The New Record Promoter

I think with great fondness on the memory of legendary Philadelphia record promotion man Matty "Humdinger" Singer.

In my radio programming career I can think of no other person as colorful, hard-working or convincing as this man. He lived to promote records. He and his brethren were the work engine of the record business when labels were king and radio stations were hitmakers.

I mention this because I am struck by the inability of today's record labels to get records (I mean songs) played on the radio and the labels' inability to generate record sales. Compilation CDs are not record sales.

We all know that it's all the fault of the next generation, right? (wink/wink). They steal music. They listen to their iPods not radio. And radio sucks, right? (wink/wink). They won't buy CDs. They refuse to buy albums. They're cherry picking songs. They're killing the record business, right?

Well, I think there are a lot of similarities between Matty Singer, the outrageous record promoter and the Internet. Lost my mind? Let's see.

Matty, as any of you who knew him, loved the record business. Not the music business -- the record business. He was a tireless promoter who often "worked" new records in upstate Pennsylvania in little hamlets like Allentown and Reading, PA before they earned the right for his pitch at WFIL or WIBG, the two big rockers. I was programming WIBG in the early 70's and a great guy by the name of Jay Cook who has since passed away too soon controlled the playlists at WFIL. You couldn't make hits without our two stations.

WFIL added maybe three new songs a week. I added maybe one or two. Both stations had playlists that were tight but we could break music and new acts or better yet pressure the other person to add the song for airplay. Matty would come in and claim the new record was a "fuckin' smash". Then he showed you the action upstate in Allentown and Reading. He worked the local record stores that we called for "research" and he pressured you endlessly until you gave the record a chance.

If you told him he would have to get a "bullet" in Billboard or Cashbox, he was all over you when he got it. He told me one time that he wanted to die in a program director's office after the PD refused to play his record so that they'd be guilty enough to add it.

Singer was such a character that when he did die, he had his family play a recording of his voice with something like "I wanted to be laid out in this casket on my stomach so you could come up and kiss my ass". We loved him. How could we not?

Now, I'm appreciating Matty Singer, the old promo man even more.

Think about it.

He loved the record business -- the business -- he loved it. How many people at the labels really love the record business?

He was a tireless promoter who would do anything to get airplay.

He won your confidence. Did his homework. Begged. Pleaded. Threatened ("If you don't play this album, Jerry, you're going to lose your job because its a fuckin' smash and this guys going be a star and you're not").

The artist: Jim Croce.

The song: "You Don't Mess Around With Jim", his first hit. Matty was right. Jay and I played it. Matty even phonetically wrote the pronunciation of this new artists name on the album with the little hole punched in the top (signifying promotional copy-not for sale) so my jocks could say it right.

Few love this business like Matty loved it because today we're all stars or so we think.

Matty was not a star. Never tried to be. He had his ear to the ground. He was a liaison between the suits and the street with radio junkies like Jay Cook and me in between. He never went Hollywood on us. He was South Philly all the way.

So how is Matty Singer the answer to the record industry's problems?

Oh, maybe he's not, but I'm wondering...

What Matty would do with the Internet. If he hired people to call the station's "Hit Lines" to get my attention, what would he have done with the world wide web?

What Matty would do on MySpace. He'd be the first to promote music there. And if anyone at label headquarters would listen to him he would have advised against having the RIAA sue its customers. He loved this business too much. You don't sue your customers to teach them a lesson.

Hell, Matty would have warned radio stations in 1996, had he lived, to be careful of consolidation. I can see him arguing for the importance of keeping long playlists on stations in smaller markets like Allentown and Reading because it was the way to start new music, new artists and new bands. When the fat cats came in they thought Allentown was Los Angeles and while I love Allentown being an east coaster, it isn't Los Angeles.

Allentown discovered hit records, big cities like nearby Philly and far away LA sold records to their large populations through tight listed radio stations who offered endless repetition.

Where are the Allentown's today? Clear Channel and the other consolidators have forgotten their role as hitmakers.

Today's hitmaker is YouTube.

It's social networking.

It's Internet radio, peer-to-peer file sharing and viral word of mouth.

It's not about radio anymore with the next generation.

It's not about record labels -- they've forgotten how to do what Matty Singer embodied.

It's about free sharing of music -- the greatest, most inexpensive way to promote new acts and bands and the greatest replacement for terrestrial radio.

And what do the labels do?

They lock it up with DRM.

They fight it. Sue the generation that they should be wooing. Because they don't believe that the next generation will spend money on music if they can download it, share it and sample it for free.

I do. I know they will. They are still consumers -- ask Steve Jobs.

Peer-to-peer is just free promotion. It's the modern day Matty Singer. My God, this character many of us knew and loved was truly a man ahead of his time.

Or are the labels, men behind the times?

Matty, we miss you!

And, oh...

As a reminder of the power of the people to make a hit, take a moment and view this Alanis Morissette video "My Humps" that has been popping up all over the web.

No label.

No reason why she made it.

MTV, AOL and radio had nothing to do with it.

Black Eyed Peas weren't involved, or were they? We'll never know.

No publicity.

No TV guest shots.

No PR blitz.

No tour.

No album.

It's not on her website and its not for sale.

As of this writing there have been some 2.5 million YouTube views for "My Humps".

If you want to see the future of the music industry -- yes, I mean music industry (because the record business is dead), then look to the new record promotion -- viral audio and video.

Who needs radio if you can't have Allentown and Reading?

The Internet is the new Allentown and Reading.

Matty, rest in peace, my friend -- you'd love the next generation of music lovers and their new "radio" -- the Internet.