HITS LIST: TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE
Patti Smith and Angela Davis have nothing to do with this. (2/17a)
We just can't help ourselves. (2/17a)
A pop-cultural kaleidoscope disguised as a radio column (2/17a)
SPOTTED ON NEW MUSIC FRIDAY PLAYLIST
Think of the latest offering as top-"Heavy." (2/17a)
FLIPOVER FRIDAY: NEW ARRIVALS AT iTUNES AND APPLE MUSIC
L.A. goes country with the better half of a Jets receiver. Come again? (2/17a)
By Karen Glauber
Far more often than my delicate constitution can handle, someone in a position of authority points a disapproving finger my way and declares, “Your format is a shit show. You don’t sell records or break acts.” I could laugh at being held accountable for the current state of Modern Rock radio for the same reason I make fun of my coworkers for saying “We won” or “We suck” when recapping the success/failure of their favorite teams. “We” had nothing to do with the Dodgers’ latest victory, no matter how many games we’ve attended. However, I’ve been neck-deep in the format for 30+ years, so the accusation feels personal.
Yes, it’s a Sisyphean challenge to break new acts at Modern Rock for a myriad of reasons. The only accurate thing an MScore measures is our septic frustration when a PD uses it as an excuse to drop a record. To quote my friend Amanda Dobbins, “I can’t even.” There’s also a phantom menace I call “the format killer,” who, when in the presence of programmers far and wide, advises them that the key to ratings gold is to STOP PLAYING NEW MUSIC. Yes, clients pay to be told that the format that was founded (and has thrived) on the premise of NEW MUSIC DISCOVERY should no longer play new music. Welp. If most of the format decides to take the wait-until-the-song-is-Top-20 approach before adding, then these stations should get out of the concert business. The demand for bands for radio station festivals far exceeds the development of bands that can sell enough tickets for these shows to generate expected NTR. God bless Weezer and blink-182 (and their collective catalog of Modern Rock hits) for bailing you out in 2016. Without them, you would’ve been “totally fucked” (to reference my favorite song from the Duncan Sheik-composed musical Spring Awakening)…
“Playing new music is good business,” said one of the programmers who had been otherwise advised to do the opposite. Indeed, because artist managers and agents aren’t in the habit of giving radio stations their artists at way below market value without a potential upside. Adding a few records a month before a holiday show has appeased labels in the past, since those of us who work records are looking for an opportunity to take a song as high up the chart as possible. It’s a cynical strategy on part of the programmer, but we live in a world of false hope.
My approach (not that you asked) is to reward loyalty and super-serve the stations that consistently support our efforts to break bands, whether it’s John Allers in Philly or Lesley James in Columbus. There have been only THREE new artists to go Top 10 at Modern Rock in 2016: The Strumbellas, Kaleo and Bishop Briggs. All three were chosen by iHeart for its On the Verge program. The Strumbellas and Kaleo had #1 songs, and Bishop Briggs peaked at #3 (and she’s the only female to go Top 5 in 2016.) Clearly, iHeart’s influence on the chart is formidable, and the songs they picked this year have been smashes. Judah & the Lion, signed by Harvest’s Jacqueline Saturn, is the current On the Verge. I’ve already declared to the band and their management that “Take It All Back” is a surefire #1, so that’s that…
How do you measure a hit song at Modern Rock? Let’s recalibrate what we used to believe was the sales baseline: Last year’s measurement of 1,500 singles/week is now 500 singles/week. The Modern Rock audience will pay $.69 for a song, but they won’t pay $.99 (and they’ll pay $12 for a beer at a radio station festival, but, you know, priorities)…
You can’t tell me that there just aren’t any hits. A song needs exposure to measure its true potential. In my perfect world, Glass Animals had the hit of the summer with “Life Itself,” and Warpaint’s “New Song” is the song I want to hear on my favorite station. This week, SiriusXM’s Jeff Regan added “Loveblood” from my favorite new U.K. band Sundara Karma. In my opinion, AltNation is the most accurate barometer of a song’s hit potential. New music is the lifeblood of our format. And, with or without you, there will be hundreds of bands each year that will release music that has an impact on popular culture. Are you in, or are you out?