Radio vs. Streaming:
The Best Way to Discover Music?
NEXT week, time willing, I will raise a point that has been on my mind…
PHOTO CREDIT: Brooke Cagle/Unsplash
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for a long time now. It concerns the monetisation of music and whether, in 2017, a music career is even possible. I know a lot of musicians but, unless you are a mainstream act, how easy is it generating reasonable profit and making a genuine career from music? So many of the artists I encounter have to work several jobs and push themselves to the ragged ends. Sure, they love the buzz of gigs but one feels they are working harder than they should be. I will look into the ins-and-outs of streaming and its equity but, putting this debate on the table; which is the most effective marketing tool: the humble radio or modern streaming services? The two are interconnected and one can debate whether there is mutual exclusivity. I am finding many bemoan services like Spotify and how unreliable they are when it comes to financially supporting artists – and promoting the best new music around. I find it is hard for artists getting attention and proper acclaim from streaming/music-sharing sites. If you are a popular chart act; it can be quite easy gaining millions of views for a music video – the latest release racking up serious views in a matter of hours. Promoters, adverts and sponsors ensure money is notched in. Likewise, they can get a pretty healthy amount of money from downloads but, compared to gig money and merchandise, it is not as impressive as one would think. I will get into that more but have realised how little of my latest music crushes from sites like Spotify, SoundCloud and YouTube. Being a journalist; I have an unfair advantage when it comes to new musicians and being exposed to some awesome humans. There is something anhedonic, mechanical and soulless about streaming sites but I recognise how popular they are. I feel it seems like the go-to solution for any musician. They feel by getting their songs on these sites, and sharing on social media, that will get (songs) into the hands of the masses.
Can the digitalisation of music and promotion really rival the tradition and longevity of the radio? The two work with one another. It is debatable whether an artist would be discovered by radio was it not for their music being on streaming sites and social media. How interconnected are the ‘traditional’ and modern in regards music marketing? It seems like they are completely separate but are more connected and bonded than you’d think. I feel there are merits to both but feel one cannot top and knock the importance of radio. I am not talking about local radio – it is good for promoting local artists but complete shite when it comes to other music – but the national options. Most of my discoveries seem to come from BBC Radio 6 Music. Before you get all smart: I know the station is digital-only. It is still a radio station and not a streaming site. Consider BBC Radio 1 and 2. Between them, one can discover so many wonderful musicians – a lot of my reviews and features have stemmed from finding artists on these stations. Perhaps I am being subjective because, when it comes to my reviews and interviews, the vast majority of the artists I feature are emailed to me – P.R. companies and various management companies contact me direct. From there, I will share the article online and it is passed into the world. I sort of avoid both streaming options and radio so it does muddy the water. Essentially, my favourite albums from the past few years have been discovered through radio – hearing a song off the record and then being compelled to investigate the full album afterwards. There is something magical and dependable about radio. It is no secret BBC Radio 6 Music is a lifeblood and sanctuary for me. Listening to the station; I am immersed in the finest sounds from around the world. The station is wonderful unearthing the coolest and most intriguing acts – aimed at a young-middle-aged demographic.
I listen to BBC Radio 1 if I want to stumble upon some fresh Pop and Dance; BBC Radio 2 for Country, Jazz and Folk – that tends to cover all the basis when it comes to genres and tastes. I supplement that banquet with offerings from Spotify and other streaming options. Each week, I collate a playlist that collects together all the singles and new releases from music – and a track from each new album out that week. For this, I get information from the radio but do a lot of exploring on the Internet. I have fallen for many artists this way and realise the ease and convenience of these sites. With the click of a mouse; I find myself in front of a menu of brilliant music. The most effective and practical way for streaming sites/social media to have true influence is bespoke playlists that employ observant algorithms and intelligence. One of the problems with YouTube is the fact it is not compartmentalised enough. There are loads of great videos and tracks but, unless you KNOW what you are looking for, it can be tricky finding great music. There are tracks recommended for you but I find these are either confusingly impersonal or misjudged. YouTube is fantastic and it is the only site I know where one can view brand-new and older videos. It is a fantastic site and does not rely on subscription fees – it is more advert-based and less controversial when it comes to compensating artists. SoundCloud does not really recommend new music and is a more basis portal to host music on – the same can be said of BandCamp. It is left to Spotify, then, to fulfil the role of guru and musical mystic – looking into my heart and taking me around every alleyway and avenue of music. Whereas YouTube could and SHOULD be better organised and lead me to fantastic discoveries: Spotify seems more intent on its playlists and supporting new artists. It is great because you can, with few exceptions, have access to most of the recorded music of the past seven-or-more decades.
Spotify works best when it comes to hosting and backing those new artists. The majority of the new releases I feature and hear come from there. I use Spotify for older music but I find it does not have the mechanism and desire to organise and arrange the best older sounds for a listener – changing upon music from the past that would enrich their lives. It is so focused on the modern and commercial - and getting those streaming figures up – it has forgotten where music came from and what it is all about. There are arguments for and against Spotify (which I will expand upon in my future feature) but I always feel ethically suspect when streaming a song from the site. I am a subscriber but wonder whether I am stealing from an artist. I do not feel that guilt when I listen to BBC radio. The reason I write this is because music needs to be preserved and nourished by future generations. So much of today’s music revolves around the digital. Is it really equipped to ensure new music gets into the marketplace and as available as possible – whilst preserving past music and ensuring it is not devalued and overlooked?! I would debate this: that is where radio comes in. It seems like there is a generational divide but, being a thirty-something chap, I have grown at a time when music and physical formats have changed beyond recognition. I am old enough to remember cassettes – the frustration of having them mangled in a stereo – and the C.D. I used to play vinyl without irony and was glued to stations like MTV and VH1 to discover the best new music around. I am not down on digital means/streaming sites – they are completely essential and indispensable considering what I do – but understand how paramount it is to share old AND new music. The streaming services seem equipped to promulgate sparkling new music but remiss when it comes to classic sounds. If future generations are to have the best music education then they need to know where music came from and how we got to where we are – not only what is around at the moment.
A lot of us do not have the time to listen to the radio and lead busy lives. The Internet and sites like Spotify allow one to dip in and out and put everything on pause. We can look in when we want and compile playlists; have our favourite songs all saved. The problem I have is, when I go to YouTube, I instantly load my saved and recommend videos – those ones I have been playing endlessly. I rarely get out of the rut and actually go searching for new music. It is hard to do so because, as I said, unless you know what you want, there are few helpful suggestions. I mentioned Spotify’s playlists. They have themed lists that range from New Music Friday to summer jams and workout songs. It is, essentially, like those compilation CDs that we all know and enjoy. If you want a particular playlist or set of songs; you are well catered for. Their new music playlist is invaluable but not as expansive as one would hope. I find a lot of songs are omitted and it is a little lacklustre at times. Radio has its faults, of course. It relies on people being in a particular place at a certain time. Unless you are listening at that pivotal moment, a band/song might fly right past. The great thing about the national stations is they will repeat songs from new artists in case that happens. I guess the common solution is a combination of both. I worry digitalisation of music will continue to the extent radio is archived and far less prominent. It would be worrying feeling our mainstream and national stations sacrificed as part of austerity cuts. BBC Radio 6 Music was threatened with closure years ago and, without that station, one wonders whether certain acts would have a career and success – such is the influence and importance of the station.
I will always plump for radio and feel it has always been the easiest and most reliable source for new and old music. If you want to discover the full range of new music; I cannot argue against Spotify, streaming and the Internet – it is far more comprehensive and thorough than radio. One of the issues is the compartmentalisation happening. So many different sites showcase so many different acts – rarely do they coalesce onto a single site/platform. I feel the perfect remedy to the divisions and issues of both methods/realms would be to join them more effectively. Whatever form that takes, I am not sure, but I am concerned about the safety and profitability of new music; the importance and conservation of older music. If some bright spark could create a way of straightening out the creases in digital promotion/streaming sites and combine the best radio stations into a single format, I feel so many of modern music’s issues could be solved. As future-hopeful as I am: we should not lose sight and overlook the great music that inspired generations. We should not be ignorant of new music and how much promise it has. When it comes to settling the question I pose in the header for this feature; I am always going to plump for the…