Archive for February 4th, 2010

Why radio stations won’t play most indie music

I heard a lot of people wondering: “Why doesn’t the radio play less known artists? There are some amazing songs out there that are lesser known and need to be heard. Commercial/ClearChannel radio sucks.”

However, it’s not the radio that sucks. It’s the listeners.

Consider the following: The music director at San Francisco’s Live 105 (owned by CBS) is Aaron Axelsen (who I’m a fan of). Aaron decides what’s get played by the DJs during the day, but he also has a show of his own on the station: Soundcheck, every Sunday night. In it, he plays the kind of music we are longing to listen to during daytime: From Manchester Orchestra, to The Temper Trap, to Surfer Blood, to many local Bay Area bands that caught his ear (scroll down for his latest playlist).

However, the rest of the daytime programming is terrible: the same 20-30 hit songs are playing on a rotation. How many times it happened to me already: driving for sushi lunch, Phoenix’s “1901” would be playing on our car’s radio. Coming out of lunch, and Phoenix’s “1901” would be playing AGAIN. The rotation is so fucking short that it’s not even funny.

Now, it’s easy to put the blame on Aaron or his corporate overlords, but it’s not really their fault. They are just doing what makes sense for their business. And what makes sense is to keep the listeners from switching channels.

You see, the vast majority of the radio listeners don’t listen to music. They hear music instead. There’s a difference. They put the kids on the SUV, and drive them to school, and turn on the radio in the meantime. Or, they’re stuck in traffic, pissed off, and need to listen to “easy” music to pass the time. Or, they’re sitting on their sofa, reading a magazine, and have the radio ON as a background.

Very few people actually drive somewhere in order to turn on the radio and listen to music. Or sit on their sofa, closing their eyes, and listen to just music. Normal people instead, are so busy with their lives, their problems, the quick pace of this civilization, that simply don’t have the time to discover new music. Listening to unknown kind of melodies, or new kinds of sub-genres altogether, takes them out of their comfort zone. Listening to something like Dan Deacon instead of Lady Gaga, for example, while the kids shout at each other at the back of the car, makes it difficult to level your head. Not only you have your problems, but you have this new ‘annoying’ music playing instead of the music (or kind of music) you already know so well.

Basically, commercial radio works as a kind of a depressant for the masses. At first, it feels like music is exactly the opposite: an excitement that is, but in reality, in the large scheme of things, as far as FM radio is concerned, it’s nothing but one of the ways that helps you kept in check. No, this is not a conspiracy theory, it’s just how things work. Listeners want it that way too.

And that’s the reason why you’ll never be able to hear Fever Ray, Antlers, or Local Natives on commercial radio, during daytime, at least in the US. Unless indie bands hit it big on their own, their music will play only late at night, or at specialized radio stations like college radios, KEXP, and Indie 103.1.

So stop hating the radio stations for doing their job. Either hate the system, or the listeners, or don’t hate anyone, and listen to your favorite music in your own accord. But don’t expect the population to follow too. They won’t. They have mortgages to think about rather than HEALTH‘s awesome off-beat noise.