There was once a time when FM radio held the keys to the kingdom for artists. Just one radio single could make or even break a new artist’s career. Back-to-back singles paved the way for the road to superstardom. It was quite possibly the only way for you to expand your listening audience further than your local coffee shop or neighborhood bars. It was also a localized window to the world for those of us who received boom-boxes and home stereos for our twelfth birthday. It was a medium to connect with friends who we knew were also sitting at home in their rooms dreaming about what their close and distant futures had in store at such an impressionable age.
Back before social media conversations and YouTube comments we had call-in radio shows from our favorite regional and local DJ’s. As a wide-eyed teen there was nothing cooler than hearing your voice on the radio when you called in to make a request and/or give a shout-out to all your friends, significant other, or school crush. Looking back on those memories with a sense of nostalgia, its kinda funny how that same mindset evolved into a music professional who continues to connect with strangers through the internet using social media and streaming music.
While I’m sure there are still call-in request radio shows and I’m sure there’s still a significant number of listeners who participate, I personally haven’t listened to the radio in years with exception to a recent road-trip during a black-out in my cell service. As I listened, I once again was reminded as to why I began boycotting radio in a sense, nearly a decade ago. Song after song it was the same artists and music in repetition, every hour with little variation in the selection and virtually no artists that haven’t been the focus of mainstream music in the past ten to twenty years. It was equally redundant, mind-numbing, frustrating, and tragic to experience listening to various FM radio stations for two hours or so. I can’t quite be positive but I feel it has gotten even worse since I last “tuned in.”
What bothered me, as it always has, wasn’t so much the music, although much of it was as bland and unoriginal as popular music has always been, but how small FM’s airplay selection really is in compared to what they have access to. As most of us already know, the selection of artists on mainstream radio stations has always been a carefully contrived process that favors major labels’ chosen few “megastars” and up and comers. However the business model is setup to guarantee specific artists’ songs’ airplay, we can all agree, its an unfair practice that shuts out indies for the most part and most definitely doesn’t cater to artists without label representation of some sort.
Its quite unfortunate how much music out there is overlooked while a 10 year old Maroon 5, Beyonce or Katy Perry record is kept in continuous rotation every single day. Not to criticize any of the artists that are continuously successful but let’s be frank, it doesn’t take a PHD in sociology to see that there’s definitely a strategy to make sure the biggest, most influential artists continue to get richer and maintain their status atop the hierarchy in music while unsigned or independent artists receive no “piece of the pie” for exposure and promotion.
Fortunately for us, the internet, as usual, freed us from the clutches of the major label stronghold and removed their monetary power over the industry when Napster was born. Fast forward through nearly 20 years of various forms of file sharing, iPods + Itunes, Myspace, YouTube, Music blogs & Mediafile/ZShare links, Soundcloud, Spotify as well as other forms of streaming and music is more accessible now than its ever been. Since the dawn of the streaming era, enthusiasts like myself have been able to free up all the space on computers by saving downloads on external hard drives and using premium subscriptions to create a listening library full of all my favorite songs and albums of every genre with virtually no limitation. As someone who is as passionate as I am about music, I can honestly say its been a liberating experience that’s changed my life in more ways than I could quite possibly detail in a 1500 word article post as this.
It was iTunes and Myspace that introduced me to online music discovery with the genius recommendations and well Myspace just being what it is. Ever since then my world was forever changed as I realized what was really out there and not just playing on the radio or being published in magazines such as XXL, Rolling Stone, or Vibe. What we now have today is a dream come true for the 17 year old version of myself. I really don’t think the youth really do realize what they have that so many of us that were born in the 80’s or earlier could never have imagined. Its because of all this that I’m even able to write this article as it directly inspired me to create this platform and expand the opportunity for fellow music enthusiasts of all types. That’s why I believe the digital age brought forth a revolution that was inevitable and right on time.
Through numerous playlists on Spotify, Soundcloud, Youtube, and Apple Music (I’m a premium subscriber to all of them) I’m able to create my own radio stations consisting of artists I discovered 15 minutes ago as well as artists I’ve been listening to for years. For the price of my water bill I have unlimited music literally at my fingertips and can share with as many people as my extended online networks allow. This truly is a remarkable time we’re living in.
See this is about more than fame and popularity or even money. This is about art, love, inspiration, experiences, life. This is about the chance for us all to create a musical environment free from corporate control and materialistic domination. While I applaud every artist for their success, I do believe there’s enough money and opportunity to go around; for artists, fans and professionals. The climate has shifted and we are at the helm now; not the labels and radio DJ’s.
That’s what its going to take, you know? Us… Its going to take us to take the power out of the hands of major labels and mainstream radio and put into our own by forming networks and online communities that promote the artists we want and curate our own festivals and live shows. Its only though the power of communal support will we ever fully transition into an industry where there’s more of a balance in the music being consumed on all levels.
I can’t pretend to know what the future for the industry as a whole but what I can say as an artist, enthusiast, and now commercial brand is I look forward to seeing the direction we all choose to take it, individually as well as communally without the controls of corporate interests through radio airwaves. That’s the world I’ve been waiting to be part of my entire adult life.