02 March 2009

The Charts

From May to September of 2008, the Cure released a single each month. The singles promotional idea was to releases them on or around the 13th of each month, to signal way for the "4:13" album – the thirteenth Cure album, recorded by four members. I was really impressed with the single “The Only One,” so I decided to look up chart positions. This is odd for two reasons; the first, I typically do not care about chart positions. The second, I typically find that bands that are true artists have more interesting non-single tracks than those released to bait an audience to purchase the album. Well, I discovered that none of the singles charted the Hot 100 Airplay or Billboard Hot 100; however there is a chart called Hot Single Sales, and “The Only One” reached #4. For that matter, “Freakshow” reached #2, “Sleep when I’m Dead” reached #1, and “The Perfect Boy” also reached #1 on the Hot Single Sales. I started to scratch my head.

How is it possible that singles can chart so high in sales, but not have airplay? Think about this – you can have the best selling single, the single that people are investing money to own, but this means nothing to radio programmers. Why?

According to "The LA Times," Eliot Spitzer, former New York Attorney General, alleged “that music companies illegally paid radio programmers to play certain songs…” Thinking that DJs should have a system based on “meritocracy” to choose new music, the opposite has just ensued. In recent years, research has shown that listeners are getting less exposure to new music, because radio programmers fear more accusations. They tend to stick to a basic formula that will not give rise to more allegations.

Furthermore, considering that corporations purchasing commercial time fund radio, and such companies have a specific demographic they are targeting, it is only logical that radio stations would not tamper with what is perceived to be the acceptable music to play. Therefore, between fears of allegations of pay for play and reducing radio play lists to the poor expectations of the corporate advertisement game, many bands are excluded from radio play. This may be a reason why many people are turning to satellite radio (paid subscription for what you want to listen to) and streamlining music on the Internet from such radio stations as BBC Radio 1 (with multiple channels). At the end of it all, any radio (or television) station that relies on commercial time for revenues care less about art than they do for profit.

Then there is the ultimate American experiment in twenty-four hour commercialism – MTV. They play less and less music, and more and more reality shows. They are constantly selling not just music, but fashion and attitude, acceptability and the idea of what is hip. Imagine trying to sell Robert Smith’s image has “hip”? I am sure that Abercombie & Fitch is not going to stock up on cherry red lipstick for men. But if you look at all the fashionable stores, from A&F to Hollister, there really isn’t much difference. You can see all those fashion trends on the personalities on MTV. But MTV has done more than dictate fashion; it has also destroyed the concept of what an acceptable band was with “Unplugged.” Go back to the early 90s, why did most the electronic bands disappear? Think about it, electronic greats like Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk would find most of their catalogues difficult, if not impossible, to play as an acoustic set without reworking their music extensively and/or hiring a few extra musicians. Discarded were the technological wizards, and in came the multitude of Nirvana and Pearl Jam wannabe bands. The only two exceptions to this was Hip Hop – because targeting urban youths (and those that wanted an urban edge) was profitable. And pop divas, because nothing sells like sex. (Luckily, many electronic bands weathered the storm and survived, and many new ones came into existence.)

MTV does not care about nurturing or sustaining the career of musicians (as pointed out by David Marsh), rather they pay priority to what is new and fresh. MTV does not appeal to people past the age of twenty-five, so musical artists have gotten younger and younger. (Artist in this case may be a bad word, as most are developed and sustained by producers and not their own personal craftsmanship.) If this is the visual that MTV is projecting, why wouldn’t radio follow suit?

So back to the latest charts, for the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 3 March 2009, the #1 song is Flo Rida’s “Right Round.” Kayne West’s “Heartless” is #1 on the Hot 100 Airplay (#3 on the Billboard Hot 100, though the #1 on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop Chart is Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It”). But if you click on the sidebar, not listed with the rest of the charts, the #1 song on the Hot Singles Sales is Mutemath’s “Spotlight.” None, not one, of the aforementioned singles are on the Top 10 Hot Singles Sales. Yet, they are the ones getting airplay. Does that make sense?

I would encourage each and every person reading this to reach out to radio programmers at local stations and point out the disparity between what is selling and what is being played. I would ask to include surveys on websites to have listeners have a say on what they want to listen to. Support local DJs and radio stations (like KROQ in California) that take risks and expose audiences to new music (America deserves their own John Peel). Search for alternate news and information providers, you do not have to conform to news outlets that kiss the arse of conventionality that radio and MTV have created for them. And lastly, support the artists – buy their product and go see them live if you can. In order for artists to survive, they must generate revenues; if not, their labels will can them.

On a personal note, for all those who have read along these past month or so, I would like to say thank you. The e-mails here and at MySpace have been great, but I ask that you click on that option up above on the right column and join the blog as a follower.

I would also like to thank DJ Chauncey D, Gonzo, The Fabulous Entourage, and Thursday for answering a few questions for me. It is much appreciated.