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Music and the Media, Part 1: Everything killed the radio star

The past few years, one word has come up constantly in conversation about today’s pop music:

Balkanization.

Be it another teeny-indie scene given the tag “glo-fi,” or another subset of Brooklyn bands revisiting the aural atmosphere of ’60s garage pop, the message remains loud and clear: As micro-scenes develop within pockets of our society, our common culture becomes more fractured, our tastes more disparate, and the chances of a collective pop music icon coming to fruition becomes less and less likely.

This has been apparent for some time, long before music critic Christopher R. Weingarten spoke about how many of his “indie” friends were so involved in their scene that they were unaware of Lady Gaga.

Yet, I was never so struck by the veracity of this concept as I was reading some of the comments on Michele Catalano’s recent post, “Who will be this generation’s Led Zeppelin?” The fundamental indifference some readers expressed of music today left me more bemused than anything. There’s such an abundance of new, great music being produced today, it’s simply shocking to read something like this:

But modern rock is so awful, I think since it’s gone “beyond corporate” than in the 60’s & 70’s. It’s all down to marketing & hype. Could an “ugly” band (say Yes or the Rolling Stones) even “make it” in today’s hyper-aerobicized dance-contest pop/rock music culture?

Or, even worse, this:

Much of the ethos of Rap is “Get rich become a massive conspicuous consumer”. In short, Become The Man (and shoot anybody who then tries to stick it to you).

One could chalk all this up to “old folks set in their ways,” but that generalization doesn’t capture those folks as individuals, nor does it provide any insight into why people feel that way. For one to dismiss ALL modern rock as “awful” or have a misinformed, ignorant and near-racist concept of hip-hop, there’s got to be a viable explanation.

So how did we get here? Well, first off, ask where yourself this: Where do I get information about music? Through media in all of its forms.

I’ll be taking some time observing how and what kinds of music is dispersed to the public through various types of media. First up is radio.

Radio is usually last on the list of important media people are willing to discuss. These days the Internet takes precedence, but even in conversation’s involving the supposed death of print, nobody thinks to mention radio. Remember that medium that was so integral to Americans in the early half of the 20th Century and then took a nosedive in popularity once the TV rolled around? Doesn’t that sound oddly familiar to the relationship between newspapers (and, for that matter, any other news-based medium) and the Internet?

Yet, despite the competition, radio is still around. And thriving.

A 2009 Nielsen study showed that 90 percent of Americans 18-years-old and older are exposed to “audio content” every day, with 50 percent of that number listening to the radio.

Part of this can be drawn to how readily equipped we as a society are to listen to the radio. It’s in the car, it’s (usually) a function on your alarm clock, it’s readily available in a cheap portable version. So, when you’re stuck in rush hour traffic, chances are you’re flipping around your radio dial, trying to find something to listen to. Unlike most other mediums, radio truly does have a “captive” audience when it comes to people driving. You can always turn off your TV or computer and walk away if nothing is on: If you’re stuck in a car and want a distraction from the slow pace of traffic, the radio is right there.

And there’s information to back it up: 84 percent of drivers listen to the radio, and 86.5 percent of working stiffs commute to work in a car (or another type of vehicle.) Sure, there are cassette adapters for your iPod, as well as CD and cassette players available in cars, but there’s a certain immediacy that comes with radio.

Now, where is all this information on the great success of radio available? On the various Clear Channel-affiliated websites.

Clear Channel is the biggest name in radio. They’ve got more than 1,000 radio stations linked to their brand across the country, and they are, far and away, the most successful radio conglomerate in the nation.

Aside from merely monopolizing the radio-waves, Clear Channel’s dominance in the marketplace has created an unsettling effect on the way people perceive music today. As in, it stinks.

Somehow, someway, trashy, not terribly well-concieved music has found a place in the playlists of Clear Channel. How that happened is a discussion for another time. What’s more unsettling is just how pervasive this era of radio-play exists across the country.

To test my hypothesis, I decided to look at the playlists for 10 random rock stations operating under the Clear Channel banner. For this task, I searched for “rock” on Clear Channel’s station search, and randomly selected stations on the list that were either “modern,” “alternative” or plain old rock. I did not want “classic rock” stations, as I specifically wanted to ascertain a reason as to why some folks think all music today pales in comparison to the music of a bygone era. With so many people listening to radio (a large number of those individuals being middle aged to boot), clearly some interpretation of “music today” is derived from what is played on the radio. (I’ve included the playlists at the bottom of this post.)

Well, the results are pitiful to say the least. Beyond the boundaries of taste, there is hardly anything in terms of variety – both among the different stations and within many playlists – to make one think that music today is in a good place.

There’s a pretty clear monopolization by some bands within the top 20 songs listed on the playlists for the 10 Clear Channel rock stations. Alice in Chains and Three Days Grace both held 11 spots in the cumulative total, or roughly 5.5 percent of the total cumulative playlists each. Chevelle, Shinedown, Stone Temple Pilots, Godsmack, Rise Against, Breaking Benjamin, Mudvayne, Slipknot and Sick Puppies also take a massive chunk out of the total playlist, which can be viewed on the chart below:

Many of the songs by these oft-repeated bands were the same. Even those acts that were featured on twice on all the playlists usually happened to feature the same song. For example, Phoenix’s “1901″ was featured on the playlist for DC101 in the D.C. Metro area and WEND 1065 in Charlotte, North Carolina. While that song came from an album released a year ago, curiously Nine Inch Nail’s “The Hand That Feeds,” a 2005-era tune that’s something of a lesser song in the NIN discography, was listed on the playlist for both DC101 and San Diego, California’s KIOZ 105.3.

Aside from those troubling numbers, there’s also an issue of bands doubling up on these 20-song playlists. There were 13 bands that were featured twice on a variety of radio station playlists. Again, Three Days Grace and Alice in Chains made the top cut, each getting doubled on three different playlists. Individually, DC101 and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s WDVE 102.5 draw the biggest red flags for doubling-up on bands: WDVE featured two songs by The Clarks, Jimi Hendrix and ZzTop, while DC101 featured two songs by Cage The Elephant, Three Days Grace and Muse.

It’s shameful to think about. Such repetition fosters a sense that music today is stale. The fact that many of these playlists are interchangeable from one state to the next is absolutely confounding. With the exception of two of the 10 stations, the rest of the radio stations playlists featured near-replicas of the other stations’ playlists, right down to their songs of choice. These are stations from across the country, and instead of, say, featuring local artists or digging into one of the millions of millions of bands creating new music out there right now, rock radio listeners are subject to the same songs.

Beyond that, the content of the songs, the very thing that’s got people saying “music today stinks,” is, well, something unto itself. Many of the Breaking Benjamins and Sick Puppies that dominate these playlists sound like cheap, 5th generation Nirvana wannabes, right down to the same powerful guitar licks and loud-quiet-loud dynamics. For the average listener who may be just flipping through stations not entirely paying attention, it may literally sound like the same song being played over and over again. Sure, there’s your average Phoenix tossed in there, but when a majority of the airtime is dedicated to mindless filler, even the gems can be drowned out.

These kinds of playlists hardly reflect the kind of music that is being produced today. That’s not just confined to the “artists playing loft shows” scenario: Think of all the bands on major labels constantly producing music and trying to get heard. Think of all the little bands that would be happy signing a record deal – any record deal – just to be able to make music their calling. They’re getting drowned out, they’re not being heard, and throughout it all they’re being told the music of today is terrible. It’s these kinds of scenarios that can kill of perfectly good bands, force perfectly open music listeners to turn off their radio and bring our culture to a grinding halt.

Fortunately, it’s just one of the many ways music is broadcast to the public. Thank goodness Clear Channel doesn’t have so much control outside of the AM and FM dials.

The Edge 100.3 (Little Rock):

1.     Alice In Chains – “Your Decision”

2.     Godsmack – Cryin’ Like A Bitch!!”

3.     Five Finger Death Punch – “Walk Away”

4.     Rise Against – “Savior”

5.     Breaking Benjamin – “Give Me A Sign”

6.     Drowning Pool – “Feel Like I Do”

7.     Mudvayne – “Scream With Me”

8.     Three Days Grace – “The Good Life”

9.     Slipknot – “Snuff”

10.  Chevelle – “Letter From A Thief”

11.  Sevendust – “Unraveling”

12.  Shaman’s Harvest – “Dragonfly”

13.  Three Days Grace – “Break”

14.  Shinedown – “Sound Of Madness”

15.  Sick Puppies – “You’re Going Down”

16.  Breaking Benjamin – “I Will Not Bow”

17.  Sick Puppies – “Odd One”

18.  Skillet – “Monster”

19.  Stone Temple Pilots – “Between The Lines”

20.  Chevelle – “Jars”

WXTB 98 (Tampa, FL):

1.     Sick Puppies – “You’re Going Down”

2.     Breaking Benjamin – “I Will Not Bow”

3.     Three Days Grace – “Break”

4.     Alice In Chains – “Check My Brain”

5.     Rise Against – “Savior”

6.     Slipknot – “Snuff”

7.     Theory Of A Deadman – Bad Girlfriend”

8.     Chevelle – “Jars”

9.     Alice In Chains – “Your Decision”

10.  Shinedown – “Sound of Madness”

11.  Mudvayne – “Scream With Me”

12.  Mudvayne – “Do What You Do”

13.  Shinedown – “If You Only Knew”

14.  Disturbed – “Indestructible”

15.  Seether – “Breakdown”

16.  Rise Against – “Re-education”

17.  Hollywood Undead – “Undead”

18.  Apocalyptica/Adam Gontier – “I Don’t Care”

19.  Disturbed – “The Night”

20.  Godsmack – “Cryin’ Like A Bitch”

WEND 1065 (Charlotte, NC):

1.     Breaking Benjamin – “Give Me A Sign”

2.     Three Days Grace – “Break”

3.     Rise Against – “Savior”

4.     Flyleaf – “Again”

5.     Alice In Chains – “Your Decision”

6.     Weezer – “I Want You To”

7.     Phoenix – “1901”

8.     Three Days Grace – “The Good Life”

9.     Chevelle – “Letter From A Thief”

10.  Crash Kings – “Mountain Man”

11.  Muse – “Uprising”

12.  Slipknot – “Snuff”

13.  Cavo – “Crash”

14.  30 Seconds To Mars – “Kings and Queens”

15.  Muse – “Resistance”

16.  Stone Temple Pilots – “Between The Lines”

17.  Cage The Elephant – “Back Against The Wall”

18.  Cage The Elephant – “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked”

19.  Sick Puppies – “You’re Going Down”

20.  Dirty Heads/Rome – “Lay Me Down”

KZRR 94 (Albuquerque, NM):

1.     Godsmack – “Cryin’ Like A Bitch!!”

2.     Slash/Andrew Stockdale – “By The Sword”

3.     Chickenfoot – “Sexy Little Thing”

4.     Creed – “Overcome”

5.     Shinedown – “Sound of Madness”

6.     Scorpions – “Raised On Rock”

7.     Them Crooked Vultures – “New Fang”

8.     Halestorm – “I Get Off”

9.     Iron Maiden – “Run To The Hills”

10.  Buckcherry – “Talk To Me”

11.  Guns N’ Roses – “Paradise City”

12.  Stevie Ray Vaughn – “Crossfire”

13.  Dio – “Rainbow In The Dark”

14.  Avenged Sevenfold – “Scream”

15.  All That Remains – “Forever In Your Hands”

16.  The Cult – “Fire Woman”

17.  Pink Floyd – “Comfortably Numb”

18.  Aerosmith – “Sweet Emotion”

19.  Led Zeppelin – “Whole Lotta Love”

20.  Jimi Hendrix Experience – “All Along The Watchtower”

WDVE 102.5 (Pittsburgh, PA):

1.     Shinedown – “If You Only Knew”

2.     Stone Temple Pilots – “Between The Lines”

3.     Slash/Andrew Stockdale – “By The Sword”

4.     Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Skynyrd Nation”

5.     Alice In Chains – “Your Decision”

6.     Scorpions – “Rock You Like A Hurricane”

7.     The Clarks – “Inside”

8.     Divide The Day – “Let It Roll”

9.     The Clarks – “True Believer”

10.  Rainbow – “Man On The Silver Mountain”

11.  Jimi Hendrix – “Bleeding Heart”

12.  Jimi Hendrix – “Valleys of Neptune”

13.  Zz Top – “Sharp Dressed Man”

14.  Megadeth – “The Right To Go Insane”

15.  Zz Top – “Got Me Under Pressure”

16.  Stevie Ray Vaughn – “Cold Shot”

17.  Alice In Chains – “Check My Brain”

18.  Chickenfoot – “Sexy Little Thing”

19.  Billy Squier – “Lonely Is The Night”

20.  Jet – “Cold Hard Bitch”

KEGL 91.7 (Dallas/Fort Worth, TX):

1. Godsmack – “Whiskey Hangover”

2. Three Days Grace – “Break”

3. Shinedown – “Sound Of Madness”

4. Alice In Chains – “Check My Brain”

5. Chevelle – “Jars”

6. Puddle Of Mudd – “Psycho”

7. Stone Temple Pilots – “Between The Lines”

8. Breaking Benjamin – “I Will Not Bow”

9. Shinedown – “Second Chance”

10. Drowning Pool – “Feel Like I Do”

11. Saving Abel – “Addicted”

12. Theory Of A Deadman – “Bad Girlfriend”

13. Alice In Chains – “Your Decision”

14. Slipknot – “Snuff”

15. Mudvayne – “Do What You Do”

16. Disturbed – “Indestructible”

17. Avenged Sevenfold – “Afterlife”

18. Metallica – “Cyanide”

19. Cult – “Fire Woman”

20. Whitesnake – “Still Of The Night”

KFNK 104.9 (Seattle/Tacoma, WA):

1. Chevelle – “Letter From A Thief”

2. Three Days Grace – “The Good Life”

3. Alice In Chains – “Your Decision”

4. Godsmack – “Cryin’ Like A Bitch!!”

5. Drowning Pool – “Feel Like I Do”

6. Breaking Benjamin – “Give Me A Sign”

7. Puddle Of Mudd – “Stoned”

8. Stone Temple Pilots – “Between The Lines”

9. Hole – “Skinny Little Bitch”

10. 2 Cents – “Get What”

11. Five Finger Death Punch – “Walk Away”

12. Sick Puppies – “Odd One”

13. Deftones – “Diamond Eyes”

14. Soil – “The Lesser Man”

15. Slipknot – “Snuff”

16. H.i.M. – “Heartkilller”

17. Mudvayne – “Scream With Me”

18. Flyleaf – “Chasm”

19. Coheed & Cambria – “Here We Are Juggernaut”

20. Richy Nix – “In My Head”

WWDC DC101 (DC):

1.     Muse – “Uprising”

2.     Rise Against – “Savior”

3.     Breaking Benjamin – “I Will Not Bow”

4.     Cage The Elephant – “Back Against The Wall”

5.     Three Days Grace – “Break”

6.     Anberlin – “Feel Good Drag”

7.     Weezer – “I Want You To”

8.     Stone Temple Pilots – “Between The Lines”

9.     Crash Kings – “Mountain Man”

10.  Offspring – “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid”

11.  Silversun Pickups – “Panic Switch”

12.  Phoenix – “1901”

13.  Kings of Leon – “Sex On Fire”

14.  Muse – “Reistance”

15.  Chevelle – “Jars”

16.  Cage The Elephant – “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked”

17.  Three Days Grace – “The Good Life”

18.  Seether – “Fake It”

19.  Nine Inch Nails – “The Hand That Feeds”

20.  Foo Fighters – “The Pretender”

KBPI 106.7 (Denver, CO):

1.     Seasons After – “Cry Little Sister”

2.     Godsmack – “Cryin’ Like A Bitch!!”

3.     Alice In Chains – “Your Decision”

4.     Megadeth – “The Right To Go Insane”

5.     Five Finger Death Punch – “No On Gets Left Behind”

6.     Three Days Grace – “The Good Life”

7.     Drowning Pool – “Feel Like I Do”

8.     Rise Against – “Savior”

9.     Mudvayne – “Happy?”

10.  Shinedown – “Sound Of Madness”

11.  Sevendust – “Unravelling”

12.  Thousand Foot Krutch – “Fire It Up”

13.  Slipknot – “Snuff”

14.  Puddle Of Mudd – Stoned”

15.  Stone Temple Pilots – “Between The Lines”

16.  Chevelle – “Letter From A Thief”

17.  Skillet – “Monster”

18.  Slipknot – “Dead Memories”

19.  Sick Puppies – “You’re Going Down”

20.  Disturbed – “The Night”

KIOZ 105.3 (San Diego, CA):

1.     Skillet – “Monster”

2.     Three Days Grace – “Break”

3.     Alice In Chains – “Your Decision”

4.     Muse – “Uprising”

5.     Rise Against – “Savior”

6.     Slipknot – “Snuff”

7.     Mudvayne – “Scream With Me”

8.     Puddle Of Mudd – “Stoned”

9.     Sick Puppies – “Odd One”

10.  Kings Of Leon – “Sex On Fire”

11.  Saving Abel – “Drowning”

12.  Breaking Benjamin – “Give Me A Sign”

13.  Godsmack – “Cryin’ Like A Bitch!!”

14.  Queens Of The Stone Age – “Little Sister”

15.  Chevelle – “Letter From A Thief”

16.  Stone Temple Pilots – “Between The Lines”

17.  Cavo – “Crash”

18.  Nine Inch Nails – “The Hand That Feeds”

19.  Faith No More – “Epic”

20.  Linkin Park – “Given Up”

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24 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Michele Catalano #
    1

    Interesting stuff.

    For the record, I’m not a big fan of classic rock – I was using that music to make a point. Even though I grew up in the era when those bands were popular, my listening habits now run more current. With the exception of a bunch of 80s punk rock, almost everything I listen to came out in the last ten years (which is current in my mind).

    As far as radio goes, people are never going to find new, interesting music to listen to on corporate radio. Thankfully, the internet has made the word-of-mouth method of getting a band’s name out there easy.

    The playlists for these radio stations read like a nightmare out of 1998. Who knew Mudvayne and Slipknot were still making music?

  2. Leor Galil #
    2

    Hey Michele,

    Yes, the point you were making in your post was a good one, I’m not arguing the veracity of you brining up a question (in fact, I would argue for you to continue thinking of such questions!) I was simply shocked at how some readers – ones who appear quite intelligent – felt no problem making blanketed statements about all of music today. Considering you write about music so intelligently, it’s so surprising to find someone writing with such a close-minded view of, say, hip-hop.

    Yeah, I agree on the ‘net being the place for people to find music. But considering the sheer number of people who tune into radio, and the bland across-the-board format that appears to pervade every Clear Channel radio station, the radio format simply reaches a bigger audience than some of the best music blogs do. I only hope that changes!

    Yeah, I too was surprised at how little these playlists differentiated from when I stopped listening to the radio completely back in high school. Switch a “Stained” for a “Skillet” and it’s practically the same. Actually, I’m surprised Mudvayne even has radio play. I remember when they were considered fourth-tier nu-metal. What happened there?

    Thanks for writing in and simply writing here at True/Slant. It’s nice to see other people writing about music here on a consistent basis and being able to get these kinds of conversations going!

  3. andreaitis #
    3

    It’s actually pretty stunning to see those playlists. Do you know what drives the radio playlist these days — what’s the mix between listener demand and music biz politics? And how do those playlists match up against music sales? I’m wondering if those playlists represent what people want, or what the radio stations want people to want.

  4. phillipjbirmingham #
    4

    I wonder how “if you like this, maybe you’ll like *this*” services like Pandora and Last.FM will change this dynamic as they become more popular (assuming they survive.)

    I’d never heard of Giant Drag until “Kevin is Gay” played on the Pandora channel I’d created around Guided By Voices’ “Game of Pricks.” Now it’s the basis for further exploration, for more gentle nudges towards what is new and good out there.

  5. Bob Cook #
    5

    I know I’ve tweaked you over chiding us old farts, but keep it up — that’s what you’re SUPPOSED to do! As for this post, the problem for radio is that since forever it’s focused more on Not Losing listeners than winning them. I did a paper in high school about Lee Abrams’ Superstars format and how it ossified radio — and that was in 1985. (By the way, Lee Abrams is now a high muckety-muck at Tribune Co., notable mostly for his all-caps, incomprehensible emails.)

    While it’s true that a lot of people might still put their ears to radio from time to time, I would bet any measure of engagement would show it way down from 10, 20, 30 years ago. I’m old enough to remember when people passionately defended their favorite radio station, when it was common, especially at concerts, to see people in T-shirts bearing the mark of their favorite station. Now, not so much. My 10-year-old daughter will listen to the radio sometimes, mostly in the car, but for my kids the idea of listening to one station full of songs they probably don’t like and tons of commercials seems daft. Even my 10-year-old who listens is a serial dial-changer.

    Where do my kids get music? YouTube, video games, television, maybe friends. Here is a REAL hit song nowadays. (Warning: serious earworm ahead)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtN1YnoL46Q

  6. thekingofcheap #
    6

    I guess I’m posting slightly off-topic becuase I should respond to the “next Zeppelin” post but…

    There will never be another Zeppelin. There is simply no musical ground to be broken in the way that Zep did it. They turned an entire genre on its head (blues) and created heavy metal in the
    process. Billy Corgan said it best: “Nobody can rock any harder or play any louder.” Sure, there will be great bands with their own sounds, but none can or will ever have the impact of Page, Plant, et al.

    Corporate recording industry is the other part of the problem. Not just that Clear Channel possesses a near monopoly but that record companies own access to that monopoly. Top 40 is bought and paid for by the various RIAA members. Indie artists are left without that captive audience sitting in their cars.

    The crappy part is that even with the Internet it’s tough to find new music unless you want to put work into it. The radio was cool because it brought you new stuff and you had no choice but to give it a listen. Now I have to go to the Hype Machine or my Amazon recommendations and sort through all the artists in hopes of finding one I like. I love what the Internet’s done for breaking down the cost to artists of entering the market, but Pandora is the best service for me as a listener because it’s what radio should be — takes what you like and throws out some risky new suggestions that you might not like.

  7. steveincolorado #
    7

    That play list reminds me why I never listen to the radio. If that is all I ever heard I would regard modern music as awful.

    There are a lot of good bands out there and they’ve had to become smart to survive. Touring is the way to make it when radio won’t play you and great shows used to sell lots & lots of merch keeps them going. I used to go to concerts in the 60′s and 70′s and it was hard to find a t-shirt. Bands in small clubs now have tables full of lots of t-shirt designs, posters, alternate pressings and more.

    I’m an old fart but I generally don’t do nostalgia. Paying big bucks to see someone who hasn’t done anything new in 30 years is silly. I can go to a club for $10 or $15 and have a great time. I’ve seen some as opening acts, heard of some by word of mouth and checked out some by myspace and some by associations with other groups.

    Now you can put me in my place. I’ll list a few shows I’ve seen and liked: Murder By Death, Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Supersuckers, RevCo, Rev. Horton Heat, Dave Alvin & The Guilty Women, Richard Thompson, The Elders.

    Steve

  8. Leor Galil #
    8

    Thanks for the feedback, Bob. No worries on the chiding front either – it’s good to hear everyone’s opinion.

    I see where you’re coming from on the dip in radio’s popularity, which is why I was so surprised at the numbers radio continues to post. That, and their sheer ability to churn out one tired tune after the other (or, I guess, really just two tunes played on repeated.) Still, there are some radio stations out there that have the kind of rabid fandom you’re talking about. WFMU comes to mind, and I think part of that is simply the station’s goals to try and promote and create a community among and with its listenership rather than “play at” their listeners.

    And that duck song… man. It certainly can get stuck in your head!

  9. Leor Galil #
    9

    Excellent question, Andrea. Honestly, I cannot verify why this occurs: I can only give my hypothesis, of which a lot of it must be music biz politics. I’m also sure there is some listener demand, but when you’re given 7 or 8 bands to listen to on repeat, it certainly can get stuck to the back of your skull to the point of where you’d want to hear it.

    On the sales front, there is some advantage there. For example, Three Days Grace’s last album peaked at No. 3 on Billboard. Yet, you have to examine the state of Billboard these days. It’s no longer the power for determining popularity it once was. In the rare case of a Lil Wayne, where an artist somehow manages to sell more than a million physical copies of an album in a week, then it can show some cumulative formation of popularity. But these days, it’s much “easier” (take that word as you will) for bands that tend to appeal to a smaller niche of people (or were once considered to only appeal to a smaller niche of people) to hit a significant number on Billboard. I may not like them, but Vampire Weekend debuted at No. 1 this year: Yet, the numbers they posted for that position pale in comparison to Wayne’s Tha Carter III.

    I’m also interested in if those playlists represent what people want. But, I have got to imagine that even if a listener wants to hear a little Breaking Benjamin, they want more variety out of their radio-diet than a handful of BB reiterations.

  10. Leor Galil #
    10

    Interesting point. I’d imagine these services have provided some support for the furthering of the splintering state of music today: There’s more of a focus on the individual’s taste than trying to create a mass cultural icon. One can become so consumed by digging for bands that reflect their taste they can miss several “pop sensations” in a heartbeat.

  11. Leor Galil #
    11

    Excellent points for the most part. But I have to agree to disagree on the Zep front. While, as Michele wrote, there may never be another band that can achieve the same mass appeal with the splintering of pop music, I cannot disagree more with you about that band. Zep was a great band, but, in my opinion, they are hardly the epitome of rock music. Black Sabbath, not Zep, created heavy metal: Many metal bands may be influenced by Zep, but they read the gospel of Black Sabbath. Rock harder and play louder? I’d go with The Stooges. They knew how to drive chaos and rock simplicity into one streamlined concept, and it continues to sound edgy.

    There’s still plenty of musical ground to be broken. If I didn’t believe that, I would give up on music right now and stop writing about it. The way a band like, say, TV On The Radio can inundate art-noise with pure pop is something to behold, or the way Dan Deacon can fuse complex Southeast Asian-inspired compositions with an ecstatic dance beat at a song’s center is truly sublime. You want loud? Try Future of the Left, Dillinger Escape Plan, Parts & Labor, Liars, No Age, hell, even John Paul Jones’ newest bandmate Josh Homme’s various projects.

    There’s so much fantastic music being made today, I find it to be a sign of defeat to simply say “Zep was the best.” To reiterate the words of Ian MacKaye (and yes, I understand the irony of quoting a musician who hasn’t produced an album since ’06), any band operating today is more important than those that have broken up. They’re making music, they’re evolving, they’re out there performing. And it’s practically a sign of discouragement and apathy to reiterate the cliche of “Zep’s the best.”

    But, that’s just my opinion.

  12. Leor Galil #
    12

    Great points, Steve. Yeah, touring and merch really provide some sustainability for bands trying to make music their living. Last year at Warped Tour, I probably saw more t-shirts than bands (and bands I liked for that matter), but they know what they need to do to survive, which is fine as long as it doesn’t drain them of their original intent for creating the shirts in the first place: To make music.

    Why would I put you in your place about going to see the shows you’ve seen? You’re not telling me that my favorite bands are unworthy because they can’t possibly measure up to some massive height of fame that was established decades ago. You’re simply reiterating your taste without turning your nose down on others. The important thing is you remember who’s opinion and taste matters: Yours. Whether I disagree or agree with a band is beyond the purpose. Now, if you tell me my taste in music stinks, I’ll be sure to quarrel! But, keep doing what you’re doing!

  13. jcalton #
    13

    I think it’s also worth mentioning that radio’s primary push into new listeners the past few years has been into talk radio and shock jocks.
    Also, no one plays music during drive hours anymore.

  14. Leor Galil #
    14

    True, talk radio does get a significant chunk of the listenership, but, if you look at the breakdown, Country and Spanish stations pull the highest ratings. Rock of all formats (classic, modern, etc) does get a solid amount of listenership. While music was hardly featured during the morning commute last time I listened in, I do remember the afternoon drive home being jam-packed with the same kinds of tunes featured on their current playlists. Unless that’s incorrect… and looking at one of the sites’ list shows that they’re playing songs at the moment… Two out of three being those prominently featured on the above lists.

  15. cmax #
    15

    Decent observations Leor.

    To better understand why Radio determines its play lists in that way you observed you should look into how ratings points are measured, and then how Radio as an industry monetizes its ad inventory.

    Radio is extremely attractive as a business, and from a consumer standpoint its completely free. It’s uncommon that ‘very profitable’ and ‘completely free’ fit in the same sentence.

  16. thekingofcheap #
    16

    I wasn’t trying to argue “Zep’s the best,” only that their impact on popular music can’t be equaled until someone figures out how to play a sousaphone with a violin bow. Then again, it’s probably on Youtube by now. And that’s my point: What counts as “popular” music is so splintered and diverse (and friggin’ awesome because of it) that even the most amazing new talents and gimmicks will have a limited range of influence due to their lack of access to a captive audience like the one radio has enjoyed for generations. I think it’s a trade-off: Lower cost of market entry for artists means lower chances of any emerging from the pack.

    On top of that, there are so many great bands, great songs and great music videos out there that it’s tough to be impressed. (And seriously, how’s anyone going to be cooler than the beat-boxing floutist?) As music fans, we are spoiled by plenty if we know where to look.

    Your list is why I only preset my radio dial for NPR and my local bluegrass station.

  17. goodman933 #
    17

    I would challenge you to take a look at our humble little Clear Channel owned radio station, KTCL-FM in Denver, CO. We play a ton of local music, and in fact, have helped launch the careers of many Colorado artists onto the national scene. The Fray, The Flobots, 3oh!3, Single File, Tickle Me Pink, Meese – just to name a few.
    And, sure, we feature the staples as well – Foo Fighters, Breaking Benjamin, Green Day. You know why? Because people still demand them. I know, because I’m the station’s morning show DJ – and I get tons of requests for those bands, in addition to the new and adventerous stuff.
    When a band like Phoenix can break into the mainstream, I personally thing it’s fantastic! But unfortunately, many of the band’s long time fans feel that as soon as more than 10 people start liking them, they become “uncool”. I hate to break the news to you – people like 1901 just as much as they like Times Like These by the Foo Fighters, and that doesn’t make either band or song less legitimate.
    I’ve been in radio 20 plus years, and yes, a lot has changed. But this still remains a career that attracts creative and passionate people, who need to balance running a successful and profitable operation with integrity and a passion for music. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that here in Denver, in opinion.
    Your article, unfortunately, makes a blanket statement without really doing enough homework.

  18. Leor Galil #
    18

    Thanks for writing in, I really appreciate it. It’s great to hear your perspective, and the last thing I want anyone to think is that I’m orating to people a “this is the final word” type statement. I think I stated quite clearly how I examined the playing schedules at Clear Channel, and a more in-depth look is always needed.

    It seems that you’re under the impression I’ve made this a “cool vs. not cool” battle for the hearts and minds and souls of the American music public. While I would be lying to say that Skillet is my favorite band – actually, I dig Foo Fighters, Green Day, NIN, etc – the main crux of this piece was based around variety, or a lack thereof.

    While I don’t doubt the work you do supporting/breaking local bands, but I can’t help but see how many times a band, no matter how popular, is played on many a Clear Channel station.

    I remember listening to DC101 like crazy when I was in middle school: I went to the Chili Cookoff every year, listened to the station every day and called in whenever I could. I turned friends on as well. And I’d often listen in on Sunday evenings to hear “Local Lix” just to get a sample of what was out there. But, eventually, I didn’t feel that it was enough. As much as I enjoy listening to Nirvana, I had to turn elsewhere.

    I’m not doubting the sincerity or passion of your listenership and those involved at the station: It’s great to see that people care about music. And, as Billboard has shown, the artists played at Clear Channel are popular. But same with a multitude of other rock musicians out there. If there is a loyal following at a radio station, there should be more of an effort to play different bands than a constant rotation of the same acts, no matter how popular those groups are. If there is a listenership constantly tuning in, they are, no doubt, finding new bands and songs from the radio. If you play a song enough times, people are going to like it and request it. I can’t tell you how much I hated New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give” every second it played: Eventually, I heard it so much, I began to like it. And practically every time I heard it, it was on DC101. Perhaps the reason bands like Breaking Benjamin, et al are liked so much is because people are exposed to that style of band so often. What would happen if a CC station decided to mix it up and play some, say, Sunny Day Real Estate? The band’s got plenty of chops, a member in Foo Fighters and great songwriting. And yet, they never get airplay.

    Like I said before, there’s just so much music available, it’s hard for me to look at several stations across the country that just happen to be playing the same rotation of artists at the same time. Sure, they all play some local tunes and have their own twists on old-favorite-playlists. But, when you can throw a dart and constantly hit the same target without much concentration, something is off.

    Variety is what I seek in music, and often I feel that I do not get enough of it when looking for music on my own terms. And variety is what drove me away from the local CC stations, because I literally could flip the dial and land on the exact same song playing on multiple stations (this has happened on more than one occasion.) Yes, people have their own tastes, and I don’t doubt that people call in constantly requesting many of the bands that get constant airplay. But when Clear Channel stations take up such a massive chunk of the radio stations in the country, there has got to be something resembling a greater variety.

    People will always call in to make requests, and often because of something they heard on the radio. But how many folks would take the time to call in and say “stop playing that song!” It’s just that much easier to switch it off.

  19. goodman933 #
    19

    Ok, I get the point your making here, but it’s not an accurate or fair assumption. The station’s that you surveyed (with the exception of DC101) are what the industry considers “Active Rock”. They are all heritage, blue collar, male leaning hard rock stations. They play Metallica, Shinedown, Godsmack, and yes, Skillet. That’s why their audience comes to them. That’s what they do. Writing a piece and saying “How come these big rock stations don’t play X, Y, and Z?” is like walking into a Whole Foods and asking the manager why they don’t sell Doritos and Coke. Or, going into McDonald’s and complaining about the lack of vegan fare.
    You mentioned you grew up in Washington, DC. You probably remember WHFS, the heritage Alternative rock station. You know what happened to it? It flipped to Spanish, because they had horrible ratings trying to appeal to a niche. Granted, it was a passionate niche that supported new and adventerous music styles, but it wasn’t nearly big enough to keep the lights on.
    With that said, all I’m saying is that there are radio stations that are commercially successful that do break the mold. Look at us. Look at our sister station KBCO. Look at KROQ in Los Angeles. Don’t look at WDVE in Pittsburgh, a heritage rock station that is the flagship station for the Steelers. Why WOULD they play Sunny Day Real Estate? It doesn’t fit, just as it doesn’t fit having Doritos in Whole Foods.
    I’ve been in radio a long time (20+ years), before the time of consolidation (1996). Do I agree with it? No, not really. But I still love what I do, and it’s the landscape of the industry. Truth is, people were making these SAME exact arguments before consolidation. “Commercial radio doesn’t play enough Indie Rock/Punk Rock/Flavor of the moment. It sucks”
    Now, Clear Channel just gets blamed. Do you honestly believe that Linkin Park wouldn’t be heard coast to coast if consolidation never happened? The playlists would be almost identical. Really, that’s it. There’s no conspiracy theory.

    THe ironic thing to this whole piece is how I came across your article in the first place – I was interviewing the band Phoenix yesterday, who came by the station and performed before their show at the Ogden (venue in Denver). My Google search for Phoenix brought up your article. Yes, Phoenix – the indie/underground band that has broken through to the mainstream. And when interviewing the band yesterday, they couldn’t be more psyched. Literally, they’re on cloud 9 right now. They haven’t “sold out” by having a hit song, and 1901 is hands down our biggest, most requested song on the radio station right now. A win-win.

  20. Leor Galil #
    20

    I understand your points, but I will say we seem to be speaking past each other instead of to each other. You appear to be fixating on me naming “cool” bands rather than my argument about basic variety.

    I’m not saying don’t play Skillet, Godsmack, Shinedown and Metallica, I’m saying play a greater variety of bands, bands like those, instead of fixating on a few. That’s it, that’s my general point. It’s not a “conspiracy,” just a perspective.

    Neither am I saying that Phoenix sold out. I’m not even that big a fan of Phoenix! Nor did I ever claim they sold out in the piece, whatsoever. Great for them for getting more fans! But that’s not what I’m arguing.

    Why wouldn’t Sunny Day fit into a playlist? When they first came out, they were crammed right into the grunge-o-sphere. They just may have the appeal to people, but if you don’t play a band, you’ll never find out.

    Again, I’m not saying “play X Y Z band.” My Sunny Day quip was just an idea. And my inclusion of Phoenix was just to point out an “odd entry” in the mix of playlists. Even so, it was also made to point out that there’s some significant crossover between stations. If they have the most requested song on the radio station right now, why not try out another band like them?

    There are hundreds upon thousands upon millions of bands out there that I may never hear of. You have the ear of the people. In that number of bands, there’s probably a large number that sound like all the Skillet and Breaking Benjamin songs out there that are never heard. Even playing a variety of bands would mix it up.

    And yes, I’m familiar with what happened to HFS. But by the end of their tenure, you honestly couldn’t tell them and DC101 apart. I’m not saying to go “niche,” because, in a way, many of these stations already are. I’m saying spread it out. Variety!

    When I looked at the playlist for DC101, for the most part, it barely seemed to have changed. While it’s great to have old favorites, one would at least think that listeners want to hear some new band every once in a while. Not indie, not punk, not “flavor of the moment,” not rock, but new. Otherwise, everything comes to a halt.

  21. Leor Galil #
    21

    Also, if you think I’m simply “out to get Clear Channel,” I never would have done this piece:

    http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=157889

    I have objections to CC, sure, but I can see the good side as well as the bad.

  22. 22

    Yeah, terrestrial radio’s pretty bleak. Satellite radio isn’t much better, particularly given the merger of XM and Sirius.

    On the other hand, Satellite radio at least has an excuse for being so bleak: it’s a single, national-level outlet rather than something small/local (or even regional).

    When MTV (and its child stations) still played music, they could be similarly excused. Though, at this point in the game, one might easily come to the conclusion that since MTV (et. al.) can no longer be bothered to play music, music must be truly bad.

    Fortunately, there’s Internet radio. I work from home at least one day a week. I’m doing so right now (the joy of having free cycles while programs run!). While working at home, I typically have Last.FM streaming across my XBox. Services like Last.FM, Pandora, etc. can help greatly with showing that good music isn’t dead. Used to do the same thing with the internet radio of the mid/late 90s.

    The various online services are kind of amusing with their demographics tools. Seems like my musical tastes are more in common with Europeans half my age than with people who are either geographically or chronologically nearer to me.

  23. 23

    Oof… Reading that you’ve been a long-time DC 101 listener makes me question this article more than I otherwise might have.

    I’ve only lived in the DC listening region since 1993. In that time, I’ve watched WHFS going from being an alternative music station to being an “Alternative Music” station to being turned into El Zol.

    All the while, DC101 was more geared towards being the popular station – even to the point of aping WHFS when alternative music became “alternative music”. Also got to witness WHFS, drunk from the new success of their programming, strive to become more like DC101.

    I’ve traveled a LOT for a living – throughout the US and Europe. The US radio scape has become increasingly bleak as ClearChannel has extended their homogenizing grasp. I don’t know what the excuse for the state of radio in Germany is (where I spent most of my more recent Europe time and where I was subjected to Lady Gaga every 90 minutes).

    I can only imagine that the reason there’s still some level of independence in Colorado is that the station there isn’t in as big of a market as the eastern ClearChannel stations. ClearChannel hasn’t (yet) sent their goons in to extract every last dollar from a given station.

  24. Leor Galil #
    24

    Was a DC101 listener. I haven’t lived in the DC area for around 6 odd years, and even then it had been years since I turned the dial to DC101. Besides, I think it gives another side to the argument… Here I was, a listener of a Clear Channel station who became turned off by the stale nature of the “offerings” on the radio… But, that’s just me.


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