This week has been a big one for radio royalties. On Tuesday, the Big Machine Label Group, home to Taylor Swift and probably the largest independent record label, cut a deal with Clear Channel, the largest owner of radio stations. The deal allows the label, and subsequently the artists, to get royalties for airplay on the radio. Your average person may presume that your favorite singers are already getting paid when they hear a song played. The truth is that the U.S. is one of the last countries to NOT pay.

The deal breaks a long-standing log jam between radio stations and record labels. Yesterday, the deal dominated a Capitol Hill hearing run by the House Communications and Technology subcommittee. While there is still a lot of work for other labels to come on board, there’s a lot of positive talk coming from the hearing. Little details are known about how the deal is structured. However, the deal is largely viewed as a way for Clear Channel to move away from internet streaming royalties being a variable cost (pay per song played) and become a more reliable business model (likely a percentage of revenue). This is certainly going to be a great deal for both sides in the long run, otherwise they wouldn’t have struck it.

The question, though, is what does this deal for radio royalties mean for the music? What does this mean for a song’s chances of getting played and earning the most money possible? This was something that readers of Futurehit.DNA have been long prepared for, and avid followers have already been creating music prepared for this reality. In Chapter 2 of my book, I discuss how inevitably the variable cost of “per play” would have to move to a more manageable structure. This has a significant impact on how an artist earns money from the internet, and now likely terrestrial radio. Here’s what I wrote on how an artist could inevitably prepare for this day:

If that loophole is, indeed, closed, it will likely put songs on more equal footing. But it only changes the strategy if you are a performer or songwriter. If this change occurs, a programmer will not care about the length of a song, as his cost structure becomes relatively static. The performer, however, will want to take up as much listening time as possible in order to collect larger royalties. Longer songs would simultaneously block other songs from playing at the same time, therefore depriving other artists from royalties.

For an artist and record label, as other labels and radio groups come on board over the next few years, the strategy shifts subtly. In recent years, one needed to push their songs to be slightly longer than the competition to make it more cost effective for internet radio outlets. Now, we will be moving to a scenario where the length of a song won’t affect the outlets. They can play thousands of songs and still have a fixed revenue target of how much they have to pay artists and royalties.

Some likely scenarios that will develop with online radio:

* Genres with high “skip rates” become more cost-efficient. Urban music formats tend to have a higher likelihood of people not listening to a whole song. This leads to an increased ARPH (Average Royalty Per Hour) and is cost-inefficient for an internet outlet. With that barrier removed, online radio will be more likely to promote Urban music and provide potential growth.

* Oldies artists will finally start seeing revenues. One doesn’t see a lot of promotion for oldies radio not so much for its lack of popularity, but for its cost. Songs prior to 1968 or so tended to be 3 minutes or less. This made those formats more costly to stream online, so their promotion was de-emphasized. These artists now stand to start making more money just from additional promotion. Add in the numerous traditional oldies radio stations that never paid, and this class of music now stands to benefit tremendously. Considering that many of these artists have had fewer sales in recent years (their audience tends not to buy as much), they stand to gain the most per capita.

Some scenarios that will likely occur with new music:

* Radio will be moving back to 3 minute songs. Between short attention spans, need for variety, and that ever present “more songs per hour than the other guy” liners, radio stations will be demanding shorter songs. Taking away the higher royalties per hour such songs incur online just adds to the incentive radio stations will have on asking for songs at that length. These songs will subsequently also research well. As radio’s power makes these songs more popular, it will have the dual effect of driving up demand on pure-play internet radio (such as Pandora) and driving up their costs when they can’t move to a percentage of revenue model. This will only increase the power of traditional radio companies in the music space.

* Intros will remain short for quite awhile. Clear Channel has been signaling for awhile that they take digital seriously. Their iheartradio has made significant traction against Pandora, for one. This airplay, and revenue, will be an ever growing percentage of the exposure their company can give a song. The research garnered from the app may actually be an influential element to the traditional stations. As they are more financially aligned to push customized stations, the need to have songs impact quickly becomes exponentially greater.

* Soundexchange will be a different business. As more deals covering multiple revenue streams come up, they will also circumvent digital revenues going directly to Soundexchange. For label artists, it will also mean direct payments from them will go thru the label first. To be competitive, Soundexchange will also likely need to find percentage of revenue solutions for many other online radio outlets or those services may go out of business.

For those who are long-time readers of Futurehit.DNA, none of this is new information. For those who are new to this blog, this information is only the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come in music in the next decade. The Clear Channel/Big Machine deal will not drastically change anything today. More labels need to sign up before that happens. But it is a clear sign of where things are rapidly heading for new music discovery. I hope you’ve read Futurehit.DNA to be prepared!

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  1. Louislingg June 25, 2012 at 3:05 am # Reply

    So just to clarify, You think that these changes will push radio programmer to favour slightly shorter songs in order to offer more variety to their listeners with short attention spans. Am I right?
    In your book, you talk about 4 minute songs. But here you speak about 3 minute songs.

    • Jay Frank June 25, 2012 at 6:33 am # Reply

      Radio stations want hits. More and more they are looking towards the Internet breaking those hits. Some stations will feel safer with 3 minute songs if these deals spread. But ultimately they will play a long hit if it is one. It will probably be a mixed bag in regards to what radio will do. Either way for an artist I would make the songs longer just for owning a greater percentage of the listening experience. With so much music coming out, blocking out competition is pretty crucial where you can.

      • Ron July 4, 2012 at 9:34 am # Reply

        Do you think this may benefit songwriters in that many artists have taken to writing their own material, and even though it may not be up to the standard of professional songwriter’s quality, and because they are stars people buy it. Now with the advent of artists receiving royalties for their performance on the radio, they may not be as driven to write their own material.

        I understand why they do that, they refer to it as their retirement income, but there is a lot of crap out there when you really start listening to what some artists are writing!


        • Jay Frank July 5, 2012 at 9:03 am # Reply

          I think there’s validity in your argument. If performance income were to be available, this would mean less incentive for an artist to favor their songs or force songwriting credit. However, writers at least get their share of performance income largely directly thru the PROs. Artists would still likely get their performance income thru their label subjecting it to recoupables. So performance royalties wouldn’t necessarily be seen by many artists in the label system. If that proves to be true, it probably wouldn’t change the current songwriting system that much.


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