Having vowed to keep the blog positive and focused on the new developments that could actually save the industry, I’ve decided to do what any cynical old music business weasel would do:

I’m calling on people younger and smarter than myself. (Doug Morris—wake up from your nap and take note.)

In what may be the best marriage yet of music and social networking, turntable.fm debuted this summer to rave reviews. One of those instant fans was my A&R colleague at Shapiro Bernstein, David Hoffman. Having educated our office on the endless possibilities of this new service, David recently sat down with my Berklee intern, Jorge Oliveres, to share the good news—two young guys looking at one exciting new facet in the future of music:

turntable.fm

Turtntable.fm is a virtual nightclub in which users are the DJs. The website is divided into “rooms” that play different styles of music. Users can chat with each other and bob their avatar’s head by clicking an “Awesome” button if they like the song that is being played or they can click the “Lame” button that, if pressed by enough people, skips it. DJs can choose the music they are going to play from a huge database or they can upload it themselves.

David Hoffman, Director of Creative Services at Shapiro Bernstein & Co., Inc., began using turntable.fm since soon after it was launched and he is extremely excited about its potential. I had a chance to talk to David about all the opportunities a service like turntable presents for both music publishers and songwriters.

David Hoffman

I heard you are very interested in turntable.fm.

I’m interested, almost slightly addicted to it. Probably a month ago now, a good friend of mine who is also in the music industry and one of the most knowledgeable music people I know, emailed me about turntable.fm. He said, “You have to check it out.” He’s also a DJ and I have, from time to time, guest DJed on his show–so we know each other’s music tastes pretty well. When he told me to check out turntable, I went on it immediately and was hooked. The next day I came to the office, stood up in front of everybody and was like, “You have to check out turntable.fm!”

I follow the digital music industry and the future of the music industry through blogs and reading up on the trades, and this, turntable.fm, [represents] the potential that I see for the new cloud services that are coming up. Hopefully, it’s something that will stay around for a while. Even if it doesn’t, it will show the potential of how great music discovery can be with the right website and the right digital tools.

What do you think of the legal implications of turntable.fm? I was reading that right now they claim they are protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Like Pandora, and a few other services, they are operating under the DMC Act of 1998 that allows Internet radio to exist as long as it operates within the confines of the law. If you spend a lot of time on turntable.fm, you’ll notice that there are some interesting little rules that they don’t tell you are rules. For instance, if you go into a room, you can’t listen to music just by yourself. As with Pandora, if you want to hear the latest Beyonce single, it’s not necessarily going to play that first; it’s going to give you other music. That basically limits the listener to what is now Spotify. [On Spotify], you call up the song and listen to it, but Spotify is a service you have to pay for. Right now you can get it for free if you have an invite, but eventually you’ll have to pay. There are other rules too: you can’t play an artist more than a certain number of times in an hour.

Last week turntable signed agreements with both ASCAP and BMI. That’s really great news because I think a lot of these services didn’t originally sign with the PROs because they figured they didn’t have to. Turntable.fm signing with them is a big step in the right direction.

I think the only problem they’ll have moving forward, and it’s a big one, is the fact that you are able to upload your own music onto turntable.fm. That’s where the waters get a little bit muddy. If I create a mashup of a song and I don’t get permission from the publishers to create that mashup, that piece of music is technically one big copyright infringement. I’m able to upload that song and play it for people, and I believe once you upload a song to turntable.fm, it stays there. And those are the most popular rooms–the ones that play these mashups and remixes.

It’s going to come to a point where they’re going to have to do some licensing like Apple has done with the cloud services and Spotify has done. I hope they can really get it together. I also hope that the music industry realizes the strength of turntable.fm. I think they do.

What do you think is its potential? How could publishers take advantage of this?

Publishers can take advantage of it in a lot of different ways. Number one: for music discovery. It used to be, back in the day, music lovers would go to record stores. You’d go to a really good one (for me it was always some of the Ma and Pa cool shops or going to the Tower Records on West 4th Street). You’d go in and just thumb through the records. If I was into jazz that day I’d go to the Miles Davis section and say “Oh, wow, this is a CD I hadn’t seen before,” an interesting import CD or something, and I’d buy it. For music discovery [today], aside from word of mouth and what you read on blogs, the organic element of actually discovering something for yourself is kind of lost.

Turntable is the perfect place [to recover this] because you’re combining word of mouth (you’re learning from someone that you’re virtually meeting or someone that you know because they’re on turntable) and you’re listening to it. You’re talking about the music, you can link from it, and that, from an A&R perspective, is the closest thing to that original sense of discovery.

As publishing companies seek out talent, they can go into the cool room on turntable.fm, figure out who the DJs are going to be, and actually listen to it, learn about it and be on stuff before anybody else. I can’t tell you how many bands I’ve heard on turntable that I’d never heard before. When you are in a great room and the DJs are really going with the vibe, there could be a song that may not be your favorite song if you just heard it out of context. But when you hear it within the context of songs that are along the same vibe, [it] makes a big difference to someone who has a good ear for music and is out there to scout talent.

Not only publishers, but also record labels, managers, publicists, booking agents; everyone [can take advantage of this] to promote music. There was a band who was inviting people to a turntable.fm room for a listening party to debut their new CD. If one of our artists or songwriters has a new album or a new song, instead of sending out random emails or taking every music supervisor out to lunch and handing them a CD, I can invite them to a turntable.fm room. I’ll know if they’re there or not, see that they’re bopping their head, thinking it’s “Awesome” or not, and I can actually talk to them about it within the chat room. You’re basically creating a virtual listening party. I think that more and more bands are going to take advantage of it, and I think publishers will as well. There’s definitely the potential to have music supervision and A&R rooms.

I was also wondering about the potential it has on the other side, for emerging artists. Do you think it’s a good platform to promote new music?

I think it’s one of the best platforms. Whenever I speak on panels, people ask, “How do I get my music into the hands of the gatekeepers?” I say, “The best way to do it is to give it to someone who knows that person.” The analogy I like to use is [this]:

I’m in my apartment in NY and I hear a random Chinese food menu come underneath my door. It’s from the local Chinese place and I’ve never heard of them before. I take it and throw it out. But if Eric [Beall], my colleague, says to me, “Hey, this great new Chinese place opened down the block from me, you should check it out, ” I’ll probably go there the next day.

I take pride in listening to most stuff that comes to our office. But if I’m learning of music because I’m getting a random email, I’m thinking “OK– most of the stuff that comes randomly is not very good.” But if I’m learning of the music at turntable.fm from someone I know, or even someone I might only know virtually, it’s a different situation. If they’ve played a few good songs that I liked, and they say “Check this out,” I’m going to listen with open ears.

It seems like a really cool blend between social networking and music. I’m surprised something like this didn’t come out before.

I agree with you. It’s such a simple idea. Yet the potential is massive. Think about colleges. Since it came out in the summer, it hasn’t made its impact on college yet. Once the fall semester starts, you’re not only going to be at a party and listening to awesome music— you’re going to be playing the music. You’ll bring your laptop, we’ll get up on turntable.fm and start our own room. And while we’re partying, we’re also going to be DJing. If I were in college, I’d probably do that about 14 hours a day.

Right now [turntable has] limited capacity to 200 people [per room]. I think that will eventually expand. It’s going to become more like satellite radio. It will be an Internet radio station playing in the background, somewhat like Pandora because you’re choosing your overall theme, but more like satellite radio or traditional radio with great DJs. In fact, you might personally know the DJs.

What about when turntable has an application? What about when automobiles are wired with wifi? Once it’s on your phone and you’re able to DJ on your commute to work, you’re going to say, “This is really tremendous.” There are so many ideas I’ve been reading about, like an external “Awesome/Lame” button. You can be hosting a cocktail hour and secretly, in your pocket, hitting ”Awesome”.

Also, the link with Spotify is fantastic– turntable and Spotify go together like peanut butter and jelly. You’re discovering [music] and immediately clicking the Spotify link so that you can learn more about the band later. When you’re DJing, you can call up and research songs on Spotify—it’s a better interface than turntable for that.

Turntable.fm is the first thing in a really long time that’s made me very excited about music discovery. Instead of being an old curmudgeon saying, “Back in the day it was so much better,” this is the sort of thing that [has me] thinking, “Wow, this is amazing!”

David Hoffman is the Director of Creative Services at Shapiro, Bernstein & Co., Inc., one of America’s oldest independent publishing companies. At Shapiro Bernstein he is an A&R rep, TV/Film/Advertising placement person and song plugger amongst other things. The catalog ranges from classics including “In The Mood,” “On The Sunny Side of The Street” and “Ring Of Fire” to current hits by David Guetta, and current indie-darlings Savoir Adore. David is also a music supervisor who has worked on indie films like “Still Bill” a documentary on Bill Withers, and advertisements for Apple and Puma. Prior to becoming a full time publisher, David was a professional drummer with the popular instrumental jazz/funk/jamband ulu, touring upwards of 220 nights a year. Before hitting the road, David worked at BMI and Giant Step Inc.

David has been a featured speaker/panelist for CMJ, ASCAP Expo & ASCAP Night School, AIMP and others and DJ’s regularly on EastVillageRadio.Com.

Follow me on twitter @EricBeall

If The Shmoo Fits…

Mar 23 2011

In case you’re lying awake at night dreaming of being the next Rebecca Black (and really, who isn’t?), you might want to read a little further before you equate fame, which is cheap and getting cheaper, and fortune, which is ever more hard to come by. Just last week, the Copyright Royalty Board released the statutory royalty rates for Internet radio royalties, which are royalties paid by webcasters for the streaming of sound recordings. It’s not exactly the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. At the same time, it’s actually a step forward from where we were several years ago.

To be fair, YouTube is not one of the services covered by these royalty rates (although YouTube’s rates are not much better). The published rates apply to “noninteractive streaming”, which refers to streams that do not allow the listener to specifically select each individual track– it covers everything from radio-like “broadcasts” to what are termed “pureplay’ webcasters like Pandora. And more importantly, these rates are for royalties paid through Sound Exchange to performers on the “sound recording”– that’s in addition to the royalties paid to music publishers and songwriters, through ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. If you are a performer who writes and publishes his or her own music, you should receive royalties from Sound Exchange (representing your earnings as a musician and/or owner of the sound recording) and from ASCAP, BMI or SESAC (who collect your money as the composer and publisher of the song).

Like most agreements that are the result of hundreds of negotiating hours between attorneys, the basis for the rates is almost entirely incomprehensible. There is a distinction between broadcasters (commercial radio stations for example) who are streaming their programming on the Internet and “pureplay” webcasters like Pandora, who do not have a broadcast component to their business. There are exceptions for small services that can’t afford the agreed upon rates as well as noncommercial services. NPR gets its own special deal. Then we get to do the negotiations all over again in 2015. Still, it’s worth at least getting a rough idea of what your music earns for you, as a performer, when it shows up on an Internet stream. To get the full story, check out:

http://www.broadcastlawblog.com/2011/03/articles/internet-radio/final-webcasting-royalty-rates-published-a-comparison-of-how-much-various-services-pay/

Here’s the basic breakdown for 2011:

Broadcasters Per Performance Royalties:
$.0017 per performance

Statutory Webcasting
$.0019 per performance

Pureplay Webcasting
.00102 per performance

I know…. it’s alot of zeroes before you even get to the decimal point. You read correctly: it’s significantly less than one cent per performance. Ouch.

But keep in mind that this number is multiplied by the number of people listening to the stream. Therefore, a “pureplay” service offering 10 songs an hour to 1000 listeners would be paying a royalty of $10.20 per hour– or about a dollar per song. That’s not so bad, especially if you’re talking about a lot more than 1000 listeners.

Indeed, before we start complaining about the rates, it’s worth noting that performers are still fighting (after only about 80 years) to receive any royalties at all for use of their music on commercial radio. While songwriters and publishers receive performance income from the use of the songs in a radio broadcast, record labels and artists receive nothing, except that all important “exposure”. Which leads me to my real point…

Why is it that songwriters, publishers, labels and performers always seem to find themselves begging and pleading for a small crumb from the pie when it comes to every new media invention throughout history?

It happened with radio. In fact, it’s still happening with radio. Since the 1930′s, writers and publishers have been battling for what amounts to a tiny percentage of the overall profits from commercial broadcasting, when virtually every radio format in existence (except news, talk and traffic) is entirely built on music! And performers still haven’t managed to get anything at all.

It happened again in the 1980′s with MTV. Here was a television network built entirely on music, that paid nothing for the music videos upon which the channel relied. Today, the videos are in short supply, but MTV continues to pay almost nothing in synchronization fees for the music that it uses throughout shows like “The Hills”, “Gossip Girls” and “Jersey Shore”.

Then it happened yet again with YouTube in the last decade. In a virtual replay of the MTV story, the creators of YouTube constructed an Internet broadcasting network fundamentally based on the illegal, unlicensed use of any and all music, then sold the enterprise off to Google for a billion dollars, never having paid a nickel to OK Go, Soulja Boy, or any of the other YouTube phenoms who brought the company most of its biggest stories. Since then, Google has adapted a more acceptable position in regards to royalties, and YouTube is licensed by the PROs. However, as any songwriter or artist will tell you, the money being generated for the creative community is more symbolic than substantive.

OK Go

When a problem keeps occurring over and over, it’s usually worth considering whether YOU might be doing something wrong. Sooner or later, the music community– labels, publishers, songwriters, artists, producers and musicians– is going to have to take off the headphones and step away from the control board, or duck out of the board meeting, or skip the after-party and take a few minutes to ponder:

Why do we keep getting screwed by the people building businesses around the music we create?

Here are three quick explanations of why the music business seem to continually find ourselves desperately, hopelessly passing the bucket around the media industry, hoping someone drops in some spare change:

1. We are incapable of acting in concert.

We can make concerts all right. But labels, publishers, artists and musicians can never manage to act “in concert”– that is to say, as a unified front capable of fighting for the rights of everyone in the industry. Publishers distrust labels. Labels take advantage of the artists. Artists desperately undercut one another, hoping to grab an opportunity to set themselves apart from the pack. Now we even have the problem of publishers and songwriters going around ASCAP,BMI, and HFA to license directly, effectively damaging their own representatives in the collective bargaining process, all in order to save a few percentage points worth of fees. Not surprisingly, everyone in the media, from advertisers, to networks, to film studios and Muzak programmers, have realized that there is always someone willing to license their music for next to nothing, or at least less than their buddy is charging. We are, by and large, an industry of weasels, and it’s not helping our cause.

2. We forever believe in the myth of “exposure”.

I remember when I first started playing the guitar, back in grade school. Soon I had formed a band, and even at that young age, I quickly realized: everyone always has a party, a dance, a wedding or a bar mitzvah that they want you to play for free– “because it will be great exposure”. Of course, it’s not entirely untrue. Clearly, OK Go got plenty of benefit from their “free” YouTube video, as has Rebecca Black. But as a business model, the idea of giving away the product to another company who then keeps all the money that your product generates has not panned out very well for us.

In perhaps the greatest irony of all, the music industry actually winds up paying out huge amounts of money to radio (and back in the day, to MTV) in order to get those media outlets to use their music for free. It’s not just that we’re giving it away for nothing. We’re actually begging, pleading, and paying out the nose just to be able to give it away. Meanwhile, someone else is building their Clear Channel, or MTV or YouTube, largely from people tuning in to hear our product. And the more people that tune in, the more someone else earns, while we get nothing. But don’t worry. It’s great exposure.

3. We continue to focus solely on creating music, rather than selling it or marketing it.
Why was it Apple, rather than Sony for instance, who created the iPod, and iTunes? Why didn’t the major record labels, having already learned about the power of music videos from all the “exposure” they got from MTV, come up with YouTube? Why couldn’t a music publisher have invented Pandora? Instead of battling endlessly with the corporations who control these ventures, none of which have any inherent investment in music, the industry could actually control and profit from the medium it uses to promote and disseminate its product to the public. Instead of passing the bucket around after the set, the musicians could actually own the club.

It never happens. The history of the music business is the story of one fatal flaw, and that is the inability to think beyond the music itself, to how the public wants to receive that music. We’re creators and owners of content. But we’re never interested in thinking about how that content could be used.

Doug Morris

A few years ago, Doug Morris, then the head of Universal Music, gave a widely publicized interview with Wired magazine– where he bemoaned the effects of the digital revolution, and complained that everyone was treating the record industry like “The Shmoo”:

“There was a cartoon character years ago called the Shmoo. It was in Li’l Abner. The Shmoo was a nice animal, a nice fella, but if you were hungry, you cut off a piece of him and put onions on it, and if you wanted to play football you just made him like a football. You could do anything to him. That’s what was happening to the music business. Everyone was treating the music business like it was a Shmoo.”

Acknowledging that his lack of knowledge in regards to technology made it difficult even to hire the necessary experts, Morris insisted that his job should solely be finding and developing new artists.

“There’s no one in the record company that’s a technologist. That’s a misconception writers make all the time, that the record industry missed this. They didn’t. They just didn’t know what to do. It’s like if you were suddenly asked to operate on your dog to remove his kidney. What would you do?”

Given an attitude like that, it does seem a little surprising that Morris would be the choice of Sony (didn’t they use to be a technology company? ) to revitalize their music division in the year 2011. But of course, that’s exactly the problem. We’re so used to being the Shmoo, we couldn’t possibly think of doing anything else. It might be wise for musicians and performers to keep their calculators handy. Because we’re going to have to continue to live off royalty rates like $.00102 per play for some time to come.

The Clique Girlz (who?!?) made the front page of the NY Times Arts and Entertainment section, but probably not entirely in the way they or Interscope Records might have wished. This was not a “hottest new thing” story. This was a “hot new marketing concept” story. There’s a big difference.

“Sweet Deal to Promote Tweeny-Bop Girl Group” by Brooks Barnes

As the article explains, the Clique Girlz are a fairly typical teen pop act– typical in their structure (three teen-age girls from Egg Harbor Township, NJ who sing pop R&B), but also typical in professional history (millions of dollars spent, countless videos posted on YouTube, and a handful of failed singles) all adding up to a career “in danger of washing out of the entertainment industry before their first full CD comes to market”.

Yet lo and behold, the situation is not so dire after all. Inexplicably, it seems that Topps, the candy and collectibles company, has chosen the Clique Girlz as commercial spoke girls for Baby Bottle Pop, a nipple-shaped lollipop top. Oh. That can’t fail. Surely, fortune will quickly follow.

I’ve heard this one before. After five years at Zomba Music and Jive Records, the epicenter of teen pop for much of the late Nineties, and two years at Sony Music, I’ve heard it all — artists linked with toy dolls, songs in cereal boxes, CD giveaways at McDonalds, sneaker endorsements, singing action figures, and girl groups sponsored by Ragu, the pasta sauce maker (never did understand that one). The idea is invariably presented as a can’t miss proposition, by a very bright, statistic-spouting marketing whiz kid or ad agency hype-ster. It’s usually quite impressive, and inevitably greeted as a stroke of genius by desperate record label executives. And then, after months of build-up, it fails.

Here’s one truism that you can put on the wall of your studio or publishing company office:

Hit Singles break artists.

Toy dolls, product tie-ins, and nipple-shaped lollipop tops do not. If you have an act with a great first single, then all of these marketing gimmicks will just add fuel to the fire. They’re definitely a positive, but not entirely necessary. On the other hand, if you don’t have a strong first single, all of those marketing ploys are a vain effort to put a bright gloss on something that simply can’t be shined up.

Of course, the problem is finding that standout single. It’s always been easier to find a gullible corporation willing to throw their money away on a meaningless marketing stunt, than to find a genuine hit song that can break a new artist. Part of the problem is that many people in the industry don’t understand what a hit single is. Here are three key factors:

1. Singles Fit The Radio Format.
This means that they’re up-tempo; they fit a specific market and reach a clear demographic; they meet the standards of decency and length. If you can’t get it on the radio, it’s not a single.

2. Singles Define Artists.
Ultimately, singles don’t exist to sell songs. They exist to sell artists. To do that, singles have to give artists a musical identity, an attitude, a cause, or a point of view. If you’ve heard “Satisfaction”, then you understand the Rolling Stones– their musical style and their whole way of looking at the world. That’s a hit.

3. Singles Cut Through The Clutter.
It’s one thing to put thirty different videos of your act on YouTube. It’s a better idea to put up just one video of one song so outrageous, funny, catchy, or controversial that it cuts through the thirty other videos and grabs the attention of an audience. Think Soulja Boy. Think about titles that push people’s buttons, subjects that surprise people, or things that are just irresistibly fun.
The grand challenge for every songwriter, artist and A&R person is to cut through the clutter of the marketplace.

I thought about all this after I finished my first book, “Making Music Make Money”, which was, among other things, a treatise on how songwriters can effectively market their songs. Marketing is great, and I’m all for it. But it’s essential to realize that it can only take you so far. To break through to success as a publisher or songwriter, what you really need is a hit single.

That realization led to my new book,
“The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs That Sell”

which is released this week and can be found at a bookstore near you. This book is all about how to craft that breakthrough song that will make doors open across the industry. It features interviews with superstar writers and producers like Stargate, Darrell Brown, and Midi Mafia, as well as A&R folks, radio programmers and record company presidents. It’s also got exercises to improve your hit writing, plenty of musical examples, and a peek at the key formulas for commercial success.

My suggestion is: before you start marketing, make sure you’ve got the goods. Check out “The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs That Sell”. There’s a limit to marketing. There’s no limit to what a hit song can do.

Radio Daze

Aug 05 2008

So you thought the record business was bad?

Turns out that the record label’s best friend/worst enemy is doing as bad or worse— these are tough times in radio-land. News came out this week that CBS, the number 2 operator in the country, is selling 50 of its mid-market radio stations. This comes on the heels of a mass of lay-offs across the radio industry and news of continuing declines in audience. If you think that this is just a natural shift from the old and stodgy commercial radio format to the more progressive, forward-thinking world of satellite and Internet radio, don’t be so sure– Sirius and XM are desperate to merge, as they’re barely surviving as well.

For record labels, songwriters, artists, producers, and others who rely on broadcasters to get their music out to the public, the decline of the radio industry brings on a strange mix of conflicting emotions: it’s hard not to enjoy seeing Clear Channel and their likes getting their comeuppance; it’s hard not to think that the rampant corruption in the radio biz has at least something to do with its current condition; it’s difficult to imagine how declining revenues and tighter budgets could do anything but squeeze playlists even tighter and make risk-taking more unlikely; and it’s unfortunately still impossible to offer up any solutions for alternative ways to expose new music that has the power to create a superstar overnight in the way that radio does. For the music industry, radio is the ally that you can’t live with or without. As frustrating as it is, nothing sells music more effectively than radio play.

The truth is, radio is not much different than any other declining industry. Whether it’s a Big Three automaker, a major record label, or a radio conglomerate, there are three inescapable observations:

1. Despite any number of outside factors affecting the business, most industries in decline have no one to blame but themselves for the bulk of their problems. Corporate arrogance, malfeasance, blindness to future trends, an unwillingness to give the consumer what he or she wants– not surprisingly, all of these factors usually lead to disaster, whether you’re in the business of making mortgage loans, recording music, or running a Top 40 station in Boise.

2. While acknowledging that most declining businesses are reaping their own just rewards, it’s impossible not to notice that a huge number of good, honest, smart, hard-working and devoted people are being dragged down in the process. In fact, those most likely to lose their job or even their career in an industry downturn are rarely those who are actually responsible for orchestrating the disaster. It seems like the guy who drives the bus off the cliff is rarely aboard when it’s going into a free-fall.

3. The way out of an industry slide is not more conservative corporate thinking, number crunching, and centralization. The only hope for reversing a business gone bad is risk-taking, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit. Doing more of what got you into the mess in the first place is generally not a sound strategy– although it seems to be a very popular one.

When it comes to the broadcast business, it’s clear that it wasn’t the Internet, or satellite radio, or anything else that killed the radio-star. The wounds have largely been self-inflicted. The destruction of the radio business began more than a decade ago, with the move toward consolidation championed by Clear Channel and others, and signed off on by the US government, which transformed the radio business from one of small local fiefdoms controlled by small to mid-size companies, into a national media business at the mercy of a few massive corporate conglomerates. Like most of these kinds of moves, cheered on by the investment banking community, the plan looked better on paper than it played out.

If you want to understand why it didn’t work, check out Jerry Del Colliano’s blog, “Inside Music Media”, and his Friday, August 1 posting “The CBS Radio Firesale”. In it, he points out bluntly:

“Playing by Wall Street rules has nailed the coffin shut… Too much consolidation and not enough operation has led to a once vigorous industry too bloated to take advantage of opportunities in the new media. Consolidation failed for too many reasons to get into here. But can we agree on that? If it had worked, the industry would either be more vibrant now or it would be aggressively present in the world of new media. Instead, it’s MIA.”

Or if you want a more visceral explanation of what happened, just turn on the dial. If you’re hearing a lot of generic, personality-free programming that sounds like it was dreamed up by a computer in some central office, that’s because it was. Corporate consolidation has exorcised much of the regional, quirky, unpredictable charm right out of radio, and created something only a corporate control-freak could love. Radio programmers that were once crucial creative players in the music industry, willing to use their own personal taste and a knowledge of their local market to take chances on new music, have now been hamstrung by a corporate environment that relies on endless audience testing, centralized decision-making, and rigid playlists.

I was out to dinner last week with several people still alive and thriving in the radio biz, and the conversation was enough to terrify anyone who loves music or radio, or at least recognizes the vital role that radio plays in the music industry. Tales were swapped about how in today’s environment, major Top 40 channels in markets as large as Miami are actually being programmed out of Los Angeles. Lists were compiled of groundbreaking Music Directors now hunting for jobs. A dire inside news scoop was shared that Clear Channel is soon planning to eliminate Music Directors entirely, and program everything based on one national playlist– a decision that would be in direct violation of commitments made at the time that permission for consolidation was granted.

Certainly, it doesn’t take much foresight to see how the scenario of a national playlist passed down to all Clear Channel stations would limit the opportunities for new music, particularly from indie labels. But that’s not that worst part of the picture.

The worst thing is that it won’t work. Just as Guy Hands at EMI is already starting to see that creating and selling music is not the same as marketing household cleaning products, the corporate radio operators will learn (as they already should have) that creating engaging radio entertainment is not done in a rigidly controlled, number-crunching, risk-averse environment. You don’t succeed in a creative business by being un-creative. You succeed by being more creative– as messy and unruly and unpredictable as that process is. Just as with the rest of the music industry, the hope of the future lies with the little guys, not the big ones. Let’s just hope that there’s something left of the industry for those creative entrepreneurs to work with, by the time the big operators get bored enough or broke enough to finally walk away.