COLUMN: You are driving through town, one eye on the traffic and the other on the stereo, when suddenly you hear something every musician dreams about: your music is being played on the radio. And not just any channel, we are talking about a highly-promoted and highly-rated station.
That is a thrill only some artists get to experience. For example, while my songs are played on the radio in Europe and many have been played here on college and Internet radio, my experience being on the “big stations” is limited to having my music used in commercials. So I can only imagine how much greater it would be to hear one of my songs played without a pitchman talking about the wonders of Verizon Wireless or Goodrich or the Auto Club or any of the other fine firms that have licensed Golosio songs.
Will It Happen to You?
Unless you and your band are part of a well-funded promotional campaign, radio airplay is often out of your reach no matter how lovely your song and how well-produced your track. A lot of things have to occur before traditional radio will broadcast your song. There are “gatekeepers” who zealously guard access. One of the requirements seems to be that a song sound exactly like some other song that has already scored well in their research, which is often a focus group but sometimes the result of listener call-in voting.
The main requirement for getting your music disseminated, however, is money. For example, if you want to make it to “the charts,” it takes lots of cash. As recently as 2006, Mike McVay, programming consultant to about 400 radio stations owned by media giant Clear Channel, was asked about the cost of getting a record on the charts. Depending on your genre, he said the amount is “a hundred thousand dollars up to a quarter of a million.”
Payola Under a New Name?
Wait, I hear you say. Didn’t New York state Attorney General Elliott Spitzer effectively end payola? He brought suit against the four major record companies, EMI, Warner Music Group, Sony-BMG, and Universal Music Group. And he also sued CBS Radio, Citadel Broadcasting, Clear Channel Communications and Entercom Communications. He won those suits, but payola continues with a new set of techniques, often using promotional considerations and middlemen to handle the transfer of funds. But we’re not necessarily talking about payola. And we’re not necessarily talking about charting your song, just getting some airplay.
There is a firm that is offering opportunities for legally purchasing airplay. Yes, you read that right: a legit way to buy your way onto the airwaves.
Here is our exclusive interview with Randy Blumhagen, Founder of ToneStac.
G: What is ToneStac and what does it do for musicians?
RB: ToneStac provides an affordable way to market and promote your music on terrestrial radio stations that also use the Internet to capture a larger global audience. We are reinventing radio for the digital age by allowing open access to radio for any musician. You are guaranteed airplay through ToneStac.
G: You say you are reinventing radio. . . ?
RB: We eliminate the gatekeeper and allow artists to voluntarily advertise their music and make it available for public criticism. We put the freedom to access radio in the hands of the artist. In addition, the audience gets more freedom to determine for themselves what they think is worthy of their attention.
G: ToneStac sells an ad for a song, or does it place the song? Explain this for me.
RB: We provide a way for artists to go around radio programming departments by purchasing infomercials that feature one of their tracks played in full.
G: Is this for terrestrial or Internet radio?
RB: Both. First and foremost, ToneStac guarantees access to radio, but since radio only broadcasts locally it is imperative that the radio station also streams to the Internet. The combined marketing power of terrestrial radio with the global reach of the Internet gives your music the greatest possible exposure in multiple media markets at the same time.
G: So in the broadcast on terrestrial and ‘Net radio, an artist’s music essentially becomes what you might call an extended commercial, or infotainment, or as you say, an infomercial that just happens to be the length of your song plus introduction?
RB: Correct. Your music is the advertisement. At our radio station there are no other commercial interruptions, just music and a few Public Service Announcements.
G: You say “our radio station,” singular, but I’m not certain how that works for an artist seeking national attention.
RB: Terrestrial radio is the single most popular audio media and it will get more popular as more and more radio stations embrace streaming technology. If other radio stations can hear the quality of your music, by listening to our stream, then it will influence them to play your music. We believe radio play influences more radio play for example, our service recently caught the attention of ABC Radio and influenced them to test-market a similar service in their Spanish broadcast stations.
G: What happened with the ABC Radio experiment?
RB: Due to our influence, ABC opened 33% of their total Spanish broadcasting
time to sponsored tracks. That’s a huge win for us and for independents everywhere! Whether we play the music or influence major broadcasters to embrace our system as their own, ToneStac is creating more opportunities for independent musicians.
G: Is this written up on your site?
RB: I can give you the URL: http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory?id=8795713
G: People think of infomercials as having a pitchman talking all the way through.
RB: That’s the accepted method for TV. In the case of radio, music is the sole source of content, so other than a brief song introduction to promote your music and a few PSAs there are no other commercial interruptions to distract the listener from your music.
G: What is your music sales capability? What are the choices for an artist?
RB: Radio is a big advertisement for your music. Radio allows you to announce locations where fans can buy your music either on ToneStac or at a preferred ecommerce site. We allow single song sales that can be purchased onsite at the time your song is being played or when it’s being reviewed from your profile page. We allow you to link from your profile page to offsite ecommerce sites to sell music or merchandise. In addition, corporate affiliates can purchase your music for limited use in a downloadable mix disc. Keep in mind, ToneStac does not revenue share in your music business sales.
G: Your site talks about music fans getting involved.
RB: Discovery is as important to fans as it is to artists. However, some fans are pioneers, some network and some just like to listen. To satisfy the needs of the pioneers we give each artist 500 points to allocate to their songs. Any music enthusiast can log in and collect points for reviewing new music and after they collect a number of points they can use those points to buy music and the artist gets paid. If the pioneers like your music they
have the option to recommend your music to other music fans in their network, or they can join your mailing list and follow your work.
G: How much of a cut does ToneStac take?
RB: There is no revenue split at all. ToneStac does not revenue share in your music sales. After the nominal merchant costs, 100% of the income goes to the artist.
G: Can anyone use your services?
RB: Yes. ToneStac is an incredible marketing tool for many industry professionals. It is especially useful to recording studios to help get that new CD more exposure, or PR firms that want to guarantee your songs get played, or independent labels with a few shining stars or independent musicians who are starting to make the break to full time performer.
G: What’s to prevent someone from opening an all-infomercial station and just featuring paid placements of songs?
RB: That’s exactly what we do! We offer 100% of our broadcast time 24 hours per day, 7 days per week commercial free.
G: Some musicians are skeptical about your approach.
RB: Some musicians are skeptical about the merit of a song when anyone can pay to play and some are skeptical about being able to access radio to market their music business. Let’s talk about marketing first and merit later.
G: So the skepticism is fine with you.
RB: Sure. Artists have a right to be skeptical. They been told so many times that their music is not good enough for radio, it’s not the right fit for the format, they are too new, they are too old, or they don’t have label representation and on and on. Why shouldn’t artists be able to market their music business on the most popular audio media just like the big boys do? The answer is that they should be able to and now they can. ToneStac guarantees access for professional musicians who are moving to the next level of their career and are interested in elevating themselves above all the Internet congestion and free-for-all noise.
G: There are people who have wondered if your approach is legal in all states.
RB: Yes, it is. I have almost memorized Section 317 of the Communications Act of 1934 which requires broadcasters to disclose to listeners or viewers if subject matter has been aired in exchange for money, services or other consideration. The announcement must be aired when the subject matter is broadcast. We conform to all of those provisions, so ToneStac is completely legal. The audience has a right to know that the musicians on our radio station paid to advertise their music because they are confident that their music is good enough to be on radio. But, in the end the audience gets to determine quality.
G: There’s also some sort of affiliate marketing program. How does that work to help artists?
RB: The music industry has lost over 2,700 retail distributors in the last few years. ToneStac is trying to reinvent the album of the digital age by allowing any business entity that wants to use music to market their products and services, without the legal hassle of having to clear the copyrights or pay royalties, to purchase music from our members and distribute it to their customers.
G: As a music publisher, that sounds ominous.
RB: Innovative ideas can be ominous but hear me out. Our Affiliate Marketing Program (AMP) is an exclusive music service that allows any business entity to have limited use of music with all copyrights cleared and paid. Notice, I said, “limited use” and “paid”.
G: That one word, “paid,” is an important one.
RB: Absolutely! AMP allows Affiliates to purchase music from our members to use in a mix disc that can be played in the background or downloaded. Here again, listening is free but the download is paid for, in advance, by the Affiliate. AMP combines the intangible benefits of marketing as a community service, with the tangible benefits gained by the holding power of music. It integrates brand-sharing with interactive customer response, network marketing and a free give away resulting in viral growth at a low customer acquisition cost.
G: Your promotional materials also talks about Mix Discs. What can you tell me about that?
RB: The Mix Disc cannot be sold, it can only be listened to in the background while customers shop online or downloaded for free. Here how it works: A mix disc is a DIY (do-it-yourself) compilation of the best songs from the hottest new and emerging artists on our site, wrapped with your “Private Label” CD cover. An individual or business can buy between 10-20 songs in specified quantities to give away as a free download. The music plays in the background from our site while customers shop on the Affiliate’s site and if the customer likes the music they can download it for free. It’s a great way to get tech-savvy customers to your ecommerce site.
G: I’ve seen people talk about payola and then lump your service into their comments. What’s your response to that?
RB: Legally advertising a song is completely different than payola foolery. However, this brings us back to the topic of merit. Which marketing process do you think displays greater artistic merit? Allowing a hard working professional musician to advertise a song and telling the audience that the song is an advertisement, or bribing a radio station to play a song to fool the audience into thinking that the music was selected by virtue of its artistic merit?
G: With the Elliott Spitzer lawsuits, payola was highlighted, and then fell out of the public eye again. Yet everyone who will discuss the subject says it continues under a different name. Do you think payola is responsible for why radio stations still play songs that sound the same within each genre?
RB: There is no short answer to this question, payola is part of the problem but independent promotion is also an issue with the way the system works, as you noted previously.
G: How does the system work?
RB: The top four radio broadcasters have established a symbiotic relationship with the top four record labels. The broadcasters actually use music as a loss-leader to sell advertising. Broadcasters use a very narrow selection of music to attract a certain type of listener that is highly appealing to advertisers. For our purposes, it is important to note that those listeners also happen to buy lots of music.
G: I wish they bought more, but go on.
RB: Under that established business model, broadcasters reserve the prime hours of the broadcast day for the songs that attract the most advertisers meaning lots of repetitions for just a few songs, played in between lots of commercials. Some of those prime-time broadcast hours are available for sale through independent promoters who purchase the time and resell it to labels at a higher price. Labels spend millions of dollars every year with independent promoters to get the top one or two percent of their artists into the prime broadcast channel where the music buyers are.
G: So you are saying that broadcast music is really a matter of marketing, research, budgeting, media buying, and so on, the same as for advertising a product?
RB: Right, and thousands of independents don’t have huge marketing budgets to pay for prime airtime. So they are denied access, leaving only the vampire hours available to new music.
G: Vampire hours! You mean after midnight and before sunrise?
RB: Essentially, yes.
G: But ToneStac slots for music are open all hours?
RB: Yes. In order to reinvent radio for the digital age, ToneStac provides guaranteed access to radio 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, commercial free. We give musicians the freedom to market their music business in multiple media markets simultaneously and we allow the audience to hear a much broader selection of music.
G: Are there some examples of artists who have used ToneStac successfully?
RB: We just recently launched the radio station and website at the end of July. We are very excited about the response we have received from the artist community but it’s a little too soon to measure success.
G: How did you come to be involved with this marketing concept? What is your business background?
RB: I was influenced by some of the work that we produced at MP3.com where I was an integral part of the operations team responsible for internal infrastructure before I moved to DivX where I had similar responsibilities. Prior to entering the software industry I ran my own construction company for a number of years and later started a company that developed safety products for the home where I co-patented our first product off the drawing board.
G: How did ToneStac get started?
RB: The idea behind ToneStac started after I read the “Joint Statement On Current Issues In Radio” published on the Future of Music Coalition website. I realized that there was a huge dysfunction between radio and the music industry and I set out to resolve the problem.
G: How do you sum up the advantages to an artist using your service?
RB: Any artist can now access radio to market their music business giving the audience the freedom to determine merit instead of allowing a gatekeeper to decide for you. Getting airplay in one specific market can also lead to you playing multiple venues in one area. It also can open up lines of communication with programmers on other stations, especially those that want to compete for the attention of fans interested in new and emerging artists.
G: Running a music publishing company and writing a column means that people are constantly giving me music to consider. Some of it is great and well-recorded. Some songs are excellent but the tracks are just scratch demos or bootleg quality live recordings. And some songs are just mediocre, no matter how well-recorded they may be. Does ToneStac screen out poorly recorded work or bad songs?
RB: For the most part, we deal with independent labels and artist management companies. These businesses have pre-filtered their portfolio for dedicated, professional musicians that they believe are marketable, ready for live performances, and capable of selling music.
G: But if an indie artist approaches you, what then? What if it’s a nice song but poorly recorded? Or what if it is just a piece of dreck?
RB: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, hence we have eBay. Since we are broadcasting live over the air we must comply with FCC decency regulations. Other than that it’s up to the artist to decide if they want to pay to advertise their music. Then, it’s up to the audience to log in and tell the artist what they think, good or bad. That’s one reason why artists come to ToneStac, they want listener feedback.
G: Let me come back to the publishing side of things again. How do you handle the question of copyright and royalty payments?
G: If people want to know the process, procedures and prices, where should they go?
RB: Visit us online at www.tonestac.com where you can get answers to all those questions.