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To Play or Not to Play

To play or not to play: Why so many here hate the charts.

I talk about this every day. I deal with this every day. Trying to understand where to go with your single and what chart can be not only confusing, but emotional, taking a toll on both your wallet and on the concept of your music.

The game of the big charts (Mediabase, Billboard) in country music is not for the meek. It’s not for the small. It’s not for the frugal and it’s not for the casual player. In fact, unless your name is – let me try to get them all – Mike, Scott, Gary, John, Mike, Michael, Benny, David, Mark, possibly Terry and Jim, the radio game is not for you. It’s not for you. LISTEN TO ME, gang. IT’S NOT FOR YOU.

Last week I was on the phone with a hopeful player with the hopeful artist. Someone I like, enjoy, and want to help – someone I root for. His artist has released two full singles and he has spent close to (but not all the way to) the amount the big boys would have spent – which is like 10 times more than my friend should have spent. Yet he’s chasing, chasing something very simple and emotional for him: Mediabase adds.

“Not logical,” I say. “I can help you pick about 50 milestones to hit before you waste one dime on a Mediabase add.”

“Sounds great,” he says, then proceeds to talk and ignore and talk and convince himself all over again that he can only get moving with expensive playlist addition by playlist addition.

And he deflected all logic I could offer. Point by point he just could not find his way back from the woods. He could not come back to me from the Mediabase jungle, where so many have gone to light a meaningless fire with piles of investment dollars.

I said, “have you thought about where we (TTA team) went with Blackjack Billy? Are you looking at the early maneuvers on Cole Swindell or Kristian Bush?”

Crickets. He just wasn’t able to get on my page.

There are plenty of moves to make way before, closely before, during, after, and way after engaging in the expensive art of terrestrial radio. Reaching fans has never been easier or cleaner to the reality of your music. You can hit milestones, sell downloads, and gauge reactions. From SiriusXM to the great massage of YouTube to direct engagement with everything at country radio BUT the playlist, there are just so many options. It takes diligence and intelligence, but it doesn’t take a bunch of money.

At TTA we conquer this almost every day, and we like to think we do it with diligence and intelligence, making large and small decisions to push music forward without burning artists to bits in the thick atmosphere of monitored or indicator or secondary charts.

If you don’t have the big checkbook, don’t waste. If you DO have a big checkbook, there are myriad ways to make it last and last and come to bear toward true airplay and explosive fan collection.

So better to define and play your own game. Recognize the rungs on your own ladder and start climbing. Eventually, if you have the music, you’ll climb high enough that one of them – one of the Mike or Scott or John – will call YOU and they’ll come calling with the hundreds of thousands of dollars they know exactly how to spend.

Consistency

Consistency is the culprit.

Independent artists are just not getting consistent representation to radio and it’s nobody’s fault but their own. *

The all-or-nothing, full-budget approach to independent country radio promotion is not working.  It really hasn’t worked at all in the few years since we started helping unsigned (and sorta-signed) artists. Airplay results never match budgets, and investors and artists are left upset, often leaving the relationship with a misrepresented, even damaged brand.

The best-funded independent releases have a median Mediabase chart peak position right around 42, with the majority of the peak positions much lower.

So some in the indie game have been defining 42 on the chart as a success. To us that’s like cranking up a $400,000 combine for two ears of corn.

At the core of the problem: independent spending rarely creates consensus from any of the small or large-market radio charts. Money goes out, adds come in, but airplay is thin and scattered and when people don’t know where to go for the next add, all the strategy and care (and consistency) ends there.

And you can bet radio notices and questions and thinks, “another short-term effort from another confused investor who’s playing this (or is being played) like it’s a hobby.”

The usual path: decide on single, hire team, team pushes for adds and receives tiny bits of airplay for two months, another month of panic, single lost, fire team. You add together the average monthly rate for a team, the costs to maneuver the single and artist with radio visits and advertising and shows, the artist is often out over $80,000 with little to show and quite possibly a damaged radio brand.

What’s missing?  More money? More visiting?  Scott Borchetta?

Well all those, but also:  Consistency.  CONSISTENCY!

If you were to ask willing and truthful programmers why they pass on even the best songs from indies, the most common answer would be that if they wait it out long enough, new artists on small labels go away.  They hold the line feeling it’s a short-term deal. And almost always they are right because they can (rightfully) assume so few indie efforts involve long-term planning.

You can say (and truly believe) you are going five singles and two albums deep, but indie history just doesn’t support the statement.  And radio knows it.

If you want to engage with today’s terrestrial crowd, and you don’t have John Esposito in your living room shaking a record deal your way, the best approach is to find radio representation you can trust and TRUST THEM. Trust them for at least three singles.

Be a team.  Be trusting. Get together on a budget that will, without question, keep you together at least 18 months.  Plan things out for an entire year and a half.

Then when you find yourself wondering why you “aren’t getting as many adds as that other artist with that “with that SINGLE THAT SUCKS,” hang on a week or two.  That single will be gone and that promo unit will move on, because that other thing isn’t about consistency.

You are. And you are planned out smartly for the next year. And so you smartly collect little victories on your collective march to the championship.

* Call me and we can chat about Katie Armiger