For many decades, commercial radio airplay has been highly coveted by songwriters, musicians and record labels alike because of its enormous promotional power and reach. It has been well understood that consistent commercial airplay accompanies significant record sales, generates public performance royalties, and burnishes a recording artist’s profile.
But there have been major shifts in the radio landscape in the past ten years. We’ve seen the development of both satellite radio and webcasting as alternatives to traditional AM and FM broadcast radio, models that have a lot more flexibility about what types of music they play, and how much control they give the listener over what they hear. We’ve also witnessed the development of a stronger noncommercial radio sector, led by NPR Music and certain powerhouse noncommercial AAA stations like KEXP, KCRW, WXPN, and The Current.
There has also been a shift in perceptions about broadcast radio. Some observers and music fans say that “nobody listens to the radio any more”, implying that commercial radio has lost its relevance. Others say that “radio airplay doesn’t matter”, suggesting that commercial airplay is overrated or unnecessary in a landscape that now includes Twitter, YouTube, iTunes and Spotify. But is this true? For musicians and managers, does radio airplay matter? If so, what kind of airplay matters, and how does it matter?
As part of our Artist Revenue Streams project, we collected enough data about radio airplay directly from musicians, composers and artist managers to examine this question. During the interview phase, we asked almost 80 interviewees about whether their music was played on the radio, and what they thought the effect was. On the Money from Music survey, over 4,500 survey respondents answered a specific question about their experiences with radio airplay. And, in the financial case studies, we were able to directly assess one outcome of radio airplay – the trends in public performance and digital performance royalties flowing back to the artists. This release compiles this data and provides a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the impact of radio airplay.
What the data suggests is:
1. Frequent airplay on commercial radio is rare, but new forms of radio are providing airplay opportunities for more musicians and more types of music.
2. Radio airplay contributes to an artists’ brand, but it is just one part of a larger marketing strategy.
3. For some musicians, airplay is perceived as a major driver of record sales and other revenue streams, but for others, radio’s impact is difficult to measure.
The data from this report suggests that, yes, radio airplay is still important, but in different ways than it has been in the past. Given the expansion of radio-like experiences, there are more opportunities than ever for musicians – even those in niche genres – to get airplay. Because the very definition of “radio” has changed, we need to look at the impact of airplay through a wider lens. Some musicians believe airplay impacts sales or concert attendance. For others, it’s part of a broader brand awareness and exposure strategy. For a few, airplay on digital platforms has become a noticeable revenue stream on its own. And for most, airplay on any platform remains elusive. As the data and interview quotes below demonstrate, radio airplay does matter, but how much it matters – and its impact – varies widely from musician to musician.