Google+ Q Dot: Hip Hop isn't dead, but the business is dying: Part 1 - Hip Hop and The Radio

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Hip Hop isn't dead, but the business is dying: Part 1 - Hip Hop and The Radio

I know you hate the radio. I do too.

The same 10 damn songs over and over again all day blah blah blah. One day you’re just gonna get Sirius Satellite or get a Pandora account and listen to that because the radio sucks. We’ve all said it but if you’re the average American, you don’t mean it and as it pertains to the popularity and sales of music, you cannot discount radio. Yes, I’m a huge advocate for social media and it’s impact on the way artists attract new fans. I have a Master’s Degree in Internet Marketing, my latest EP charted on iTunes and I’ve had my best tour run to date this year in large part due to social media. It’s a huge platform for all artists, but it still isn’t the biggest indicator, predictor or have the impact on music sales that terrestrial radio does. If you have a song spinning 100+ times a week on commercial radio across the country, chances are you’re going to be on Billboard and the future looks immensely bright for you.


As the old saying goes “Radio Sells Records.” 

According to a recent study by Statista, Country Radio accounts for 2,014 of The US’s 10,867 commercial stations, the largest number of any genre and format. In fact Country nearly doubles up it’s closest competitor, the News/Talk format, at 1,497 stations.

But what about Hip Hop? Therein lies the first issue with Hip Hop radio.

Before we get to the number of Hip Hop stations let’s point out that there is no such thing as Hip Hop radio on the AM/FM dial. What there is though, is Urban and it’s variants: Urban Adult Contemporary, Rhythmic Adult Contemporary and well, that’s about it. But what the fuck is “Urban” anyway? I’ve never heard anyone say when asked what style of music they make to reply with “yea I make urban music”. Sure I’ve heard some idiots say ‘I make more mainstream stuff” – even though they’re actually NOT mainstream but actually virtually unknown but this “urban” thing is what? Urban today is some weird mashup of R&B and Rap music where Drake, Chris Brown, Flo-Rida and whatever flavor of the week worldstar darling artist from Atlanta lives and should someone like say a Kendrick Lamar release an album so huge they can’t ignore it, there’s room for them there too. Did I mention that there are only 176 of those stations combined in the US? 176!

So what does that mean for the Hip Hop artist or Hip Hop label? Well it means there’s no commercial platform on the most influential medium of music sales for your artists because there aren’t Hip Hop radio stations. And where they DO play music similar to or stemming from Hip Hop, you’ll have to compete with those bonafide “Urban” acts like Drake and other bonafide Hip Hop megastars like Jay-Z, Eminem and Kanye West for a slot…on 176 stations.

Put that in comparison with Country where the new Country band Billy Joe Awesome and The Shitkickin’ Country Boys (not a real group) have over 2000 -COUNT THEM 2000- stations to try and gain traction on to build a story at radio and introduce their music to audiences everywhere. If the top 176 Country stations in the US pass on Billy Joe Awesome and The Shitkickin Country Boys’ new single guess what – he has 1,824 more stations he can plug away at.

As far as Hip Hop goes, on the radio it’s slowly becoming smooth jazz, the once popular format that radio programmers bolted from in the last few years citing low revenue numbers. Smooth Jazz’s problem wasn’t the number of listeners it attracted it was the market it attracted which was as random as it was wide and subsequently can’t be monetized because it’s so broad of a market. Furthermore, who could get a beat on what smooth jazz really is or was? It’s not traditional jazz and it’s not R&B although elements of both are present, the same way Urban isn’t really 100% Hip Hop nor is it 100% R&B nor is it 100% true Pop music. Counter in the fact that Hip Hop used to be the dominant genre on the radio in the late 90s and now it’s been quietly slipping away to new formats…even the newest trend “classic hip hop” which plays all the joints from well, the 90s and early 2000s and you have a very telling tale that Hip Hop isn’t dead but the business is dying.

How does this get remedied? Time and patience and a plan to make Hip Hop viable on radio again but in the meantime? Embracing new media like internet radio is going to have to do and because of that, lowering our expectations on how Hip Hop’s burgeoning stars operate and succeed. It won’t look like it used to and it’s already that way if you look close enough. Also because of this, artists will have to be prepared to know that playing the law of averages means maybe a 100,000 copy selling album is the ceiling.

Next: Hip Hop isn’t dead, but the business is dying: Part 2 - Hip Hop and Concerts