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Radio killed the real music star

Radio needs to value quality to rediscover financial success.

By Brandon Foster | July 6, 2011

Tags: Music

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I always thought my Uncle Steve had great taste in music. Be it discussions on The Beatles or Stevie Wonder, whenever our family would get together, he would always give me a glimpse into past musical culture, which I wholly appreciated. That is, until the day he declared “I Gotta Feeling” should’ve won the Grammy.

Um, what?

It was then I realized: Uncle Steve doesn’t necessarily have good taste in music; he’s just a consumer of pop music, which was simply better 40 years ago. Now, I’m not going to lecture you on the crappiness of today’s top-40 music, because A) anyone with a Facebook feed has seen something to the effect of “OMG Whyy does #&$% like Ke$ha get on tha radio when genius liek Radiohead doesn’t?????” (Radiohead fans are notorious for being 15-year-old girls), and B) I think, deep down, most people know that Keri Hilson is no Mozart, and it’s just a matter of whether or not we choose to indulge in the stuff.

However, I would like to point out how radio singles are produced. NPR had a story the other day titled, “How Much Does It Cost To Make A Hit Song?” It told the story of Rihanna’s new single “Man Down.” That one song cost an estimated $78,000 to produce and $1 million to market. To create the song, they gathered a bunch of writers to create some demos for the “artist” to choose from. These writers, however, are very expensive to hire (a “writing camp” costs about $25,000 a day), thus their time is very limited. “Man Down” was written in 12 minutes. Then the record companies schmooze the radio stations to get airtime.

What we’re left with is a corrupt industry full of hastily written club jams for youngsters to repeatedly endure as practice before they go out and party. And that’s fine. Girls just wanna have fun and what have you. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the fact is, this system provides us with an abundance of inherently weak top-40 songs. I don’t care that Rihanna doesn’t write her songs. I care that her song was written in less time than it takes to watch an episode of The Simpsons.

Which is exactly why the music industry needs to make a U-turn and start popularizing songs actually written by talented artists. I’m not saying they need to put obscure art rock on top-40 radio, but there is plenty of catchy and accessible music written by independent artists — yes, even better party tunes. There will obviously be higher quality music when the artists are allowed to actually put time and effort into their writing. Talent, not money, would fuel profit in a marketplace of songs where the cream is allowed to rise to the top. We’d have more Adeles — people who write their own songs to reach the top — and fewer Rihannas — glamour products selling us little more than better-written jingles.

How can the music industry afford to do this? How can’t they? It’s not like business is exactly booming as it is, especially with songs that cost over a million dollars before they ever make profit. A new approach based on quality would nix this costly process and naturally develop more interest in radio. Sure, it would be a risky move, and it would have to be gradual. But the fact of the matter is, the music industry is suffering in its current state, and building a foundation on quality rather than greed sounds like as good a direction as any.

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