Geordie Gillespie, music executive and entrepreneur, has spent the last 25 years developing new artists at indie and major labels and is a principal at unleashedmusic.com
I wanted to take a step back from the discussion of the actual mechanics of radio, and speak to the much broader, and maybe more important subject of the metrics of the current music business.
There are so many metrics to consider – some old and even more that are new, and those who deal in media have to decide which to either embrace or dismiss.
What has become increasingly important in today's rapidly morphing music "business" is how we measure the impact of all media. As promotion and marketing agents, we are responsible for considering first and foremost the intent of the artist. What is the audience that the artist wants to reach? What does the fan base look like? Is it a small group comprised of a certain subculture, or is it a massive group of people that transcends all demographics?
The artist has to be able to answer the question "who do I want to reach, who am I making the music for?" Is it a small tribe or huge universe? Often small tribe music can become universal if it has the magic to reach that level, but no amount of "pushing" or promoting will elevate an artist or a song beyond it's natural level of acceptance.
An artist's marketing plan can only be created once the intent of the artist and the target audience is identified. Then and only then can we begin to move the music into the system to reach the right group of people, the early adopters, and build the awareness from there
So does it matter if your MySpace page has 10,000 friends?
Only if they're the right friends – those that are connected to others that "get" the music and will share with other like minded connectors. I'd rather have 100 Friends that can spread the word than 100,000 passive names on my friend list.
Can we qualify the relevance of any metric and equate it with success? Is having 10,000 friends on MySpace success? Is selling 10,000 downloads through Tunecore success?
For many artists either would be, and for others it would only be a starting place.
What does matter is that people do listen to radio – be it college, community or commercial, and the question is "are those people compelled to go buy the music or go see a concert of the artist they hear or are they not?".
Ultimately this gives us a relative guide to the impressions made by a song using that medium. Some radio formats have more "active" listeners than others. I think streaming radio that doesn't use DJs, doesn't deal in local issues or create a local cultural context for the programming has way less impact on audience passion, awareness and sales than broadcast radio that defines and supports a specific community.
Can anyone really measure who is listening to broadcast and satellite radio? More to the point, does it impact listeners when they hear a song streamed on a channel such as Pandora the same way it may when they hear about it from a respected friend?
I spoke specifically of broadcast radio and the metrics used to measure total listeners. The point isn't really if the number is exactly 71 million impressions a week on a top rotated song.
We can argue about the accuracy of Arbitron – if they're using the new People Meters or just the old fashioned diaries.
As Steve Buscemi stated in Fargo, "I'm not here to debate you". Because I actually agree that the methodology for measuring radio audiences is wildly inaccurate and it always has been. Just as the basis for the Nielsen television ratings for television are highly suspect, utilizing extrapolated audience measurements, when DVR use and internet viewing are notoriously difficult to quantify.
I firmly believe that music will connect with an audience or it won't. Does it have to be available everywhere to connect? Is it critical for a band to be on every single possible platform for people to discover and embrace it? I think not. In fact I'm of the mind that the opposite is true. What is important is to be available in very specific placements for it to enter and develop into a collective consciousness. Being on the right website, the right radio station, the right movie soundtrack is way more effective than trying to get your music to everyone in the universe. If your intent is to reach a huge audience then taking the gradual steps, building a fan base, sales, credible exposure, will eventually get you there if the music has the potential to connect. I am more apt to listen to an artist if it is presented to me from a friend, or I discover it on a media platform that I respect. The right word of mouth means much more in the development of an artist than useless ubiquity.
What kind of artist do you want to be -Sonic Youth or Ke$sha? Do you want to make a musical and cultural statement that impacts fans and artists for years and years, or be the focus of a pop sensation that sells millions and millions right now. Both visions are important and valid.
In any event, as an artist you need to concentrate on the music, the message, the intent, the context. Make it exactly what you want it to be. It's your voice. Then create a team around you, people with the energy and passion to spread the word, and the understanding of who you are as an artist. Something I learned early on is that you can't be an artist AND a music executive at the same time, dealing with the minutia of marketing and promotion. Get other people involved, let them help you build your brand and YOUR coalition of the willing.
This whole process can't be about instantly rising to the top, but rather reaching and growing your audience. So, utilize specific sets of media in steps. Quality music that has a meaningful message or that somehow connects with the Zeitgeist, indeed even defines it, will reach it's own level of critical mass, and that is the metric that will define true success.