I was listening to the radio today while driving home like I always do, and as usual, they play the same ten songs over and over again. You start noticing things, like, the amount of repetition in top 40 songs, the monotonous melodies, the same four-chord structure, the insipid lyrics, the over-use of synthesizers and the predictable build-up and ending of each song. I won’t give examples, because I think you know what I mean.
You can call the station and ask them to play different songs all you want, but it won’t make a dent. Today’s radio industry isn’t built on what people really want to hear. Sure, songs are tested beforehand through “call-out research,” but it’s up to the record labels to put out songs they want the public to hear and program directors of the radio stations to add the songs they want on their station. It’s not your decision, it’s theirs. Every Monday and Tuesday, new songs get added to the playlist in every top 40 station around the country. Some are added, because they are up-and-coming. Others because the artist is already a successful, established star with previous hits. Some others are sent out by radio stations and will never be played. Either the song fits with everything else being played or the record label spends what it needs to in order to promote the single.
Why am I bringing up radio? The way radio plays music reminds me of essentially how businesses put out products. Radios will play hits, regardless of whether they are actually good for us. They know what a hit is: a song that is preferably less than 4 minutes, which appeals to the short-attention spans of today’s youth; it’s often in 4/4 time so it’s easy to dance or clap to, plays at around 120 bpm and contains simple lyrics that are as singable as possible. The point isn’t to create diversity; the point is to create something that will stick in your head no matter how ridiculous it is, because if it sticks in your head enough, you might even start to think it’s alright, good, great, heck I’ll buy it on itunes.
A single song can be played around ten times in one day by a single top 40 station and over 14,000 times in one week across the country. Good or bad, it will be played, because it is being played by so many other stations. A large majority of the country’s top 40 stations are owned by one company: Clear Channel Communications, Inc. Others are owned by CBS Radio, Citadel Communications, Cumulus Broadcasting, etc. Clear Channel has huge influence over what reaches the ears of hundreds of millions of people every day. The monopoly it has on radio is reminiscent of all sorts of corporate control in other sectors. Think Monsanto and the farming industry. Maybe it’s a stretch, but it seems that for many, profit will trump quality.
How many times have you seen a product that is actually detrimental to people using it and is doing well, because people will buy it? I can think of a number of products that not only harm us, but every other living organism too. As much leverage as the consumer has on the product, it’s up to the company, in this case the record label, to put out quality material. They can do business, but they have to hold onto their souls too.