Can Internet Radio Become An Open Platform For Indie Artists?

Posted March 27

Welcome to the O Music Awards guest writer series, a place where we hand the proverbial reins over to qualified writers/musicians/etc and let them share their thoughts about music, technology and more. Today’s guest blogger is Mike Carson, Chief Marketing Officer of Myxer.

With more than 100 million weekly U.S. listeners according to eMarketer, 2011 was a banner year for Internet radio. It was also the year that market leader, Pandora, became a publicly traded company in a high-profile IPO. It was the year European upstart Spotify crossed the pond to bring its streaming music service to U.S. shores, and 2011 was the year that companies like Myxer Social Radio and Turntable.fm introduced services to make listening to streaming music a group activity, thus launching the category of “Social Radio.” With the rapid growth of smartphones and tablets, the market for Internet radio will undoubtedly continue to grow, and eMarketer expects there to be more than 157 million weekly listeners in the U.S. by 2015. Wait a minute — we’re talking about music right? So what does this all mean for content and content creators?

The Internet Begs To Be Open

The Internet has always been an open platform for content creators, which has led to the enormous content libraries and widespread popularity of sites like YouTube and others, where content creators can easily access a self-service platform to share their original works. While “user-generated content” has enjoyed a storied past, the fact remains that there are massive amounts of great music and other original content created by artists who do not have deals with traditional labels or distributors. For many of these “Indie” artists, the Internet has been their savior, giving them an open platform for distribution. The challenge of discovery remains, however, and just because it is easy to post things on the Internet doesn’t mean it is easy to get people to pay attention to what you have posted. And therein lies the rub.

Can Internet Radio Drive Indie Discovery?

One of the growing appeals of Internet radio as compared to traditional broadcast radio is the vast catalog and personalization Internet radio enjoys, compared to the limited playlists controlled by DJs and program directors on over-the-air radio stations. As a vehicle to discover new music, Internet radio also trumps broadcast by making it easy to find out the name of a band or song that is playing and instantly learn more about the artist. Powerful recommendation engines use both human and machine logic to group compatible songs into logical playlists, and if you don’t like what is being played, you can skip the song. Try that on your local FM station.

However, most Internet radio services, while offering millions of music tracks, still rely on the major record labels and large digital distributors to get their content. As the marketplace matures, we hope that this will change, and we can envision a time soon when the smart Internet radio services open up their platforms to anyone with original content.

Radio With Benefits

What is the benefit of Internet radio to artists? There has been a lot of controversy regarding the value of streaming music to the artists whose music plays. Whether it is on-demand subscription services with label deals like Spotify, or non-interactive free services like Pandora, who pay statutory per stream license fees, the general consensus is that very little money from streaming music actually trickles down to the artist. As a result, some better-known acts such as Coldplay have begun to restrict their new music from streaming services. They don’t need the extra exposure or small amounts of money from streaming and would rather not risk having easy-to-access streams take business away from their album and digital download sales.

Indie bands, on the other hand, are the ones who potentially stand to benefit the most from having the ability to offer their music on Internet radio services. While the money from Internet radio isn’t going to change a young band’s dining habits from Cup of Noodles to Michelin-rated restaurants overnight, the exposure they get could have a positive impact on the audience for the indie band in terms of building a loyal base. If indie bands could be entered into the recommendation engines so that they are added to stations and playlists alongside well-known similar music, it could bring the band to the attention of very targeted like-minded listeners.

Back To The Future

Just as terrestrial radio has been a powerful force in “breaking bands” and launching new music (albeit with a lot of behind the scenes politics), the future may see Internet radio become a platform where up-and-coming bands go to be heard, and where consumers go to discover and find those bands. And the future of Internet radio is not just about music. As more services embrace social features and incorporate live chat and group listening, there may be more demand for the content people want to talk about and comment on.

No longer will fans be expected to wait for a music review to be published offline or online and then respond to the critic. Internet radio with social features allow listeners to comment on and share music in real-time. Comedy, news and sports programming are already finding their way into the streaming mix, and other types of material are probably not far behind.

As consumers now take the Internet with them wherever they go — on their phones, tablets and laptops — the future for streaming entertainment, and the opportunity for all content creators to be an active part of the streaming revolution, leaves the future of Internet radio looking quite bright.

Image courtesy of Flickr, masochismtango