• Hugh Webber

HAS THE ALGORITHM KILLED THE RADIO DJ?

Updated: Jun 7

As the 1980’s Buggles song goes “Video Killed the Radio Star” - that might have been true for the artist when MTV came on the scene, and having a music video is almost essential these days to reach that audience. Radio is still a viable format a lot of people are still using.


According to Offcom: Nine in ten people in the UK listen to the radio at least once a week – listening has remained at this level for the past five years. While the proportion of people who listen to the radio has not changed year on year, people are listening to the radio for longer.


In that same time streaming has moved from 19% to 55% of the market. So what is it about Radio that still attracts people?


It’s hard to be exactly sure, but it’s reckoned there are at least 120 thousand internet radio stations in the world. UK based radio stations probably number approx 2000. For the purposes of this observation, I am not talking about the big national stations, but the smaller internet stations, local BBC and independent stations.


So why hasn’t the Spotify algorithm killed the Radio DJ?

If I hadn’t seen the above data, I might have thought that the Spotify playlist and playlist curator had overtaken the DJ. You can choose a playlist you like, you know what is on it, and why you like it. With the Radio, the DJ doesn’t always play what you like.


Artists are strongly encouraged to work the playlist algorithms to try to get their songs onto them. I would argue it’s a better use of time to build relationships with radio DJ’s and radio stations. For one thing it’s actually a lot easier to reach the people behind the microphones thanks to social media, and radio station submission email addresses are easily available.


What about the algorithms and curators?

Spotify provides access to everything; find something you like, and the algorithm will offer something like it for you next. Playlist curators are often difficult / impossible to reach, and some even ask for payment to get on their lists. This is no guarantee of a play still - don’t ever pay for plays in my opinion.


Why might Radio be better?

For a start, if you get onto a radio station playlist (or rotation), then they will play it, which means someone will hear it. Also the DJ offers that human gear change of ideas or genre or style that we might not get on a curated or algorithmic playlist.


Maybe it's an age thing?

I grew up listening to Radio Luxembourg on a long wave radio coming across the water. I chose to listen to an evening show because I knew they would offer something new and different. I didn't like it all, but it extended my experience and I listened to things I would have never found myself if not for that DJ.


So who is standing up for the new artists and the ones that should be heard above the noise?
How do they get attention among the 40,000 new tracks being added every day to the Spotify machine?


That’s you, the listener - you should be doing that!



Drop me links to new music!

These tweets often drive us crazy, but I have a new theory. Are they bored with what the algorithms and playlists offer - because it’s just more of what they already have. No gear change of direction / genre / pace to take them somewhere they have never been before?


I recently tweeted about this and an internet radio DJ replied with:


“Playlists are so easy for people but I absolutely love getting requests. The interaction is a massive part of my show and I genuinely think people still like to make dedications along with their favourite songs. It's a piece of human element to the show.”


I totally agree with this.


This is where the independent artist needs their true fans to help them. Request their songs, and if the station doesn’t have their songs, tell them about why they should - send them links on social media, and keep asking until they do play it! If a song is good enough to have fans then it’s good enough to be played on air.


In addition to all this, independent radio financially rewards the artist better than streams too. Internet radio stations based in the UK should have the correct licences to play other peoples music. PRS supports that in the UK and they represent and protect their members copyright and performance royalties. That means the artists get paid when their song is played.


Today I help singers and songwriters explore their own potential, working alongside to transform their ideas into fully finished songs they are proud of.


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