It’s kills me to see how little most struggling musicians understand about the music business and the practices that transpire. Even all these years there is still this mystical veil that seems to shroud the inner workings of the industry machine. It’s not all rainbows and fairy tales kids.
There is no doubt that the music industry has seen dramatic changes over the past decade. However, commercial radio, you know..the big FM channels; they still pretty much operate the same way they have for the past fifty years. Commercial radio is still firmly in the grasp of the major record labels. To understand why the majors still control radio while having lost considerable size everywhere else you need to first understand how new music gets added to the playlists of commercial radio.
The majority of the time the music is chosen not based on the talent and merits of the artist but by money paid from those with established relationships with the radio stations. The labels get around payola laws by paying third party “indie promoters” to work a song. In reality they are merely a pass-through for pay-to-play. The indie promoters pay the radio stations whose Program Directors then add the “promoted” songs to their playlists.
So you may ask yourself, “Well I have one million dollars. Why can’t I just pay the indie promoters to get radio play?” Sure, if you indeed had the funds you could pay the indie promoters. And you may get a few plays during the off-hours at like 4AM when no one is listening. I’ve seen many bottom feeder companies prey upon the hopes and dreams of naive musicians and do this exact thing. You’ll get a few spins on some station up in Minnesota once or twice. For an additional payment they’ll promise to keep working your song. You’ll never see consistent and repeated radio play though. That’s because the indie promoter’s primary clients are the majors. They are the ones who will repeatedly come back and pay them weekly where as an independent label or artist may only pay once or twice. Why would they prioritize your tracks over those of their big clients? They wouldn’t. Sure, once in awhile a song will go viral or break out and get radio play. But this is an extremely rare case nowadays.
Will things get better with commercial radio? Not anytime soon. However, if you are an DIY artist or signed to an independent label don’t fret. You don’t need commercial radio to be successful and for most it’s a waste of time to pursue. Focus your efforts on avenues where you can thrive.