We’ve spoken previously about who the most repetitive and least repetitive radio stations in Australia are. The data was complicated, but there was one thing we all agreed on: we’re sick of hearing the same song over and over again.
So why do radio stations keep playing the same song you heard just 30 minutes ago and 30 minutes before that? Well, it actually has a lot to do with you. Not you listening to the radio tuned to the same station all day, you in your car or at work having just turned on the radio.
As The Media Show recently explained, via Lifehacker, radio stations assume that if you’re not immediately hit in the face with your favourite new pop hit when you switch on the radio, you’ll tune out and switch stations.
So to ensure people hear their favourite pop hit anytime they might be tuning in, stations play the odds and keep repeating it throughout the day, regardless of how many times they’ve already played it. It’s simply part of the radio business model.
The Media Show recently visited the offices of legendary punk label Kill Rock Stars, home to artists like Elliott Smith, Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, and The Decemberists, to speak with label president Portia Sabin.
Sabin broke down the radio business model, which much like television and other forms of media, runs on advertising. In order to maximise profits from advertising, they need to control as large of a market share as possible.
To ensure as many ears listening as possible, they basically give the people what they want, which is big, accessible pop hits from major artists. Or so the market research that radio stations routinely engage in tells them.
You and I of course know that we don’t just want to hear the latest cut from Rihanna or Drake, we like Elliott Smith, Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, and The Decemberists, so why don’t we get to hear them on the radio alongside Drizzy and RiRi?
According to Sabin, it takes $4 million to get a single on the radio, so major labels are simply more equipped to lobby radio stations and their program directors. Popular artists get played on the radio and become more popular and the cycle continues.
We touched on this previously when we had a look at how much it costs a label to create a hit. According to an NPR investigation, things like writing a song, recording it, and mixing and mastering it are a paltry expense compared to its marketing.
The cost of producing a song by an artist like Rihanna is about $80,000 or so, but the marketing can range in the millions, especially if the campaign attacks all the relevant channels, including radio, TV, YouTube, etc.
This, Sabin says, is the domain of the major labels, and indies simply can’t compete. Major labels have the ear of the program directors and indies aren’t invited to the table. Of course, this is a very US-centric example.
In Australia the situation can be quite different. We are in the rather unique position of having influential community stations and public broadcasters like triple j, who can turn songs that would otherwise be ignored by commercial radio into Top 40 hits.