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Radio Vs Streaming – Who’s Better At Discovering New Music?

0 Culture / Features / Music

When was the last time you turned on the radio? Do you trust your independent and corporate radio presenters to bring you the best new music? With streaming services tapping directly into taste via an algorithm – who in 2017 is better at serving us the freshest talent?

At SXSW 2017 this topic was discussed at length among industry professionals and panel members of note. Radio stations across the globe are all experiencing the same inability to break new artists, compared to their previous domination in this field. Gone are the days of listeners frantically cassette tape recording pirate radio so they can play the newest music in their car. Now everyone has an aux cord and app for that. We all have the ability to curate a playlist from every music medium – whenever we want to.

But that’s not to say radio is obsolete. Independent radio listeners in the U.K. have a special and long-running relationship with their underground DJs, who are often viewed as a hotbed of aspiring hosting talent, keen to impress listeners with their expansive music knowledge. Bigger conglomerates like the BBC Radio and the Capital and Kiss networks continue to play the popular but of course, with more associated constraints.

Radar Radio editor and DJ, Jb says “I think independent radio’s a great way to find more obscure music, for sure. I personally – and I know a lot of our DJs do too – spend hours and hours looking through Bandcamp/Soundcloud/radio shows/ insta videos to find tunes to play. It’s all about finding those tracks that really make an impact on you; I think independent radio will always be a fantastic source of finding music for “the heads,” as the tracks have already gone through an incredibly discerning filter by making the cut for the DJ’s show.”

The (very American) panel at SXSW included Jeff Morad from WEQX, Lesley Ja from WWCD and Mike Kaplan from KYSR in Los Angeles. While no one divulged truly unique tactics for finding new music, everyone insisted that they do everything humanly possible to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to presenting unique artists. And let’s not forget that compared to most streaming services, regular digital radio is comparatively free to listen to. They also said they pay close attention to what each other is playing. Interestingly, despite their own tactics to find new music, they all say that “great new music finds me, not the other way around.” Big money radio will always come with its list of restrictions and a company approved playlist to adhere to – it’s risky for them to keep pushing listeners towards the unfamiliar. A streaming service doesn’t really have this worry.

But let’s face it, in 2017 the internet has given everyone access to these kinds of portals and most people with a set of headphones, a favourite blog (obviously Pardon My Blog) and an app, can consider themselves a Google new music expert of sorts. Today’s audience has a self-service attitude across a number of mediums in their every day – from Netflix to Soundcloud to dating apps – the choice is yours. Having pretty much every song in the world at your immediate request 24 hours a day can be a blessing and a curse – choice can be an overwhelming opportunity that pushes people into intimidated submission. Too much choice can be paralysing. Some music fans’ respond to the ubiquity of modern music by shutting it out completely; retreating to the safety of their existing and well-loved playlist. But there will always be a thirst for a fresh sound for some.


New artist Quiñ opens up the Fader Fort stage at SXSW 2017

When asked how radio stays ahead of streaming, Jb said, “Tough one, but I’d say they don’t. That’s why I fuck with radio more for finding new music because there aren’t any algorithms. It’s personal, there are jokes and mistakes, there’s character. I’ll let SoundCloud play a few tunes or whatever to hear some new stuff, but more often than not it just gets dry. You never know what a DJ’s going to draw for next, could be a completely different mood/bpm/style to the track they played before.”

According to a report from the Financial Times, music streaming is about to overtake physical sales as the biggest generator of income for the UK record industry, with streaming service revenue pushed to a five-year high in 2016. So while Spotify and friends steam ahead by offering the sound of a new artist via a curated playlist, independent radio continues to fill the empty space with incandescence and relatable charm. An increasingly visual and knowledgeable voice will by and large always beat the cold-hearted nature of a functional algorithm. And as for the bigger, more commercial stations that have to stick to a radio-friendly playlist? Well, they serve a new artist with essential exposure but if you’re a music fiend on the hunt for the newest sonic contender, that’s not what you’ll be tuning into.

Words by Sophie