ART VS. COMMERCE: WHEN ROCK STARS MEET RADIO PROGRAMMERS

“The industry is both the enemy and the best friend of the artist. Trouble is, they need each other.” – Chrissie Hynde

 

Is there anything more uncomfortable or awkward than an artist meeting a radio programmer (as exemplified by the photo above with Bono and The Edge at KTIM-FM in San Rafael CA in 1981)? In the world of music marketing and promotion, it’s an essential piece of the puzzle that is intended to lead to airplay. It’s the artist bearing his or her wares to the marketplace by way of a pitch, a smile, a kind word, a thank you – some sort of person-to-person exchange of pleasantries. It gives meaning to the music and the musician, way beyond anything that a cold, faceless, piece of plastic (or WAV file) can summon up.

No matter how many fans, FB friends, record sales or website hits they have, musical artists (and the industry behind them) still need radio, one station at a time, to make it into the ears and the minds of the general public. Nothing has changed in that respect.

The Internet has not replaced the valuable face time between artist and radio programmer.

This strange bedfellow thing is not a recent development. Sinatra reportedly hung out in radio station studios with all-night deejays hawking his latest releases.  Murray The K deemed himself the “Fifth Beatle” when he befriended the quartet upon their first visit to New York and played their records non-stop and back to back on Top 40 powerhouse WINS. I myself spent 20+ years at Warner/Reprise hauling singers and bands into radio stations and backstage meet and greets – almost 5,000 such events by my count – so I know a thing or two about the execution, dynamics and purpose of this ancient rite.

PURPOSE: There are many self-serving purposes for the station:

1.) Programmer meets and talks to and “bonds” with the rock star one-on-one.

2.) Rock star endorses station and programming staff as great friends.

3.) Contest winners meet their idols and get some sort of tangible takeaway.

There is generally only one purpose for the artist:

1.) More airplay – which is a very nice thing to have, thank you very much.

DYNAMICS: Let’s start with a general overview of artist types:

1.) Recalcitrant / slacker / jerk

2.) Shoe gazer / introspective / difficulty with full sentences

3.) Those unaware or misinformed about the station, its format or relative market status

4.) Those who ply the Don’t-you-know-who-I-think-I-am on stage and off

5.) Appreciative / informed / conversational / personable

The trouble begins when anyone of the above-listed art forms runs directly into a programmer who is:

1.) Over the top

2.) Speechless (rare)

3.) Unaware / misinformed / nonchalant about the artist and the music

4.) Also a Don’t-you-know-who-I-think-I-am type

5.) Appreciative / informed / conversational / personable

EXECUTION:  Other than the rare event when two #5’s listed above are actually involved, it’s always easier if there’s an genuine purpose behind the visit – an on-air or taped interview/performance, a fans/winners meet and greet, some station sponsored event or charity function to drop by, or the like. If no such situation exists, then a delicate mating dance begins.  Of course, the artist may come to the station but may not end up on the air due to some “mis-communication”.  Or the programmer may come to the show, which can be thwarted by a production hassle which takes the tour manager out of the equation and nothing happens.

Additionally, it’s best if the event can be memorialized with a photo for Twitter, Instagram or the trades and/or a video for You Tube or that station’s website. Getting to that smooth place where all the right elements come together to make for a memorable experience and lasting relationship is the trick when the two most important elements in the equation could easily be at loggerheads.

Nothing difficult is ever easy.

What’s missing these days is the presence of an intermediary to pull the whole thing off. Historically, enlightened record companies (when they could afford to) sent out Artist Relations reps to travel with the bands and make these things happen smoothly and professionally. However those loss-leader, non-recoupable departments were the first to feel the ax when the precipitous drop in physical record sales began over a decade ago. The same goes for the drastic cutback (or elimination) of local promotion field staffs to cover shows and artist appearances, also due to the unfortunate convergence of record company big overhead and falling revenue.

Now it’s up to the artist and the programmer with some incidental help from the otherwise way-too-busy tour manager to make these things happen – scary at best and disastrous at worst. As a result, these forced hangouts end up being difficult, awkward and often damaging to the artist’s future in the marketplace. That’s the problem: to make the event run smoothly, you need a professional go-between to set it up, pull it off, and do the follow up.

There is a solution.

Recently a few independent radio promotion companies have sprung up, some of which are comprised of experienced marketing professionals who serve as promotional representatives for artists and record labels that no longer have the luxury of an in-house field staff.  One such company, The Artist Cooperative, has people in the top seven strategic markets all over America, each of whom have cultivated personal relationships with radio programmers over the years in their regions. What makes the TAC staff different is that they also attend shows of the artists with whom they are working and provide excellent artist relations skills to each event, melding the recalcitrant artist with the over-the-top programmer.  The all-important station visit and/or backstage meet and greet between artists and programmers is alive and well and safe once more. We can all rest more easily knowing that.

“Even though I have delusional notions about myself, I know that I’m not doing anything all that important. But, then again, neither are you.” – Gene Simmons

 

 

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