Does Radio Airplay Matter?
1. Frequent airplay on commercial radio is rare.
We begin this report on radio’s relevance with a basic examination of access to the airwaves. On the survey, we asked:
The survey respondents’ answers, in aggregate, were:
Of the 4,360 survey respondents who completed this question, only 1.7% (72 respondents) said their music gets played “frequently” on commercial radio. This is not a surprise. Getting airplay on commercial radio has always been very difficult, given its restrictive playlists and risk-averse programming.
In contrast with the survey respondents, the majority of our interviewees had had some success getting airplay. This is largely a reflection of factors particular to the pool of interviewees. Almost all the people we interviewed were full time musicians or composers (or managers of full time musicians). Many were bandleaders. Many had achieved name recognition in their field. A few had composed evergreen songs that are played on commercial radio every day. Others have had recent success getting played on alternative rock radio, or had piqued the musical interest of NPR or other noncommercial broadcasters. Of the artists who have had limited success with traditional radio, many reported getting airplay on NPR, Pandora, or on dedicated genre channels on Sirius XM.
The varied experiences of our interviewees – which included musicians as different as a choral group, a platinum-selling rock band, and a metal band – provide a richer picture about the value of radio.
An emerging classical composer had this to say about his experience with commercial radio:
Another artist acknowledged radio’s power as a highly managed and influential promotional platform:
A rock musician made the point that getting on traditional radio costs money:
For our survey respondents, access to commercial radio is very rare, with only 9% reporting “frequent” or “some” airplay. Meanwhile, the interviewees provide some context. While some musicians know their music will never be played on commercial radio, others readily acknowledge radio’s power as a highly managed outlet, although one that is expensive to deal with.