Community Radio: A Powerful Platform for Australian Music
Amrap Manager Chris Johnson on promoting Australian music in a turbulent media landscape
In 2005 News Corporation bought MySpace for 580m. In 2011 it sold it for just 35m. After five years of record losses and a massive 40% reduction in site visits, News Corporation re-launched MySpace in November 2010 by forcefully standardising the layout of artist profile pages. Thousands of MySpace pages broke down; music players were moved aside for weight loss and alcohol advertising banners, alongside MySpace’s own ads proclaiming “MySpace: Where Music is Free”. This exacerbated the mass exodus from Myspace to other social networks. The MySpace ‘friends list’ that musicians use to stay in contact with fans became useless, because their fans were simply no longer there.
A few weeks before, commercial radio successfully lobbied the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) for an exemption from Australian music quotas on the digital radio platform. As a result, commercial digital radio is not required to broadcast any Australian music content until 2013. Commercial radio’s move suggests they regard Australian music as an imposition to their business model and will proactively jettison local content in favour of international content that has already proven its popularity in the overseas market.
The Australian music sector should engage with every legitimate media platform to promote its music, but the above examples are cautionary tales for Australian musicians. As new media platforms are developed and sold, control of music and the ability to connect with fans can be compromised. Investing too much energy in untested or unwilling media outlets is risky, especially if you ignore proven and established media platforms.
Amrap regards community radio as the most credible of all community media platforms. Community radio stations maintain a not-for-profit structure, and a commitment to established codes of practice and objectives that support Australian content and culture. It’s fascinating that alongside the rise of online and digital media, community radio’s monthly audience rose to 54% of Australians aged 15 and over.
Over the past 40 years community radio has fostered a ready-made music-loving audience. They increasingly rely on community radio as a trusted source amongst the media chatter. I believe the music sector has only scratched the surface with community radio and Amrap is devoted to assisting both sectors to fully realise their potential.
Four opportunities the Australian radio and music sectors can embrace together:
1. Develop business models that support the listener’s interest in Australian music
Independent national listener surveys indicate that community radio has attracted more listeners than ever before. Hearing Australian music is the second most popular reason why Australians listen to community radio after hearing local news and information.
This research inspires stations to further develop programming that gives priority to Australian music. In support of this Amrap has created a ‘Music Mission Model’ to show stations how they can use Australian music to attract and maintain loyal audiences.
Australian labels and unsigned musicians recognise the growth of community radio listenership, and its strong support of Australian music. They use Amrap to reach stations nationally via AirIt and Amrap’s CD Mailout service.
2. Treat community radio broadcasters as super fans & their listeners as willing fans
Music careers are often built on the endorsement of fans who recommend their favourite music to others. Amrap regards community radio music broadcasters as super fans: they are often experts in their genre, are a trusted source for listeners, and are usually connected with their music scene on and off air. Community radio can use Amrap’s new AirNet service to help their broadcasters spread their influence even further. Since March Amrap has assisted hundreds of broadcasters to use AirNet to easily find and promote online content that matches the music they air. AirNet is drawing listeners (and broadcasters) back to stations’ websites to promote music in an engaging and responsible manner.
Amrap helps labels and unsigned musicians understand the influence of community radio to advance their music. They use Amrap’s distribution services to get their music to the radio programs and broadcasters who are most likely to become their super fans.
Many community stations devote countless hours to educating listeners on new music, interviewing artists and providing latest music news and gig guides. This content clearly interests listeners. By contrast commercial radio broadcasts very little of this content and gives high rotation to a smaller playlist of artists.
Musicians need committed fans who will invest their ears, leisure time (and hopefully some cash) into their favourite music. They need fans who want to discover new music, and are not satisfied listening to a small collection of songs on repeat.
Amrap firmly believes that community radio listeners want to be fans, and we aim to connect musicians with receptive broadcasters who have receptive listeners. Amrap's Grants to Stations Fund has helped stations create music content for their hungry audiences, and in 2011-12 will inspire stations to give listeners even more of what they want.
3. Support great music regardless of trends
Many community stations broadcast a range of specialist music shows and air that genre regardless of mainstream trends. Conversely, many commercial or government stations stop airing an artist because they no longer fit the sound that’s on trend at the time.
Community radio enables musicians to sustain their careers beyond the trend cycle.
Community radio is not simply a pathway for music; it is a platform in its own right. Amrap works directly with the community and music sectors to strengthen this platform so great Australian musicians can use community radio to help sustain their careers.
Labels that are genuinely committed to building their artists’ careers value community radio’s commitment to great music. They forge long-lasting relationships between their artists and community stations.
4. Create and innovate for mutual benefit
Community radio has a long standing history of innovation. It pioneered the FM band to broadcast music with higher fidelity to listeners. It developed live music recording facilities and outside broadcast resources to support the promotion of Australian music. It successfully lobbied for inclusion on the new digital radio spectrum to keep the Australian music flowing and successfully lobbied to fund Amrap to support Australian music.
Community radio can deliver the best of all worlds to the Australian music sector by enthusiastically adopting the best features of new media platforms to enhance radio services with the aim of supporting great musicians, so they can continue to produce great work.
Both sectors need infrastructure that is mutually beneficial and supports Australian musicians. As the MySpace and commercial radio examples have proven, it’s dangerous to expect commercial platforms to provide this with consistency and integrity. Australian musicians deserve more, and community radio has proven it is a willing, responsible, transparent, accountable and influential Australian music platform.
With the support of Federal Government funding Amrap has consulted and developed infrastructure that connects community radio with the music sector. Our services and platforms are unique and have been designed and built in-house to meet the needs of both sectors. With our knowledge and commitment combined, community radio will become an even more powerful platform for Australian musicians.