Research undertaken by Music Week (2016) suggests that radio’s power to break songs is under increasing threat from streaming, with some of the biggest airplay hits of the year failing to crossover to the singles chart. Four of the years overall top ten airplay hits have failed to make the corresponding overall singles chart, whilst nineteen of the year’s streaming top twenty appear in the year-to-date equivalent.
Percival (2011) argues that the relationship between the radio and music industries as a symbiotic one, a relationship built upon the needs of both industries: the radio industry needs records to fill airtime and to attract audiences, whilst the music industry needs the pervasive exposure of airplay to sell singles and albums. Percival (2011) further suggests that music radio still has a profound influence on the sounds of popular music, however I would argue that the curation of music streamers such as Apple Music and Spotify are becoming more crucial and influential to the sound of popular music, especially with the creation and affirmation of Apple Music’s Beats 1 – an interactive on-demand hub that is layered with podcasts from curators (Zane Lowe, Julie Adenuga, Ebro Darden) to established artists (Dr. Dre, Corey Taylor, Fatboy Slim).
Greenwald (2015) argues that no matter how varied the music on Beats 1 can be, it’s ultimately a homogenised experience similar to that of traditional radio outputs, however I would argue that Beats 1 provides users with an unprecedented level of possibility and choice regarding what they listen to and when they listen to it, offering up vast libraries of on-demand content (Maasø, 2016). Whilst traditional radio outputs programme their music and use their presenters to act as tastemakers, attempting to legitimise their selections whilst Apple Music’s Beats 1 has built their presenters as cultural intermediaries – contextualised actors operating within a field of relations, in this case, popular music, whose authority is based upon their accumulation of cultural capital combined with their positions in the marketplace (Bourdieu, 1984; Morris, 2015) – who legitimise the sound of Beats 1, and ultimately of contemporary popular music trends, by having each individual presenter curate the soundtrack of each show so that each playlist is the taste-makers taste to a tee.
Furthermore, I would argue that music streaming is far more influential on the development of the sound of popular music than radio due to its ability to provide a totalising musical atmosphere, which ultimately satisfies any musical need at any moment (Morris and Powers (2015), which should be seen as more of a utility like water and electricity that consumers pay for monthly (Kusek and Leonhard, 2005) unlike radio which is ultimately free to listen to yet entirely homogenised and inflexible. However, when arguing for streaming against radio, one must not forget that away from the radio-like Beats 1, playlist recommendations remain as difficult to programme digitally as they are physically for radio, as the current technology cannot tell why a customer decided to choose to listen to a song, they can only make tautological correlations, thus comprehensive maps of musical genres cannot be created as they are continuously proliferating, evolving, and fusing with other genres (Burkart and McCourt, 2006; McCourt and Zuberi, 2016).
Whilst music radio is very much alive, I would argue that the continuing development of music streaming, and its adaptability to the users’ specific needs, whilst still acting as a progressive curator of popular music, is reaffirming itself as the dominant purveyor of popular music.
Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Routledge, Oxford.
Burkart, P. and McCourt, T. (2006). Digital music wars. 1st ed. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Greenwald, W. 2015, “Apple Music: Not Exactly Revolutionary”, PCmag.com, [Online].
Kusek, D. and Leonhard, G. (2005). The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution. 1st ed. Berklee Press, Boston.
Maasø, A. (2016). Music Streaming, Festivals, and the Eventization of Music. Popular Music and Society, pp.1-22.
McCourt, T. and Zuberi, N. (2016). Music and Discovery. Popular Communication, 14(3), pp.123-126.
Morris, J. (2015). Curation by code: Infomediaries and the data mining of taste. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 18(4-5), pp.446-463.
Morris, J. and Powers, D. (2015). Control, curation and musical experience in streaming music services. Creative Industries Journal, 8(2), pp.106-122.
Percival, J. (2011). Music Radio and the Record Industry: Songs, Sounds, and Power. Popular Music and Society, 34(4), pp.455-473.
Sutherland, M. (2016). Will Streaming Kill Off the Radio Stars?. [online] Music Week. Available at: http://www.musicweek.com/media/read/will-streaming-kill-off-the-radio-stars/066701 [Accessed 28 Nov. 2016].