With streaming becoming the primary means in which people listen to music, I’ve seen a lot of articles and posts comparing Spotify and Pandora. Comparably they’re both streaming services that people can subscribe to, that have immense music catalogs and use a variety of algorithms to determine what songs the listener might want to hear next. What makes the two services different and what tends to not get mentioned is that Pandora’s platform originates from more of a ‘radio model’ rather than the ‘On Demand’ model streaming services like Spotify provides. Pandora is in many ways an online radio station. A very successful online radio station. In fact, the success of Pandora’s radio style programming lead to its recent purchase by Sirius/XM.
This got me thinking…sure it’s great hearing how Pandora is doing compared to the “On Demand” streaming services, but what about the other online radio stations? Soon after I started asking that question, I also noticed that Billboard had started publishing web charts. For one of these charts Billboard partnered with Next Big Sound to track activity on Pandora, as well as social media activity on Facebook, Twitter and other online services. But, aside from Pandora no other online radio or streaming service was being monitored. Major online networks like iheartradio and Tunedin primarily provide access to traditional commercial radio stations online line, so monitoring them wouldn’t be any different than monitoring traditional radio, which Billboard already does. But there are still other online radio options. Are these other stations having that little of an impact? Why are they never mentioned or discussed when talking about streaming music? My gut told me I needed to find out more about online radio. Was there an opportunity being missed? Could this be a new opportunity for artists to reach their audience and possibly more?
So, about a year ago I took it upon myself to look into what other options were out there for online radio stations. I quickly learnt that there is a lot I didn’t know about online radio, specifically the impact they can have for independent artists. Here’s just some of the things I discovered…
- There are an infinite number of options. “Infinite” may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it sure seemed to feel that way. When I first started this project, I made a list of stations to look into and as I came across other stations, I would simply add them to the list. I have yet to catch up to the end of my list. Somes days it felt like I was adding 2-3 stations to the list for every 1 that I cross off after looking into it. Sure, some of the stations are tiny stations with a small group of followers, but there has also been others that operate on a whole other level that I didn’t even know existed. Whole networks and groups working together to provide music listeners with other options.
- Size doesn’t matter. Prior to starting this project, I wrote off a lot of online radio stations simply because they didn’t seem to have many listeners or followers. As I started looking at these stations a little more thoroughly, I discovered that a large portion of them not only have very specifically targeted programming, but that the people following them tend to be a very dedicated, engaged audience. They listen and follow these stations because they WANT to, they choose too. Which stations would you rather have your music played on? One with thousands of followers, whose listeners typically have the station on in the back ground if they’re even listening to the station in the first place, or the station with 100 listeners where 90% of those listeners tune in regularly because they want to hear something new and different. A listening audience that if they like your song are more likely to follow you online and on Spotify and possibly even add you to a playlist.
- Engaged followers. Whether it’s asking their listeners to vote to help determine which songs will be on the station’s weekly chart, write reviews on the artists being played or simply sharing tweets letting others know about the music getting played on these stations, online stations are involving and engaging their listeners which not only makes them bigger fans of the station, but bigger fans of the music. Specialty programming with unique themes are also very engaging and aren’t too different from specialty playlists that you see on the On Demand services like Spotify. Music engagement continues to climb as the means in which we consume music changes. Online stations understand this and know they need an engaged audience to survive and when your audience is tuning in because you are playing a specific brand of music, what better way to engage them, than with the music.
- Reporting & Rights. Many of the initial concerns with online radio stations, specifically independent radio stations, was the lack of reporting and copyrights. Many of the stations operated on such a small scale that they didn’t feel that they should have to pay the same fees as traditional radio stations. Pandora was available in Canada up until 2007, but left due to what the CEO claims were ‘uneconomical rates being imposed by Canadian music rights societies’. Canadian music rights societies like SOCAN, continue to work hard at ensuring musicians are compensated for the use of their work and I found more and more stations are getting “Licensed To Play” by SOCAN, paying their licensing fees, which means artists should see royalty payments from online radio.
- The reporting doesn’t stop there. New radio monitoring tool W.A.R.M. (World Airplay Radio Monitor) not only tracks traditional commercial radio stations, but also monitors college/community radio stations and online line radio stations. W.A.R.M. lets an artist know what station played their song, how many times it was spun, times when it was spun and where that station broadcasts from, monitoring more than just North America. If an artist is getting spun on a station that W.A.R.M. doesn’t monitor, they also have a section on their website where you can submit might that station’s information so that they will start monitoring it. (I’ve personally submitted three stations now and all three started being monitored within weeks). Before, independent artists would say they’re in heavy rotation on an online radio station that no one had heard of and rarely would anyone take the artist seriously or even believe them. But now W.A.R.M. provides independent artists information and data that can’t be disputed, and reports that can be printed, saved and shared.
- Working together. Something fairly common I found amongst the online radio stations, was that they asked, in exchange for spinning an artist’s music on their station that the artist post about it on social media, tagging the station. Much like the artist, these stations are looking to grow their audience and by posting and tagging each other on social media, it helps both the artist and the station grow. Some stations even take this a step further and tweet and tag an artist whenever they play their music. By doing this, the artist’s followers see that the artist is not only getting played on a radio station but can tune in that exact moment if they want to hear the song. The stations’ hope is that the artist’s followers will tune in and start following the station but I discovered another benefit to this real time tweeting. Earlier I mentioned Billboard is monitoring online activity and publishing a chart based on what info is being gathered. On the surface Pandora is the only online radio station that is being monitored, but the tool (New Big Sound) also monitors Twitter activity, so even if other online stations aren’t being monitored, the online radio stations that are tweeting what they play are being tracked and that in turn impacts the new Billboard’s web charts.
- Growth. As I mentioned earlier, I tended to stay away from online radio stations simply because I typically assumed, they had next to no listeners, were broadcast out of someone’s basement and were simply too small to even bother with. Yes, some of those do exist, but they’re just a small segment of the market and someone has to start somewhere. Like anything, with the right people who are willing to do the work, you never know where something like an independent radio station go. Here’s a couple examples of some online stations and the growth they’ve experienced.
- G-Radio: Based out of Edmonton started as a small station showcasing local Edmonton artists. The online station not only has a license with SOCAN, but their license allows G-radio to be broadcast in local businesses. These businesses pay G-Radio to be able to broadcast their radio station in their places of business, increase Edmonton and area artists’ exposure and potential royalty payments from SOCAN.
- The Buzz/Pearl Creek Media: What started out as an online radio station in a small town in Saskatchewan has grown into an online media network supporting a variety of rural areas in Saskatchewan, providing a radio alternative in areas where the only radio option was CBC (not that there is anything wrong with the CBC), along with internet television for local sporting events and other local features. Pearl Creek Media has now applied to the CRTC for the rights to broadcast a low frequency FM channel.
- Dash Radio Network: Dash Radio was created by the world’s biggest DJ’s who became fed up with the limitations of regular FM radio. As word of Dash Radio spread, more DJ’s joined the network and Dash Radio now offers over 80 channels of commercial free music for online for free.
And these are just a couple of examples…
Commercial radio has always been a challenge for independent artists to ‘break’ into. Sure, there have been some artists that have gotten some support and seen some sucess from commercial radio, but for the most part commercial radio stations have limited space and the number of artists fighting for those spaces is continually growing. Independent online radio stations aren’t limited by the same restrictions a commercial radio station might be. The industry has changed, and much like how the internet and streaming music has created more opportunities for independent artists, so too are online radio stations. Artists are getting airplay in markets they never thought they could reach. Their music is getting added into regular rotation, getting anywhere from 5 to 35 spins a week, depending on the station. Sure, the audience may not be as big as a commercial radio station, but in many cases the audience is more engaged. An engaged listener can easily become an engaged fan/follower not only of the online station, but of the artist as well. We’ve seen this already, as some of the artists we’ve done online radio campaigns for have seen an increase in social media activities, followers and have even seen an increase in streams on Spotify and Apple Music. Independent online radio does have an impact and should not be ignored.