How do you find out about new music? A lot of you probably rely on the internet and word-of-mouth. Yet it’s been shown time and again that good old-fashioned radio can still play a huge role in creating buzz around bands.
Non-commercial radio in particular is helping to drive the discovery of new music. When a great song hits the airwaves, it’s as if the clouds part, the birds chirp, the…well, you get it. This kind of spirit also helps sustain local creative communities while helping artists develop their careers.
The non-commercial radio universe consists of college stations, community stations, Low Power FM and National Public Radio. Increasingly, non-commercial radio is filling the considerable void in programming on commercial stations, which have incredibly restrictive playlists. This is due to the massive consolidation in commercial station ownership as a result of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. (We’ve got some studies documenting these trends; check ‘em out here.) On the other hand, non-commercial broadcasters often have an open ear for fresh sounds and a greater community focus. Of course, there’s nothing stopping commercial radio from adopting a similar approach, and we hope they eventually do.
According to the new iPad-oriented newspaper The Daily, NPR Music has proven a key player in the new music ecosystem. Their interactive and accessible platforms have accelerated artist recognition, particularly for non-mainstream acts. Independent musicians of all genres have long been industry underdogs, and it’s safe to say they have come to rely on non-commercial broadcasters to make new fans and sustain their careers.
This past year has been particularly telling in this regard. As The Daily reports, it was NPR Music that streamed Arcade Fire’s record The Suburbs before August its release. It subsequently went to No.1 on the Billboard charts. Some six months later, the band won a Grammy for “Album of the Year.” In addition to music blogs and social networks, non-commercial radio are tastemakers that help get the word out early about great music.
With a 2.5 million loyal visitors monthly, NPR Music is the most popular section of NPR.org. Their Tiny Desk Concerts are an especially hot item. Artists like our pals Thao + the Get Down Stay Down certainly felt the post-Tiny Desk performance buzz, selling more records and playing more shows — including NPR Music’s day party at SXSW — after their appearance.
Again from The Daily:
“Anytime we ever have an artist do anything with NPR, you can literally go to iTunes or Amazon and watch their number go up the chart,” Sonya Kolowrat, a publicist at XL records who works with indie darlingling Vampire weekend.
Though not technically independent, The Decemberists are another band that came from outside the mainstream yet managed to crack the top of the charts. Once again, NPR played a role, streaming a live concert from the band’s hometown in Portland, Oregon the week that their latest record, King is Dead, was released. In addition, NPR covered the band on more than one of their programs.
Check out the stats on NPR’s audience below. These percentages are further proof that their listeners are avid music lovers, which translates to artist and label support:
59% Active Music Listeners
68% More Likely to Attend a Rock Show
83% More Likely to Have Bought “Alternative” Music
Of course, it’s not just NPR that’s making things happen out there. From beloved community stations like WFMU, KEXP, WWOZ and the late, lamented KUSF, non-commercial radio is making an impact on music scenes locally and nationally. And we love it.
Obviously, the internet has been really important to artists’ ability to reach fans directly, which is why we’ve gone to bat to keep it accessible to musicians. We feel the same way about radio. That’s why we find it so troubling that Congress is considering defunding the public broadcasting sector. If that happens, the entire music industry — from the recorded business to live venues — could take a hit. Something to consider when we’re looking at America’s economic well-being.
Again, we love non-commercial radio, but we still think commercial radio can have a role to play in the establishment of a functional, 21st-century music ecosystem. We’d love to see broadcasters of all stripes add value to local music communities while bringing more great music to potential fans around the nation. Non-commercial broadcasters have proven that good music is good music, regardless of genre. As long as there’s a focus on the core values of accessibility and discovery, and a respect for the economics of today’s creative marketplace, the future of music looks bright, indeed.