I stopped listening to the radio when I was 16. Well, I stopped intentionally turning on the radio when I was 16.
But I’m still forced to listen to whatever shlock music the Big Four are paying to have shoved, violently and repeatedly, though my ear canal. I don’t want it, but it’s forced on me- ear rape. This shit gets played at every chain retail store in existence and most workplaces that don’t require a measure of silence.
Why is that, you ask?
First, Nielson: the same company that mines the data that produces TV ratings also tracks sales of albums and singles, downloaded tracks, and “radio airplay audience impressions”. That’s the sticky one, because it’s determined by the size of the audience and the number of times a song is played- it’s a statistics game, which means it really comes down to a lot of average numbers.
Second, radio monopolies: By the late ’90s, most DJs (at least around here) had been or were being eliminated. If you can automate your playlist and pipe in syndicated shows, why bother paying some chump to play your records? And without a music-centered person running your playlist, who would know better what to play than a data list of sales? In 2008, Clear Channel owned 80% of all the radio stations in the U.S. So if you’ve got 80% of the market covered, plus you don’t have music-conscious people running the station, what’s to stop you from, say, taking favors from the record companies? Not saying it happened, but hey- CD sales plummeted this decade, and so did regular radio audiences. There’s been a lot of panic in the industry. Just sayin’.
Third, retail companies: Decades ago someone came up with some data suggesting that music influenced mood, and playing certain types of music could subconsciously encourage people to buy more things. So we got elevator music at the grocery. Eventually
Fourth, you: Are you one of those people who buys those “NOW” CDs? Do you own all the American Idol albums? Can you only name musicians from the radio? Do all your musical downloads come from the iTunes “recent hits” list? Then I’m talking about you. The musical choices you’re making are encouraging all of this. Those statistics I mentioned? They have to come from somewhere, and a large part of that somewhere (the non-vague-and-mysterious part) are sales. Which you are helping.
And I’ve heard all the “well, if it’s popular there’s probably a good reason” arguments, and they’re true. The reason is that many music listeners are total fucking idiots with no taste, and they’ll listen to whatever someone shoves in front of them or pipes into the elevator. If that’s you, the first step to overcoming this problem is to put a little effort into what you hear. Go to the local record store and ask for suggestions. Thumb through some books or find a list of great albums and listen to something you don’t know. Educate yourself.