Saturday, 20 November 2010

Television Killed the Radio Star

YUCK is a new indie band from North London comprised of awkward looking Jewish guys with mad hair who derive their inspiration from the alternative music scene of the very late 80s and early 90s. There is nothing revelatory about their sound but British radio is totally in love with the group. There is a retro quality to their latest song The Wall that transports the listener back to 1993 when The Pixies, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Lemmonheads, Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth were all popular indie acts. The Wall catapults you to a time when MTV had a flagship show called 120 Minutes that used to feature wall-to-wall songs like it and Alan McGee's (who is incidentally a Yuck fan) Creation record label was churning out 'shoegazing' melodies of similar ilk. The music press has immediately warmed to Yuck with the Guardian's Paul Lester praising them at a time when they still didn't even have a record deal. Radio 1's prognosticator of hip sounds, Zane Lowe, named The Wall 'the hottest record' of the month and XFM have ranked the single in a more than favourable position on the radio station's playlist.

The question is: Does anyone still care about what songs the radio promotes, or are young folk more receptive to the types of music they hear on television shows and therefore more likely to buy songs that feature on those popular programmes?

When Phantom Planet had their hit song California used as the intro to The OC it boosted the band's popularity but dented its credibility as a serious rock act. Those who are earnest about music called the band 'sellouts', but the last 5 years has seen a sea change in the way musicians approach their music appearing on hit television shows, especially in America where Dawn Soler, ABC's VP of TV and Music, told Variety: "Five years ago, we were still at the point where we were begging bands to be a part of television; you had to go through all these approval processes and make it worth their while, but in the last four years, television has really become the new radio. It is absolutely the way people are discovering new music."

It seems the increasing difficulty of breaking new artists, coupled with crowded online marketing, has resulted in communication clutter, meaning Coldplay wouldn't stand a chance of conquering the States like they did a decade ago, that is unless they signed up for an all singing and dancing stint on Glee, which the rumour mill suggests they are in the process of doing.

This new TV/ music relationship is being taken very seriously and bands are now coming on board in a way that would have been unimaginable a few years back. The American CW Network ― a joint venture between Time Warner & CBS Networks, and makers of hit shows like Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, True Blood and The Vampire Dairies ― broadcasts programmes targeting women between 18 to 34 years of age. Their track record demonstrates that the CW Network is extremely successful at what it does and both new and old bands want a piece of the action. Leonard Richardson, VP of music at the CW Network, argues that "[Record] labels have always been interested in licensing, but the perception changed more so with artists than with labels. I think at one point artists felt like, 'Oh, I don't want my music used in this or that, and I want people to buy it just for the music as opposed to tied to a product or a TV show.' The industry squeeze made people re-evaluate that."

Leonard Richardson is obviously shit-hot at what he does. He came up with a promotion whereby information about artists and their albums would be shown on "ad cards" at the end of a show like Gossip Girl in exchange for a reduced licensing fee. This was so successful that they launched a "platinum series" for platinum-selling artists, showing a clip from their latest music video as well as album info. Last season, Kanye West and Green Day were featured and both yielded boosted sales in return. Even British acts like Nadia Oh got her relatively unknown track Got Ur Number on Gossip Girl and had a better response Stateside than what she ever got here in Blighty. Lady GaGa went one better by appearing on the show in person and justified her shameless promotion of Bad Romance as "performance art"; but Richardson is more honest in stating that every time GaGa's song was played it essentially resulted in increased song sales. Richardson is a genius at music placement, getting hold of Ke$ha's song Tik Tok before it went on sale and, based on sheer voice recognition, teenage girls were buzzing about the track on Twitter and Facebook before it had even been released. It's no wonder that Ke$ha is now one of America's best selling pop singers.

Now, neither Yuck nor their new song are looking to seek out Leonard Richardson's support, but is British television missing out by not actively developing the type of productive synergy American record labels have struck with U.S. television broadcasters? There are British shows like Skins and The Inbetweeners that are huge hits with the youth market but they often feature songs that have already become popular, thus they don't make an effort to explore new sounds that may connect with their audiences. There is a problem in that British television broadcasters have no idea of how to come up with ingenious systems like the Americans have developed. Last year the BBC made its Music FastClear service available online, allowing independent production companies to immediately clear music rights themselves, but that isn't going far enough. There is some great music coming out of this country right now and if producers were more proactive then a very beneficial symbiotic relationship between the two industries can be forged.

At least Britain's still got the good old national jukebox at the Eastenders cafe which continues to spew out nonspecific Top 10 hits. If it ain't broke then what's the point of fixing it.

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