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NEAR TRUTHS:
BROADCAST NEWS

STAY TUNED FOR AN IMPORTANT BROADCAST: There’s a growing perception in the business that “traditional media,” aka radio and TV, aren’t moving the needle when it comes to selling music. That’s a misperception. The reality is this: The super-active 14-20 demographic that’s leaning on the button and creating huge streaming numbers is only one part—though a large one—of music consumption at present. We mustn’t leave the rest of the pie out of the equation. Just look at the pre-teen market and soccer-mom demos that haven’t yet been onboarded to on-demand streaming, or the 65m or so active users on Pandora.

Meanwhile, radio is still selling music and increasing the long tail of streaming. When you compare the radio chart share and music-consumption marketshare of the top labels, it’s clear Interscope, Republic, Atlantic, Capitol and RCA are all creating big consumption numbers and rolling bigtime at radio. Billie Eilish, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Post Malone, Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello, Drake, Lil Nas X, Imagine Dragons, Lewis Capaldi, Jonas Brothers, Sam Smith, Khalid, Dan & Shay and Lizzo, among others, have had a massive lift from top radio hits. If you don’t think radio is still creating enormous consumption, then you’re reading the wrong tea leaves.

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula. Some big streaming records haven’t gotten the big airplay look yet because radio is still programming to the mass audience, much of it in the “flyover states,” rather than to the cosmopolitan coasts and the kids who are leaning on the button. (An intriguing, if imprecise, analogy would be red states and blue states.)

Because of this disparity between audiences, radio isn’t breaking all these hits first, especially hip-hop records that explode on the streaming charts or songs that blow up from TV exposure. But it’s undeniably true that wherever they break first, radio makes all these records bigger: bigger sales, bigger streams, bigger ticket sales.

Timing is everything when it comes to crossing streaming hits to radio, where they can potentially explode. There’s an analogy between making this move and crossing songs between radio formats—a notoriously delicate process. Frequently, songs that fly on streaming services can stall and/or burn out quickly at Pop radio because they haven’t become sufficiently recognizable yet. Pop radio plays stars, and while your act may have a billion streams, if he/she isn’t a familiar face, the road to the top may be a slow and bumpy one.

This is especially true in the present moment, as the Pop chart is not only dominated by superstars, but many of these have multiple tracks on the chart. Analyzing the last week of Pop radio airplay reveals that eight acts—Shawn, Khalid, Post, Ed, Camila, Ariana, JoBros and Sam—make up 64% of all spins in the Top 50. There’s now even less real estate for breaking acts, so extra care is needed to ensure a streaming hit has legs. That may mean waiting for months.

Patience can be the toughest part of the process, but it’s absolutely essential. The name of the game is listening to the market and picking the right time to go. This is a fragile market; going too soon has caused countless potential hits to go south. Going too late isn’t quite as much of an issue, but being too precious and not walking through the window of opportunity can also stifle momentum. Then again, if all this were easy, any dummy could do it.

Typically, when a song streams enough to confirm that it’s got legs, it’s go time. But what’s the rule of thumb? How many weeks of big streams justify a major radio campaign? The short answer is that this is a new world order, and things are evolving. Occasionally a radio format other than Rhythm or Top 40 gets in the game, or the song breaks in the U.K., suggesting it might be viable on this side of the pond. The key is looking for the right signal—from streaming, radio or even a sync—that something extraordinary is happening.

As Bob Pittman recently noted, the size of the radio audience far exceeds the heavy-streaming constituency. That’s an important point, but a convergence is coming—the streaming market and radio listeners will align more closely. For now, though, nothing’s changed when it comes to radio, and it’s still all-hands-on-deck and time to fucking close.

And don’t forget about simply loving the act that you signed because it was great and could be the next big thing. If you’re the label CEO making big cake and you’re right 1.8 times a year, you could make 100% of your bonus.

DOUBLE PLAY: Epic’s Camila Cabello is a prime example of an artist who’s been catapulted to the next level by her success at radio, and recently her Rick Sackheim-led team scored an unprecedented feat: two simultaneous singles that scored #1 and #2 Most Added at Pop. This all happened while her duet with Island’s Shawn Mendes, “Senorita,” was still #1 at the format. This is a great case study of a brand that has successfully crossed over. As CumulusBrian Philips pointed out, “This is the first time we’ve done this with a single artist—but it won’t be the last.”

LET’S TAKE A MOMENT: The 2020 Grammys will mark the swan song of producer Ken Ehrlich, who’s helmed the show for an astounding 40 years. Ken’s had one of the most distinguished careers in the biz. He’s taken his share of criticism for his strong opinions—steering certain artists away from performing their biggest hits, for example—and some in the biz have claimed he was out of touch with an ever-changing marketplace. That said,he’s engineered more unforgettable TV moments than you’ve had hot dinners. His particular genius lies in his instinct for unexpected pairings that are more than the sum of their parts; no wonder incoming producer Ben Winston has been shadowing Ken closely as he gets his head around the job. Ehrlich has enjoyed an especially effective chemistry with CBS exec Jack Sussman; the two have collaborated on the show for a quarter-century or so. Now all eyes are on Ken as he lines up his final Grammy show—this is his moment.

READY FOR HIS CLOSE-UP: With Grammy season now in full swing and first-round voting due to begin just after presstime, Harvey Mason Jr. has emerged as the Academy’s point man on the show and the awards. Insiders say the Board Chairman has been exceptionally responsive. Now, of course, it’s time to make the sausage—how will Mason (a songwriter/producer himself) help Grammy achieve the difficult balancing act of reflecting the current marketplace and drawing a large viewing audience? Will there be changes to the process? There’s some chatter about making the secret committees less secret.

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