THINK TANK: How Much Indie Music Gets Played On Commercial Radio? This Much…

When we started Frontside back in 2003, the landscape of the music business was changing seemingly daily. Frankly, the technology of just about every device we used was changing every couple of months (remember Palm Pilots?). A few things were static in our business however, especially this simple premise: Don’t service indie records to radio in the 4th quarter.

It was an easy rule to follow and we knew it to be true for so many reasons. The main one being that so much of the music industry’s sales came in the Christmas selling season. In turn it was a given that new singles from the biggest artists on the planet would be on music directors desks right after labour day. There was simply no room for independents. Certainly not for anything considering to be still “developing.”

“Let’s start thinking about January” was the motto around our office.

How times have changed. For starters there is a new Alternative chart that didn’t exist back then. For that matter there’s even a radio station named Indie in 2013. In 2003 Frontside was competing for radio playlist slots with BMG, Sony, V2, EMI, Universal, Island, Mercury, Geffen, Jive, J Records, Virgin, Zomba, Atlantic, RCA… the list goes on. In the modern Canadian landscape there are three. Universal, Sony, and Warner Music Canada.

Not to say that the volume of records has dropped off considerably. An MD I was speaking to this week (in a major market) reported that he had 30 songs in the music meeting. 30 legitimate singles he was considering for 2 open spots on the playlist. That’s just incredible. Especially considering that list doesn’t include all of the music that’s being worked that he knows he’ll never play so he doesn’t even bring it into the music meeting.

What does that mean for indie music at Canadian radio in the fourth quarter of 2013? Well, it’s a lot different than it was in 2003, that’s for sure. The reason I started writing this article was that after tallying the charts this week (Oct 22nd) I realized Frontside independent clients/projects controlled 30% of the Active Rock chart (including the #1 single), 20% of the Alternative chart (including #4) and several records that are on or about to enter the CHR, HAC and A/C charts (including a multi-format Top 15).

From there I took a look at how much of a dent indie promoted music is making on the charts (as of this week). The result might surprise you. Here are the percentages by format:
43% Active, 27% Alternative, 20% A/C, 13% CHR, 13% HAC

This is in a chart week that used to be a lynchpin when it came to securing retail placements for December.”You have to take X amount of Y record… look at the radio story we’ve got.” That said, with this shift there are a number of factors to consider:

-The pressure to have a specific “4th quarter” radio hit has eased incredibly
-The biggest “debuts” are spread throughout the year
-The number of bands that major labels have signed and in turn are developing has decreased considerably, leaving the indies (both labels and promotion firms like Frontside) to get involved with radio-ready developing artists
-Recent mergers and acquisitions at radio have spawned several developing and breakthrough artist initiatives which have opened a lane at radio for artists that literally didn’t exist 5 years ago

I’m sure if I sat and thought about it I could come up with another hundred ways in which the landscape has changed in the last 10 years, but the point I’m trying to make is that now more than any other time in recent history, the doors are open for independent labels and artists to make a dent on radio playlists. That doesn’t mean these campaigns don’t have a ton of other things happening to help them get here (tour, sales, marketing, management, PR, online, etc) but it does illustrate that the door is open wider than it’s ever been!