Record Labels' Death Wish for Radio

The relationship between radio and the record labels for a long time was a pretty damn good deal – for both.

The stations got free programming, lots of prizes to give away and payola if they were into it (and some were over the decades of modern pop music).

The labels got gazillions of dollars of free promotion, publicity and exposure and didn’t have to share a dime with the radio stations that made, broke and sustained their acts. In fact, if they had to pay for the air time, the labels would never have been able to crank out the hits so reliably and ring the cash register so frequently.

Same could be said of radio stations – where would they get all that musical content for just the price of an ASCAP and BMI license?

Believe me, both sides know this. They’re not stupid. In spite of what we hear about the labels trying to get radio’s performance tax exemption lifted, these two industries know how attached they are to each other.

But the times – they are a-changin’.

One of my readers got my attention with his theory that the labels actually want to run radio stations out of business. The theory seems plausible because taxing your free promotion machine seems like a death wish.

Could the labels have a plan to go it alone and cut out the middlemen – all middlemen?

You know how record execs get upset when the name Steve Jobs is mentioned. After all, Jobs snookered them into the iTunes deal from hell that they can’t get themselves out from under. We know the labels are losing sleep trying to find ways to get back at Jobs even if they risk screwing themselves in the process.

My reader posits:

Record labels want to control everything: the hardware (electronic devices) and content (their music). Secretly, I believe, they’ve always wanted to be radio station owners, but FCC rules prohibit that. So, with New Media and the Internet, they now can. They’re making it so expensive to play music that most companies won’t make a go of it – Pandora is a great example. They want Pandora gone! They want to do it themselves. UMG even set up their own video channel worldwide – which hasn’t gotten picked up by US cable companies yet, but eventually will be. They intend to control On-Demand videos in cell phones, cable and the Internet.

Sony continued in the music business while BMG got out – Sony being the device making end of that association.

I don’t know what to think?

Are the labels this devious – this desperate?

This smart.

I’ve been saying for quite a while now that a savvy record label should distribute its own music via podcasts. How fast do you think they could make that happen?

If they’re dumb enough to imitate radio – which is despised by many young people – then they’ll go down with that idea. But if they can find ways to utilize the Internet to work on their behalf – who needs radio?

But first, they would have to ---

• Allow music to be traded on the Internet for free – never in your lifetime, right?

• Find ancillary ways to make money from free music such as sponsorships, merch done the right way and social networking events that make money – hell, they would never buy the fact that they don’t do merch right.

• Adopt podcasting as a vehicle of distribution that cooperates with the inevitable. Like electronic music? Subscribe to label X’s overnight feed and you’ll have everything released in the past 24 hours on your mobile device ready for play in the morning. Someday soon, bluetooth it in your car, listen on the bus through your iPod. Direct from your favorite record label to you.

All this will require the labels to accept the free model in order to make money.


What do you think they are doing now by allowing radio stations to play their music for free on the air?

Free music makes money.


Free music makes money. But you have to have something else to sell.

Don’t stay awake at night worrying about this if you are in radio.

Instead, you should be doing deals with independent labels and artists without copyright protection. It’s not as bad as your tight 30 song playlist might think.

The next generation has moved on – to feed their addiction to new music and radio could (if it had the guts) be the purveyor of all that good, rights-free music, instead of sticking to the old model of working the labels' acts for them.

Having said all of this I must say that I love record people. I don't agree with them on anything. But I love them. They are characters -- not just the old timers, but the young kids the labels employ.

I'd like to bring together just one label and one radio group so that they can work together in new media -- Internet, podcasting, mobile content.

One thing is for sure, embracing the demand for new music and delivering it in ways young consumers can appreciate is the antidote for a death wish.

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