course).

> What is the viewpoint of the record industry, how do they see the role of radio in promoting new music?

As I indicated above, they think it is radio's duty to promote new music. (I disagree. I see radio's duty as serving the audience.)

>How do stations in the States deal with the discrepancy between the wish of their listeners to hear "hits" and the need to promote new music?

The most ethical stations worry only about their listeners. The least ethical stations worry only about the money and other benefits they get from record companies & promoters.

> The record-companies on the other hand are not very happy about that step. They blame us that they "do all the work" in promoting new music and new artists and we "just make money" with their work.

If that is true, then I owe them an apology. If that is true, then obviously they share their record sale profits with you. If that is true, then the disc jockeys who play the music have become as wealthy as the record company owners and the recording artists - each of whom make money each and every time one of their records is sold.

None of the above will please record people. Always remember that the goals of the radio station and the goals of the record company ARE NOT THE SAME.

The radio station wants to attract and keep the largest specified audience possible. The record company wants to sell as many records as possible.

Different goals, different priorities.

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