Does Radio Airplay Matter?


Posted on May 7th, 2012 by Kristin Thomson in What We're Learning. 5 Comments

Others from the more mainstream rock genres also agreed that radio had an impact.

It has a net impact on everything.  In my experience the song that goes on the radio suddenly is the song that people want to license for movie trailers and for TV commercials and it’s suddenly this thing that people want to hear at shows. I don’t think the people who are coming to our shows are largely people who listen to commercial radio but there is some amplifying factor and I’d just be guessing to say exactly what it is, but when something gets on the radio it is suddenly bigger in the world.
– Independent Rock Band A

The thing that made the difference was the ability to continue to tour based on radio success we had starting in 1990 and hitting a peak in around 1994 and then diminishing from that point on as people realized, ‘Wait a minute, these guys aren’t cool at all…and they’re old.’ WHFS in Washington, DC played us like the National Anthem in 1990. By 1993 they came to the party reluctantly, and by 1995 they were gone from our world.
 – Dan Navarro, Professional Songwriter and Vocalist

At the same time, we also heard that radio doesn’t impact sales the way it used to, or that radio airplay leading to other success can be really hit or miss.

The country radio industry is a very healthy format and does very well. When deregulation hit, playlists got much smaller, there are markets that only play the top 10 records. New music is not exposed as much as it used to be.  I had a single that was on the charts for 37 weeks before it hit number one. A decade earlier that stand would have been more like 16 weeks. So if you have five singles off an album, the income was pretty much the same but the climb up the charts is much, much slower now.
 – Nashville Songwriter B

You can play a town now without the support of radio, without ever getting played on the radio, and draw a crowd.  The dominance of radio is slipping. Even if you get radio to roll over dead and play what you’re demanding them to play, it doesn’t have the impact.
 – Mark Bliesener, BandGuru Management

Our first album, our big single, the highest it got on radio was #21 on the alternative charts when that was a thing. We sold like a million records. This last record we had a song and it was the number one played song on top 40 I think in 2009 and we sold 650,000 records.
 – Major label rock band guitarist

You take artists like Waka Flocka Flame and Gucci Mane, their songs are being played all day on the radio and they only sold 30,000 and 60,000 units respectively.  But then you have Jaime Foxx, who already has a brand.  I didn’t hear his songs a lot on the radio but he sold over 200,000 units.  So radio and videos are very hit or miss.  I think a lot of it has to do with branding and marketing and promo.  Some people just have a built-in fan base and they’re going to go buy whatever this artist put out regardless.
 – Urban Artist Attorney C

Others – many in classical and jazz – say that radio only drives ticket sales and not record sales.

People say that [airplay] has absolutely no impact on sales. In fact, one label we were on a while back literally wouldn’t spend any money or effort doing anything about radio. I would say, ‘This is crazy,’ and they would say, ‘Well we’ve studied it and there’s no impact on sales.’
 – Artist Manager C

They put this album out and they put a bunch of money for publicity for it and they got on the radio and it definitely didn’t affect CD sales, it did probably ultimately help them get better gigs.  I remember him specifically saying, ‘We put all of this money into the CD and it got played on the radio, we were charting on the American charts and it did not translate into sales.’
– Sxip Shirey, referencing The Wiyos

I’d say at this point it’s been fairly negligible. If anything it’s just been a decent promotional tool mainly affecting that people are aware of live gigs that we have but not necessarily leading to them hearing the song on the radio and then going and buying the album or anything like that. It’s just more or less been helpful in promoting the live performances.
– Chris Teal

Others are more ambivalent.

My solo stuff and the other groups occasionally get played on Internet radio or independent radio and I would be hard pressed to argue that that has any effect on sales, nor does it often show up as performance royalties.
 – Singer-Songwriter A

I really have no handle on what kind of impact that stuff has. I do know that when I’ve done national NPR things like Performance Today there’s been a spike in digital sales.
– Emerging Classical Composer

There are the big stations like KEXP and WXPN in Philadelphia that are music-oriented non-commercial radio stations, but I feel like the listenership of most non-commercial stations, which is mostly college radio, while very loyal, has always been a relatively small percentage of the music-buying audience and therefore I’m not entirely sure how much radio play really affects things.
– Indie Rock Guitarist/Songwriter

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5 responses to “Does Radio Airplay Matter?”

  1. […] extent. Our artist revenue streams study found that significant commercial radio airplay remains out of reach for all but a tiny handful of artists.  And our earlier radio-centric research demonstrates that […]

  2. […] extent. Our artist revenue streams study found that significant commercial radio airplay remains out of reach for all but a tiny handful of artists.  And our earlier radio-centric research demonstrates that […]

  3. […] extent. Our artist revenue streams study found that significant commercial radio airplay remains out of reach for all but a tiny handful of artists.  And our earlier radio-centric research demonstrates that […]

  4. […] extent. Our artist revenue streams study found that significant commercial radio airplay remains out of reach for all but a tiny handful of artists.  And our earlier radio-centric research demonstrates that […]

  5. […] of music, from live performances to digital video (especially in the noncommercial sector, as a recent Future of Music study illustrates). The presentation suggests that there are new ways for radio to expand into both […]