Monday, 16 September 2013

Do radio stations dictate relevance and success?

Singer/songwriter Ryan Tedder's group OneRepublic have, after an absence of six years, returned to the UK top three this week with their highest peaking chart hit to date, Counting Stars. Tedder can claim two of the songs in the top three this week with Ellie Goulding's former chart topper Burn, which he wrote, easing down a place to No.3 after five weeks on the chart. Although Tedder has been responsible for a number of UK chart hits since OneRepublic's heydey in 2007/8 with the hits Apologize and Stop & Stare, this is the first hit single for the group in over half a decade. So what happened to them since, and how have they suddenly burst back into the charts? 

The answer is that the band have never gone away, have been releasing albums ever since and have remained a big name in other parts of the world with anthemic radio hits such as Secrets and All The Right Moves. Yet UK radio have more or less ignored them ever since 2008. In the meantime, Tedder has penned hits for Leona Lewis, Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson and Adele, amongst many others, and his anthemic heavily produced pop/rock 'sound' has ruled the airwaves for the past few years. Despite providing vocals for a couple of UK top 20 hits in the form of Far East Movement's Rocketeer and Sebastian Ingrosso & Alesso's Calling (Lose My Mind), Tedder has remained firmly behind the scenes in the minds of the UK public. 

Counting Stars, taken from OneRepublic's latest album Native, has been steadily climbing the charts and soared to No.2 on the latest chart thanks to a number of factors. Firstly iTunes handily reduced the track to 59p, giving on the fence buyers more of an incentive to purchase. Secondly, there was no competition standing in the way of success aside from Katy Perry's monster hit Roar - Counting Stars sold under 40,000 copies to climb to No.2 this week, the lowest sale for a No.2 single in 18 months! Thirdly, radio programmers have been more kind to them this time around, and this is surely the biggest step for any band to achieve on their seek to regain relevance. Having ignored them for years, Radio 1 have added Counting Stars to their a-list, and the song also has major airplay from big hitters Heart and Capital. So is a great song all it takes for any act to score another hit, no matter how long ago their last one was? The answer is no. No matter how brilliant a song is, without any promotion or support people are unlikely to hear it (short of it being a viral internet hit a la Harlem Shake) and therefore unlikely to buy it. Is Counting Stars really THAT much better than the ignored single Secrets? Probably not, but that lacked any sort of support and therefore failed to become a hit of any kind in the UK. 

Radio are the hitmakers in this country, even moreso than the television music channels and the internet. Tens of millions of people tune into various radio stations daily and the music that they hear helps to shape their tastes and what they are likely to purchase. Tedder also penned Delta Goodrem's recent Australian top ten single Heart Hypnotic, an uplifting pop-dance song that has international hit written all over it. Except for the fact that Delta hasn't had a hit here for nearly a decade and radio programmers are unlikely to ever give her a chance again due to this. Despite the fact that she's still in her 20s, she is perceived as being 'past it' to radio programmers. 

Robbie Williams' chart topping single Candy from last year was famously snubbed by Radio 1, who labelled him irrelevant to their audience. Does advancing age equal irrelevance when your music quality is still as strong as ever? How many acts can you find on the Radio 1 playlist that are younger than 40? One week 15 years ago in late 1998 the UK top four singles chart consisted of Cher, George Michael, U2 and Culture Club, all well on the way to being or way past 40 at this point. Radio 1 playlisted all of these releases so what is it that they have against aging acts nowadays? And as an aside, why do they blacklist certain artists from the playlist as soon as they have a few underperforming single releases - Christina Aguilera, Robbie Williams, or Alexandra Burke for example. Heart and Capital are just as much to blame for not supporting artists later on into their career. Yes it's right to promote new talent, but what about supporting new songs by older talent too, rather than a neverending stream of 'club classics' and 80s songs.

The point is that OneRepublic's return to relevance has happened because this time around they've had a favourable set of circumstances, but more than anything they've had strong radio support. Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera had been facing diminishing returns in the charts for years but suddenly Moves Like Jagger got heavily supported by Radio 2, Capital and Heart and suddenly it's a million selling single, and Maroon 5 are as big as ever. Would this have really been as big a hit for these two fading artists if radio had completely ignored it? Loreen's Eurovision winning anthem Euphoria from last year was a huge No.1 single all across Europe and stalled at No.3 here before dropping like a stone. Why? Because she was deemed irrelevant, ignored by UK radio programmers and had nothing to keep her and the song in the public consciousness. Why is she supposedly so irrelevant to the UK but so relevant to every other country in Europe? 

Is it fair that a panel of a few people on each radio station basically dictate what the nation listen to? Or should it be more democratic, with listeners perhaps voting for their favourite tracks out of a selection each week, the most popular being added to the radio playlists, regardless of how old or 'past it' an act might seem to a radio bigwig. It will be interesting to see which acts are the next to be re-embraced or completely ignored by radio, and what impact this will have on their careers. For every Will Young and Enrique Iglesias who resumed their success in the last few years with major help from radio, there's a Nelly Furtado, Mika and Duffy who were completely abandoned after mega success in the late 00s, leaving them with little more than quickly failing careers. If Mika's Popular Song, featuring rising star of the moment Ariana Grande, was picked up by radio, it seems that he could be the next former star to have a reignited career, much like OneRepublic are currently enjoying now!