Radio Airplay 101 -
Radio Compared To YouTube and Facebook, part 3: Imagine If The Counter Went Away:
New for 2013: The hypnotic effect of YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, and any other similar site where you upload your music, is one thing: The Counter. Without the counter, these sites would have no more use to you than your phone number listing in the phone book. Why does the counter matter so much?
Psychologically, it has to do with the "media effect", which is explained in mass media studies (especially Marshall McLuhan's book called "Understanding Media"). But you don't have to understand psychology to understand how the "counter" is misleading you and other artists. Imagine for a second, that all counters were removed forever. No more counters, ever again. Never again will you be able to tell how many people "heard" your song. Wow.
What then would you focus on? How would you judge your success? What would you brag about? How would your goals change? How would you compare one song against another? How many fans would you think you had? This was what life was like before the "counter". Back then, you actually had to make things happen, instead of looking at a counter that said things were happening. And the way you made things happen was mostly by phone, in-person, and maybe fax. Today, email has replaced fax, but two things have stood the test of time: Phone and in-person contacts.
We talk to a lot of artists who want promotion, and everyone of them have music on a site somewhere that has a "counter". When they are asked what the AVERAGE number of "views" or "plays" or "listens" they have received (for their best song), the answer is about 200. That's right, 200. And this is cumulative, from day one when they posted it, and is from around the world. That's about one "view" or "play" or "listen" per country. And they've typically had that song up for over 2 years. (Of course, we are talking here about real numbers; not the fake numbers that you can buy).
On the other hand, the HIGHEST number that artists typically tell us they've received is 20,000 "views" or "plays" or "listens" for their best song. Again this is from day one (cumulative), and from around the world, and also for about 2 years. This is about 100 listens per country, over a 2 year period. That's less than one listen a week, per country.
Obviously, both of the above are miserable failures, since the GOAL OF THE ARTIST was to get LOTS of listens. This, unfortunately, is exactly the problem. The goal should NOT be to get lots of "views" or "plays" or "listens" at all. The goal instead should be to get MONEY; this is so different from "getting listens" that you may even have a hard time understanding the difference.
The first way to explain this is to look at media facts that pertain to music. Typically, about 0.01 to 0.1 percent (.0001 to .001) of a radio listening audience will buy the music each week. This means that if the total radio exposure of a song is 50 million "listens" per week, then that song will sell 5,000 to 50,000 units each week. In ten weeks, you'd have 50,000 to 500,000 sales. This is why gold records of the past decades took many weeks to make gold; each week they would sell a percentage of the number of radio listens they got from radio.
These of course are major-market high-rotation spins, which generates huge numbers of "listens" weekly (Lady GaGa typically gets 50,000,000 listens per week, per song, per format, from radio, just in the USA). However, medium and smaller market stations, along with major stations that are not spinning as much, generate far fewer "listens" and thus sell far fewer units per week, even though the number of stations may be the same. What makes the difference between selling 5,000 and 50,000 units per week, even though the number of weekly listens remains at 50,000,000? Marketing. But that's another story. For an indie, assume you'll be at the lower level. See www.TopListens.com for snapshot of a week in 2012, and compare it to the sales number of iTunes or Soundscan. You'll see that ALL of the top sellers are getting high "listens" from commercial radio regular rotation. All of them. And keep in mind that digital sales now (2013) are about half of all sales ("physical" CD sales being the other half).
Now comes the "counter". The typical artist has never had any numerical feedback before the counter. No sales tracking, no airplay tracking, no ticket sales tracking, nothing. So the counter looks to be pretty exciting, because for the first time the artist is getting "feedback" on his or her music. So far so good. But the problem arises when the artist makes it their GOAL of maximizing the "views" or "plays" or "listens" on this counter. And the reason this is a problem is because the typical artist reading this article does not have the resources to get enough "views" or "plays" or "listens" to make any sales or anything else occur.
Looking at the example above, it takes 50,000,000 "listens" per week, for one song, in the U.S. only, for a lesser-marketed indie song to sell 5,000 units per week. That's because in lower-rotation markets or stations, the typical listener will only hear it about 10 total times. So sales are about 0.01 percent (.0001) of the total listens. Using this .01 percent number, the typical artist needs:
50,000,000 "listens" to get 5,000 sales
5,000,000 "listens" to get 500 sales
500,000 "listens" to get 50 sales
50,000 "listens" to get 5 sales
5,000 "listens" to get 0.5 sales (!)
Compare this to what I said about how many YouTube views the typical artist tells us they have, and you see the problem. The typical artist with 200 views or plays does not have enough for even one sale. And the artists who tell us they have a mega 20,000 views or plays will only be getting 2 sales. THIS IS THE REASON that you don't want to focus any energy on increasing your number on the views-counter or the plays-counter. It won't sell anything, and it will just make you think that your music is not good enough. And of course I did not even mention that most counters are faked now anyway: You can get 1,000,000 fake youtube views with likes and comments for under $180. Nobody hears your music, but hey, you've now got a big counter.
Now, if the goal is to really get "listens", then yes you can do it. This is how the majors get their high sales: they get high "listens" from regular rotation radio first, which are concentrated in particular cities. Even our unrated-market commercial regular rotation campaigns (the smallest) usually end up with near 10,000 total listens in 8 weeks, concentrated in particular towns. 50,000 listens, and 500,000 listens, are not that much more difficult, since all you need to do is get a few small-market stations on board with 300 listens for each spin, and get them spinning 20 spins a week each, and you are at a high number of listens after a few weeks. But even with these campaigns, you should be printing out every playlist into a stack, and showing them to the people you need to impress, instead of expecting a mass of sales to occur on their own.
So your goal should be to avoid the counter. You should be spending your time and energy REACHING PEOPLE that can help you sell your art. This requires phone calls, and personal visits, to people who can book you, play you, review you, recommend you, place you, and so on. "Views" or "plays" or "listens" will NOT serve this promotional purpose. Nor will emails; emails are just for SETTING UP phone calls or visits, or for following up on phone calls or visits. No high-level activity will ever come your way if all you do is email. And certainly, nothing will ever come your way if all you do is watch the counter.
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