Music industry troubles caused by radio?

Apparently the music business is in trouble. For the first time since the Beatles, sales are diminishing. Some people think it's because of internet downloading and perhaps that is part of the problem but I think it's more because there's not much new worth listening to. The thing is, I'm sure there are amazing musicians out there who we're just not hearing. They probably fall outside of the narrow range of music that most radio stations choose to play.

I can remember discovering FM in the '70s. It was amazing. Low key, huge variety, minimal commercial content, and whole album sides sometimes. In the '80s, I enjoyed a paricularly cool modern rock station where once again, variety ruled. Then along came the '90s. The bean counters took over and issued an edict that the same 40 songs should be played over and over ad nauseum. Pick a genre and you can almost predict the song that will be played based on the time of day. With less variety, there are fewer opportunities to introduce new artists and a bland, homogenized form of radio pap results.

Maybe I'm just becoming an old fart but I can't think of many bands worth mentioning that actually came on the scene in the '90s. The artists that I find are still worth listening to emerged in the '60s, '70s and '80s and continue to record today.

There might be reason for hope. If XM can offer a more diverse pallate of music, maybe some of the fun of radio could return.
I think you're right on target with regard to where the music industry problems come from. It doesn't help that Congress passed the telecommunications act a few years ago that allowed ownership of more than six stations. That meant station were worth a lot more money and large companies could come in and consolidate -- like Clear Channel and others. I know a guy who owned an FM rock station that was valued at $6 million during his divorce a year before the act was passed. Less than a year after the act, he sold if for $60 million. More cost means less risk and the need for greater mass appeal, which doesn't comport with a more diverse and segmented market.
As for new artists, there are some terrific ones, only because of radio, they're hard to find. I absolutely love Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Alejandro Escovedo, Wilco and a bunch more, but haven't found them through radio.
There are a number of radio stations that are available online and do play music out of the limited range of most stations. Try this public radio show from L.A.:
I just heard about it on NPR last Saturday, haven't had a chance to listen yet, but sounds promising.
on the FM radio there is more than 99% pop and in NY is 70% hip-hop.
i prefere to listen something on vinyl or cd that is not heard on the radio.
If you want to pay the $10/month for XM radio...

I do not know if the XM business plan is a good one. People have been getting free radio for nearly a century, and paying for it is much like swallowing a bitter pill.

However, people do pay more for cable and satelite TV...

As with most posts here all of you bring up great points but in the end the blame has got to come down to the record industry itself. There may be other things that affect their sales but inevitably it comes down to to their lack of response to these conditions.
Very stupid recording industry executives are quick to blame the internet for declining sales. If the Internet provides exposure to a product and sales decline is it the Internet's fault or does it have everything to do with an inferior product? Is a free download nothing more than a free sample? If you hear a great song or album aren't you very likely to seek out- and pay to see or buy other releases - from this artist? I know I do.
But if you plan much more short-sided where you shove a "hit" song by the next "great" new artist down the public's throat via airplay along with the 450,000 airing of "Sympathy for the Devil", and then try to sell their album with 45 minutes of noise, people get leary. Bottom line - people will buy, and more importantly come back and buy again, a good product. Sorry but I can ramble on about this forever.

Here in NC we have the best station in the world. We are so lucky, it's WNCW 88.7 or it's a college radio station that plays real music. They do broadcast via I-net. So give them a try. Tell me what you think. I listen to them all the time via a Magnum Dynalab 102.
Hockey, you are so right! The industry is looking for a scapegoat rather than evaluating the real issue -- their unwillingness to take risks and target any but the broad audiences. The success of 70's FM radio was based on a wide variety stations targeting different audiences with a broader mix of music. What the hell happened??? Now, except for the college stations and some public radio stations, it's formula, formula, formula with less than a dozen formats -- and each of those formats being repeated endlessly on other stations and across the country. Radio is no longer much fun! Radio no longer makes me go out and buy CD's because the only songs being played will become overplayed and tiresome soon enough! I bought my first Osibisa album long ago based on hearing African rock on the radio. Anybody hear that lately? Or even modern jazz? Anything so new that it shook you?

Sorry for the rant. IMO, music industry execs are pursuing a short term profit maximization strategy that will lead to long term erosion (sort of a local optima, temporally). Where's the vision? Maybe it is satellite as Tok suggests. Tok, are they playing anything new? Is there variety? If so, maybe that's the answer.
As mentioned above, some of the music industry's problems are a result of consolidation in radio broadcasting. But a lot of the blame should be dumped right back on the "suits" that run the five majot record labels.
When you start treating your customers like criminals, with various copy protection schemes that serve noone but the record company; fail to bring to market acts people really want to hear; try to screw your own artists out of millions of dollars in royalties; have a product that is grossly over-priced in relation to actual costs; and make marginal efforts to promote your new acts - you can pretty easily understand why the major record companies are in trouble. And I haven't even talked about the so-called new audio formats that are launching at a snail's pace.
Yes - the stations owned by Clear Channel and Infinity really leave a lot to be desired. Not only do they all seem to play the same "Top 40" and "Light Rock" drivel, but they compress almost everything they broadcast. And if you find the music less than pleasing, you can add insult to injury with the 20+ minutes of ads they run each hour. About the only stations still broadcasting un-compressed music these days are college stations, PBS and public owned stations, and a ever-smaller group of independent holdouts from the 90s. (Most in small markets - I might add.)
Given all the negatives in the radio market, it's pretty clear that radio is also helping with the music industry's demise.
Check out - it's the local (Seattle) college station, and it's available online with various kinds of hi-rez streaming. If you want to hear non-commercial pop/rock (as well as a great African music show - Best Ambience), it's worth looking at. They even have older shows available as 'archives' that you can listen to. For rock/pop, there isn't a single station worth listening to in the entire area. If you want to hear new and interesting music, you defintely won't find it on commercial radio! There's tons of interesting music being produced these days, thanks to low-cost digital technology.
I think there are some very good points made above to which I would add the following.
1.PIRACY-Do not underestimate (here in the UK anyway)how much damage this does-ripped CD's of an artists entire career can be bought for £15 here in the UK,anybody in any job or on the street can get access to a new album for £2 with packaging that looks not too dissimilar to the original.
This is more down to new technology rather than the net.
2.MUSIC/RADIO whatever is too specific these days,you never really hear anything out of place so people just stick to what they know-which is part of the intial posters point.
3.ORIGINALITY-arguably popular music has reached a point where it may well be close to impossible to be truly groundbreaking-there are a lot of great new bands about but their refrence points are too well known.
There could be an argument too,weirdly that there is too much music available nowadays-
Also I think we lived through a golden age,the period into the 70's saw music developing and expanding it was a seperate entity.
Nowadays music has become part of movies,advertising,socialising etc.etc. it's been absorbed into the culture.
I'm not convinced it can be what it was.
4. OLDER MUSIC FANS -people of my generation and in the range thereabouts move on in their life-they really don't have time or inclination to search out new music and also because of much of what I've written above they tend to stick to established greats or actually mellow out.
My taste has broadened as I've got older into classical and jazz but also electronica and some avant garde stuff and sure I dismiss a lot of the new bands but I do buy a lot of new stuff too.
The evidence is here on this site-I read a lot about Lucinda Williams et al (whom I quite like)but not too much about The Strokes.
Ok we see the odd White Stripes/Wilco reference but how many Audiogoners read the music monthlies and search out truly new music-not many I would guess.
This is nothing new but my point below is I think...
5.YOUNGER GENERATIONS-to me this is key,we are seeing the first fall out of the post-rock generation,the younger generation is no longer buying music the way we did,they are also listening to a different types of music-rap,hip-hop,nu-metal.
Clearly these are the genres which are not in trouble.
They are approaching music in a completely different way,kids are using the net and new technology and there are not taking the traditional route that we did.
They may well buy a Korn CD but maybe with so many other alternative ways to access music these days I would doubt they are going to buy the amount of records their fathers and mothers did.
Truly the world has changed,business wise and marketing wise,the record companies are in a mess because they don't know what they are doing.
A lot of it is their fault but it's people who are causing the slump.
I think radio is one aspect but I would argue it's a pretty complex issue.
I second Philefreaks's WNCW recomendation, Jlambrick. You will hear every artist you mentioned plus many more. This small station on a community college campus in Spindale, NC has become so popular in the region around Western NC, Upstate SC (where I live) and Eastern TN that they have had to erect additional transmitters in these regions to bring their music to a wider listening audience.
Go on-line and take a listen... I think you will be happy that you did.

I gave a listen to WCNW and KCRW and liked them both a lot. We have a similar station here in Salt Lake (KRCL Community Radio) and I spend a fair amount of time listening to it. It's very much a labor of love in that they have volunteers producing the programs. They cover everything from Blue Grass to Vietnamese Folk to New Age to Thrash Metal. I've found much of the newer music that I listen to there but unfortunately it's just one station to cover everything. Even folks with an extremely diverse taste in music will only sporadically find programs they can enjoy. I wish we had about 10 of those stations.

BTW I agree that the music industry itself is to blame for many of it's own problems. I especially like Ozfly's comment about industry execs creating a temporary local optima. I think that the mega-greed in many industries is causing a similar effect. When it comes to music which many of us consider almost sacred, I wish they'd just find another industry to rape and pillage.
I agree with most of the above. A few other things to consider...

The labels and radio created an atmosphere that feeds on the one-hit wonder phenomenon to a huge extent. Their acts are almost all singles acts, not album acts. Why should any customer be expected to buy an entire album to get that one single? Yet, that's exactly what they expect to happen. They expect their audience (mostly teens and adolescents with limited budgets) to pay $17-$19 for the whole album, or pay a premium for the single CD version. Naturally, that same computer savvy group is going to download the same song for free if they can. This is where the labels really goof. They complain about the "theft", and make futile legal efforts to stop it, when they should be spending time and effort to find a way to compete with it and regain that same market. They offer no alternatives to people who download music. Why don't the labels have websites where it would be possible to download the latest single for fifty cents?? There would be absolutely no packaging or distribution costs, and the technology is already available. In my opinion, they don't have a valid complaint until they offer a reasonable alternative.

The music-buying public seems to be more fractured than ever before. The rich white guys that run the record labels and radio stations don't really know how to handle it yet. They're still trying to maintain some sort of "Top 40" mentality, and I don't think we're ever going to see that format become popular again. They've tried to divide the market into Latino, Urban, Alternative, Country, and chick music (or Triple AAA, adult, or whatever you want to call it). As Ben mentioned, there are many more untapped markets out there that the labels don't understand or acknowledge. Most of the people I know buy CDs released by independent labels or the artists themselves...artists who have very little (if any) radio support, and very little (if any) advertising budget. I *think* that group is somewhat large and a choice advertising demographic, yet it goes ignored by the large corporations. I assume they ignore it because they want to put their time and effort into the creation of huge superstars that sell millions of albums. That superstar phenomenon is slowly dying as the market splits into smaller and smaller groups. I think that explains the recent outbreak of Latino superstars. It's one of the few remaining large markets that the new global labels can successfully target.

One other aspect to consider...companies like Sony (who also happen to be one of the largest record labels, owning Sony, CBS, Columbia, Epic, etc) complain about the piracy, while their electronics division cranks out the portable MP3 players and feeds off of it.

I blame all of their problems on poor management. The labels have been extremely lucky for the past three decades. They had a huge boom due to the baby boomer/rock & roll bubble and the various new technologies and formats, but now that boom has levelled off. It's not really all that different from the dot com just lasted longer. It's time for them to learn how to manage their companies and sell their products in today's market. Of course, they could always adopt a new format, spend two more decades re-selling their back catalogs, and not have to worry about their ignorance. Hmmmm...which will they choose?? :-)
Yeah, this is a complex issue and one that I cannot address outside of the U.S. In the U.S. we have 3 major corporations that own the majority of the stations. Payola is real, in that the stations are paid by the record companies to promote certain artists. Because of this unholy alliance we hear the same junk no matter where we turn the dial. Listenership of music radio is declining at an alarming rate since people are so bored with the music they are turning the dial to talk radio and the corporations are responding by adding more talk radio stations each day. Local advertising rates are based on listenership and is declining since so many are tuning out. Each market area can only support so many talk radio stations. Clear Channel is rethinking it's payola relationship with the manufacturers. This was in our local McPaper yesterday. advertising profits are down for the stations. The stations claim the revenue from payola isn't making up the difference. These are the first signs of a business plan that is doomed for failure. Look for the music giants to either get into the radio business or watch as it crumbles from the bulk of its' own weight.

The younger generation of which others here have spoke do indeed do things much differently than we older folks have done in the past. While I believe that mp3 access to music helps to sell more manufacturer software in my age group, the same cannot be said about the younger generation. When I was in college in the late 60's and early 70's our hippie FM station played a complete "new" album every Tuesday night without commercial interuption. I would record it on reel to reel and listen to it a couple of times. If I liked it I would buy it. If not, I would record over that on the next Tuesday evening. My mindset hasn't changed through the years and I believe it is a harmless practice when done in this fashion. The younger generations have been trained since the advent of the CD to accept inferior sound reproduction. Now, you CDP lovers out there, don't get angry at me. Early on, everyone that could hear agreed that CD sound was horrible but never-the-less, vinyl disappeared from the shelves and was replaced by this rotten medium. The music the younger generation listens to has changed in most cases where high quality playback is a detriment to the desired sound. This stuff was/is meant to be played in one of those obnoxious cars that irritate you as they drive by your home. Simply put, the younger generation doesn't know what good playback is, doesn't care about reproduction quality (being instead attracted to the sleazy message) and is comfortable stealing an inferior copy and living with it. The music industry through it's promotion of artists that represent nothing more than ex-convicts and their value system is reaping what it has sown. If you lie down with dogs you will get up with fleas.

The people that are really wounding the recording companies are those that download huge amounts of music and that's it. They have a free library at a quality level that is satisfactory to them. They are theives beyond music. They buy their college level class assignments online and have no problem with that. They come mainly from single parent households. Fathers are an obstacle to all the fun. They have been trained to embrace moral relativism. The end justifies the means. Society is reaping what it has sown. It's now affecting audiophiles to the extent that quality software is difficult to find for playback on a revealing system that is CD based. This is not a comdemnation of CD source. If you have read any of my posts you will note that, while I may be vinyl based because of my age, I don't have a problem with CD players and own one and don't bitch about how "bad" it is. To me it's all about the music.

If you think I'm up on a soapbox attacking you personally, you have got it wrong, unless you are part of this overall problem also. I realize I'm painting with a broad brush and that there are tons of great young people with very high morals. I applaud them. Given their environment they are truely gems in todays society. However, if you have sat on the sidelines and played your fiddle (kept your mouth shut) while you watched Rome burn then don't attack me for my views. You have aided and abetted the enemy. Flames are welcome because, believe me, I will wear them like a badge.

I take comfort in my analog front end, having recently acquired hundreds of "as new" albums. Add that to the thousands of LP's I already have and color me simply sitting on the sidelines and laughing at all the moaning and groaning from the enablers in the audience. To the good folks in these forums that are CD based I strongly suggest investing in an analog front end, buying all the software you can get your hands on, enjoy what you have and let the scum have the rest.

Oh yeah, if you sense that I'm a little fired up you are correct. My little household, that has been nurtured with a solid moral compass, has been wrecked by the adult moral relativists enabling their morally void offspring (and perverted sense of seff-rightousness) this past weekend. The problems the radio/music industry has brought upon themselves is a reflection of the larger issues in society. Connect the dots if you dare.

This post is directed to U.S. residents. Canadians that sit comfortably on our northern border, taking advantage of our military strength, in the knowledge that with your puny little 50,000 member military you will never be attacked because of the U.S. need not comment. Is it any wonder that you can afford more social services without needing to invest in a real military? You sit silently as your fellow Canadians verbally attack this great nation yet enjoy the benefits of being our neighbor. Where is the Canadian outcry against the Canadian government being a funnel through which so many unsavory characters enter my country? My concern is about the United States. Should the moral relativists in my country that I am speaking about ever gain the majority of the power here, you will then reap what you are helping to sew. If they are content to lie, cheat and steal their fellow countrymen, make no mistake that, with all the power this nation posesses, they will have no compunction doing as they wish with our northern neighbors.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em guys.
Stereophile said it best: the last great rock album was
Nirvana's Nevermind. As far as radio is concerned, the
variety ended the day Led Zep's Stairway to Heaven came
out, 1971 or 1972. For me, the day WFLN, 95.7 in Philly
went from classical to shit music is the day radio music ended in Philly. Screw NPR, they went from a mix of music and talk to just talk: much cheaper. I think the bands that are out there that are rock tinged are trying hard to be good rockers, I like Godsmack and the Hives; good music but just not great music. The classical/ jazz markets are putting out great music on CDs/Records but their sales are so miniscule that they really do not count for much. Every generation thinks its was the last great musical generation;
its nothing new. Music has been hard-wired in our brains
since Man hit two sticks together. Music will be with us
as long as Man is around. The music industry itself has
changed in the past and will do so in the future, but how is unclear. End of the aphorisms.

I was reading your post and felt it was well done, certainly nothing that could be considered anything less than someone voicing an informed opinion and willing to air his well thought out views. Debate is healthy and lets people consider the subject at hand from a different viewpoint.

The last paragraph is rude and uncalled for. Since you seem to struggle with civility I would suggest when posting on AudioGon you keep anything that is not related to audio or music to yourself.

Regards, Jeff (one of your unwelcome Canadian neighbors)
Jeff: So who will win the Memorial Cup, the Ottawa 67s or the Sudbury Wolves, maybe the Brandon Wheat Kings.......
The one thing that is great about this country is freedom of speech. Who cares what Lugnut says; in fact who cares about what anybody says; does not matter one iota!!
Lugnut - As to your point about the rise in popularity of CD's in the 80's, I believe that your assertion that they sounded worse than LP's is somewhat incorrect. For 90% of the music listeners, the CD player represented an enormous advance in audio quality over the inexpensive, typical turntable systems of the day. The convenience of the format and the obvious improvement of audio quality made their success a no brainier in the marketplace. From an audiophile perspective, the move was a giant step backwards, but then as now, we make up such a small percentage of the consumer market that our needs aren't likely to be addressed by the majority of manufacturers.

As for the rest of your post, the comments you made at the end are appalling, and completely uncalled for. I'm sure that whatever problems you might be personally experiencing are not being created by our neighbors to the north, and that neither the Canadians nor anyone else are responsible for your apparent unhappiness. I agree with Jeffloistarca - please try to keep your posts to something related to audio. In that context, they're worth reading and responding to.
I find questions like this difficult to assess because each of us have our own experience as our most prevalent reference point, and yet we change over time as well. For me, radio has made a series of missteps that has made it totally irrelevant - to me, anyway. There is absolutely no reason to listen to it, and many reasons to not listen to it - the music selection is terrible, there are commercials, you have to listen to an announcer, etc. It's so easy to have your choice of commercial-free music of your choice and variety anywhere you happen to be going, there's no reason to listen to radio anymore.

I agree that the incredible quantity and diversity of music coupled with a lack of adaptation by the people marketing music have led to the "decline". The music industry is responding about as slowly and ineptly as baseball is responding to they're problems - so slowly, you can barely perceive it. While I don't support piracy, and in fact am an incredibly good customer of the music industry, it's pretty obvious why piracy occurs and that it will continue to occur until the industry starts to make fundamental changes instead of the little tactical ones they're currently taking.