Who Knows?


The industry was talking about a bunch of things this week:  The Network 40 Summer Games, The Monitor backing off its dictatorial edict and a joint study commissioned by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Association of Recording Merchandisers.

The 1997 Network 40 Summer Games is the most exciting thing that has happened in our industry.  By the time you read this, it will be sold out.  It’s covered extensively in other parts of the magazine.

The Monitor, after having to shut off their fax machines because so many copies of the Network 40 Editorial about their stance was flooding their offices, made a Solomon decision by cutting the baby in half.  However, to their credit, it shows they’ve begun to listen…and certainly to read.

That leaves us with the study released by NARM and RIAA.  In a nutshell, the results of the research showed, among other things, that MTV and radio airplay is playing a smaller role in influencing potential record buyers.

Although we applaud any attempt to find new and innovative ways to stimulate record sales, the results of this particular research project are not in sync with many others.  This research was done with a focus group of only 80 people.  I have no idea what criteria was used, but it couldn’t be representative of the majority of record buyers.

The studies I have seen basically show the opposite.  I have never seen a research project that didn’t reveal that most record buyers (well over 90%) are directly influenced by radio airplay.  Although specific events (AMAs, Grammy Awards etc.) stimulate record sales, these are sales of familiar product already receiving airplay.

It is no secret that record companies spend millions of dollars to get radio airplay.  It’s done for a reason.  Airplay is the primary motivator of record sales.

MTV?  That’s another story.  Research can’t really pinpoint MTV’s overall effectiveness, but there is no doubting the power of the medium on certain projects.  It has long been a position taken by many in radio that it’s not MTV, but MTV’s influence on radio airplay that stimulates sales.  By that, I mean record companies use an add on MTV as ammunition to get additional radio airplay, thereby simulating sales.

Although this is certainly true in many cases, there are specific instances where MTV, and  MTV alone, is responsible for drastic influences in record sales.

Take The WORK Group’s Jamiroquai, for instance.  With little radio airplay in the United States, domestic record sales were slowing.  Because this group was so huge in Europe, WORK continued to aggressively promote the record.  Then, with MTV signing on as a partner and with increased video exposure, sales shot up.  Radio has now jumped on the bandwagon.

One can site other instances where MTV has had little or no effect.  But the fact remains that MTV can be a viable entity in stimulating record sales.

Record companies and retailers should continue to strive to find additional ways to stimulate sales, but anyone who says that airplay…of any kind…isn’t the motivating factor in convincing the record buying public to make a purchase is living in a dream world.

Is marketing important?  Of course it is.  Is it necessary for marketing executives to find new ways to stimulate record sales?  Of course.  However, may I make a suggestion?  If marketing would spend more time making sure product that is already receiving airplay is actually in the retail outlets, perhaps this could be more stimulating than 10 surveys.

The biggest complaint I hear from programmers and promotion executive s when trying to determine the sales potential of a record on the air is lack of product in retail outlets.  That, coupled with the limited knowledge of retail managers, loses sales.

There’s something else we should take into consideration when trying to find out how to stimulate record sales…that’s the product.  It is amazing.  No matter how long or how hard we try, programmers, promotion and marketing can’t make a stiff sell…nor can any of us keep a hit from happening.  I know this should be a foregone conclusion, but better music always equates to bigger sales.

We should all take a lesson from the movie industry.  With all due respect given to how much money the record industry spends promoting and marketing a record, we pale when compared to the motion picture industry.  We are, at best, merely red-headed, freckle-faced step-children grubbing for crumbs from the tables of the truly exorbitant.

The motion picture industry spends millions on promoting and marketing movies, only to fall on their own sword when the audience doesn’t like the movie.  All the marketing and promotion in the world couldn’t get people in the theatres to see Ishtar.

So, where do we go from here?  The road isn’t easy.  We continue to blaze a trail through the wilderness.  I recognize the changes in radio.  I understand that different avenues have to be explored to try and take advantage of some of the changes.  But promotion is what gets records heard by the masses…not marketing.  It is my opinion that many in the record business pushed marketing over promotion because they couldn’t promote effectively.

Just because radio has changed over the past few years doesn’t mean we must market differently because promotion doesn’t work.  It means we must promote harder so that marketing can have a chance to work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *