Does Radio Airplay Matter?
Examining qualitative and quantitative data collected during this Artist Revenue Streams project, we are able to gauge its perceived value for musicians and managers.
- Frequent airplay on commercial radio is rare, but new forms of radio are providing airplay opportunities for more musicians. The survey data, where only a small percentage of the population reported receiving “frequent” radio airplay, resonates with what is a common experience for many musicians; frequent or some commercial airplay is rare. However, the survey data and the interviews suggest that the emergence of other types of radio – webcasts, noncommercial, satellite – have expanded the number of places where musicians might get airplay. Indeed, the growing strength and value of NPR and noncommercial radio was visible not only in the survey data, but also amongst interviewees who noted its ability to attract new music fans to non-mainstream types of music.
- For some musicians, airplay on any type of radio accompanies an increase in their earning capacity….The survey data indicates that those who received frequent airplay had a profile that was distinct from the rest of survey respondents. A higher percentage of their income is derived from music. Their gross estimated music income is greater than those without airplay. And, they report a greater percentage of last year’s income from compositions, sound recordings and live performance. This was also stated by in various ways by our interviewees. Radio contributes to an artists’ brand awareness, but it cannot be the sole strategy for increasing a musician’s profile. For some genres, interviewees believe that radio airplay has a measurable impact on record sales and concert attendance.
- .…but for others, radio’s impact is difficult to measure.
It’s important that we not view radio through rose-colored glasses. The most basic fact remains true: for most musicians and composers, being played frequently on any type of radio with a decent audience size is very difficult to attain. And many of our interviewees – especially those in jazz and classical fields – have learned not to put all their eggs in the radio basket. Radio airplay is welcomed when it can happen, but it’s simply part of an artists’ broader strategy.
Is radio airplay still relevant? Traditional radio airplay remains the most likely way for mass market music fans learn about new music, though the quick ascendance of Sirius XM, Pandora, NPR and a whole host of radio-like services and specialized webcasts has greatly diversified the field. For a music lover, the choices in radio-like experiences have never been richer or easier to access. Yes, radio is still relevant. It’s just that the definition of radio has expanded.
For musicians and composers who came up in the adventurous era of 70’s FM, or even in a time when there were more commercial stations playing music of any kind, today’s commercial radio landscape must be a disappointment. But for emerging artists, or those who work in genres that have been marginalized by commercial radio for decades, the development of new sites and services seems like a good thing. Indeed, technology has made it possible for even the smallest local radio stations to increase their leverage, both through partnerships with local record stores and promoters, and also through streams to a potential global audience, thus benefiting musicians who are getting airplay at even the local or regional level.
So, is airplay important? The data from this report suggests yes it is, but in different ways than before. Given the expansion of radio-like experiences, there are more opportunities than ever for musicians – even those in niche genres – to get airplay. But how much airplay matters on these emerging platforms depends on musicians’ own circumstances. For some musicians, airplay is believed to impact sales or concert attendance. Others believe it leads to brand awareness. And for a few, airplay on digital platforms has become a noticeable revenue stream on its own.