Is support from mainstream radio really that important in securing success for an aspiring artist? #DB8

Radio is a vital platform in order for artists to have their music heard and, ultimately, to maximise sales. However, in the ever-changing arena that is the modern music industry – and the array of new avenues of which people choose to go down to listen to and consume new music; is gaining support from mainstream radio really the be all and end all?

So, where to start? The easiest way of demonstrating the power of radio is to begin discussing the way in which it operates and how influential it is in creating and/or predicting success of single releases. So, for those of you reading this who aren’t quite familiar with the ins-and-outs of the radio business – and are wondering how your favourite songs come to be (or not, as can often be the case) played on them, allow us to provide a brief explanation: Fundamentally, other than the more niche shows on radio (which do a great job in supporting emerging talent), the majority of music played on mainstream daytime radio consists of an approved playlist of tracks, which are then dissected in to different levels to highlight the song’s priority (or number of times it’s likely to be played throughout the day). For example; a song which has been placed on Radio 1’s A List playlist is likely to be that song which you cannot get out of your head, and every time you turn on the radio the same song seems to be confronting you with the urge to dance along merrily – whether you consciously agree to it or not – know the one we’re referring to? And then, beneath the A List, you’ll find the B List; C List and so on – get the gist?

So, this is all well and good, right? Our favourite songs are the ones which are played more frequently as we just can’t get enough of them – that must be it, surely? Well, maybe not. This system is a great way of boosting the sales and notoriety of a single from an artist whom has the means to be featured on the playlist – but what about the great musicians out there who don’t have those means? Well, they do have the support of some great niche shows and every now and then a track with an infectious enough hook will get a spin on a daytime slot – but nothing that’s going to make a huge impact chart-wise. Don’t they deserve some recognition, though? Of course they do. Although, understandably, it shouldn’t be an easy feat by any means. Nonetheless, we think that everyone would agree that the process by which an artist is selected to be playlisted should be on an even playing field.

But why is this even important? When measuring the success of an artist, we most commonly look to the charts to exemplify achievement. With that being said, it is highly probable that you’ll find almost every track featured on this week’s Radio 1 A, B and C list will largely make up the fabric of this week’s Top 40, also. This seemingly creates the divide between the independents and the majors – with fledgling artists on the come up feeling that, to be in with a chance of getting your music playlisted (and becoming a success), you must have the same industry resources as a label in order to consistently appear on the radio. Ultimately, this moulds the opinion that radio is vital in ensuring the success of an artist because they must make money to be successful in this day and age, right? Therefore, they must sell singles, right? And if radio is the most vital platform of which to spread the message of the track, this must be the reason why radio is the most important factor of ensuring the success of an artist, right? Actually, we’re not too convinced.

So then, how can an artist become artistically, financially and/or commercially successful when they have all of the above to contend with? As with much of the fabric of the industry today, everything has changed up and with artists such as JME charting at No. 41 on the national charts with a grime track (96 F*ckries) which was recorded in one take, with no hook, a curse word in the title and 96 bars of madness – not to mention no major radio support or PR team – we’d say the times have changed, wouldn’t you?

Naturally, many people would argue that instances such as the one mentioned above would be rare and isolated. However, the extremity of which that one instance represents – being that the song had no hook, vocal etc – highlights that, if that can be achieved, there is some definite hope for independents. Moreover, it isn’t just JME who is achieving such success; artists such as Lowkey, Akala, English Frank and Sneakbo all stand as prime examples of independent acts which can stand alone and still manage to maintain a level of success. Now, as they may not appear to be as glossed as an artist with a hundred thousand pound marketing campaign, do not be fooled in to thinking they are unable to sell the same amount of show tickets, records and merchandise in comparison to their peers which have signed on the dotted line with a major record label. And, if anything – although their workload is increased – so is their return, as they have no external parties (labels etc) in their pockets for a cut of their earnings. And in that instance; who is the more successful artist? The one in control of their masters, creative vision and income, or the one in debt to a label?

With platforms such as; ourselves (SB.TV), other online media channels,  independent blogs and the host of other online magazines and sites that are available; the medium by which the message of good (and bad) music is circulated is now so much larger than the traditional format of your standard radio stations and monthly magazine titles. This – along with social media – offers a platform for artists to gain their own supporters by themselves, and with that support base, various other avenues open up which can lead to their success. So an artist may not be able to secure a Top 10 independently (although, this is something which is beginning to become more common), but they may be able to sell hundreds of thousands of T-Shirts (see Boy Better Know, Tinchy Stryder, Lethal B) off their own back, or put together their own sell-out tours. So, really, it boils down to your own interpretation of success and how you define it, doesn’t it?

What do you think indicates an artists’ level of success? We’d love for you to join in with the debate – drop us a line in the comments section below or use the #DB8 hash tag on Twitter and fill us in on exactly how YOU feel about it.


Written by Ash Houghton