Thursday, March 7, 2013

Chris Ross "Mostly Sober"

When we were advocating to Save mvyradio, you might have been thinking "Will the station be able to survive?" and "Will I still be able to hear them?" and "Will they have to change their format?"

A question that perhaps didn't cross your mind was, "Will they still be getting service from the record labels?"

It's an interesting, sometime strange arrangement we have in the world of Radio and Records.  And if you're not in it, you may not know how it works.

Here's how it works.

Record companies sign artists and release records.  Their promotions departments (or hired freelancers, called independent promoters) promote the record to radio stations.  Meaning, I get phone calls every week from promoters saying, "We sent you the record.  Have you heard the record?  Do you like the record?  Will you be playing the record?"  Ultimately, their goal is to get mvyradio to put the record in regular rotation on the radio station, because regular airplay (generally speaking) leads to sales, which allows the artists to get paid, and the label to make enough money to sign new artists and release new records.

How do they quantify success?

Here's where industry trade magazines come it.

Each week, I am expected to send a list of what songs we played, and how many times we played each song to Billboard/R&R and Triple A Radio/Mediabase and FMQB, all trade magazines.  The list includes all the current songs we play (not all the older tracks).  For instance, last week, mvyradio played Grace Potter's "Stars" 15 times.

That 15 is added to all the the other spins that Grace got, on all the other radio stations that report.  The song with the most spins, is the Number One song of the week.  Right?

Having a high charting song lets the label know that the promoter is doing a good job, lets the band know that the label is doing a good job, and lets radio know that a band is succeeding elsewhere (and might prompt the station to increase airplay).

So having radio airplay be an accountable thing, is vital to the whole Radio and Record ecosystem.

What happens if you don't report to the trades?

Well, all those times you spin "Stars" aren't counted by anyone.  The bands and the labels have no proof that you are supporting them.  And the promoters lack incentive to even send you records, because there is no proof that you play them.

Stop reporting, and the records stop coming to your mailbox.

Way back when, when I hosted an Alternative specialty show, I'd try to get service from the record labels.  I wanted to be on their mailing list and be shipped their regular releases.  But I was often just blown off.  The nice ones would say, "I can't put you on my list, but if there is something you really want, send me a request and if I have an extra I will send it to you."  Imagine not being able to get a copy of "Nevermind" in 1994?

To get on these lists, you have to be a real radio station, with a real reach and impact.

Going off the FM dial was putting mvyradio's status in jeopardy.

Two pieces of good news happened:

First, we were able to work out a deal that keeps us on 96.5FM in Newport.  So for the sticklers, we ARE on a real FM radio station.

Second, attitudes (inside and outside the industry) are changing. 

If we had left the FM dial a few years ago, many Record folks would have treated the fact that we were a stream-only station the same way they treated my Alternative Specialty show:  not significant enough to be on the radar.  It wouldn't have matter to them mvyradio's online listening audience is much bigger than many of the terrestrial FM stations that do report.  We would have been off the reports, off the mailing lists and kicked down to a second-class status.

But today, industry minds are finally coming around to the fact that some of the old measurement systems really don't accurately represent the world today.

Perhaps the most notable shift in all of the business occurred a couple of weeks ago, when Billboard Magazine announced that they would add Youtube data to how they calculated their Hot 100 charts, which historically was based on radio airplay and sales of the record.

It makes sense.  The new math allowed the song "Harlem Shake" to leap to the Number One spot on the singles chart, propelled by the viral nature of videos featuring the song.  More and more people are hearing, discovering and sharing songs in this way.

Keeping mvyradio on the charts, due to its long reach and influence, I know makes sense to a lot of folks in my business.

In fact, Marc Ratner, a former Major Label guy who know runs his own operation, spoke on our behalf to the folks at Billboard.  He talked about how everyone may still call them "records" even though they might be CDs or MP3 or a stream or whatever.  It's still music, the delivery system is just a little different.  mvyradio should stay as a reporter.

mvyradio is still radio, it's just delivered a bit differently.

And that brings me to this Chris Ross song.

Ross is a singer-songwriter from Maine, and a client of Ratner's.  I got a kick out of "Mostly Sober" the very first time I heard it, enjoying the humor, liking his voice and rolling with the lyrical twists and turns that remind me of a Beck song.

After deciding "We like the song," the next question asked, on the path to adding it to rotation is, "Will the audience care?"

Chris Ross is nowhere on any chart.  He's unknown.  There is no data, from traditional sources, to indicate if we played the tune, music fans would be interested.

So it's all the more striking that his Youtube Channel has about 200,000 views of his self-produced videos.

He's not charting, but someone is listening.  And folks are reacting.

I played "Mostly Sober" at 2:50pm on Wednesday.  By 3pm, an mvyradio listener in New Jersey had written on Ross' Facebook page that she'd just discovered him by listening to mvyradio.   And a few minutes later, Ross had emailed Ratner in Maine, and Ratner forward the message to me.

The modern world!

"Mostly Sober" is no "Harlem Shake."  It's not about to rocket to the top spot on the chart due to Youtube play.

But it's good that we are recognizing that "records" are more than just a plastic disc, and "radio,"---what it is, what it does and what it means to people---isn't limited to a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Hear the song on Youtube.

See a "Harlem Shake" compilation on Youtube.

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