Sunday, May 25, 2014

'pon the playlist

There's something a little worrying about the report in The Observer which watches a Radio One playlist meeting. Can you spot it, I wonder?

A snatch of each song blares through speakers before Ergatoudis lists the artist's YouTube views, Soundcloud hits, Shazam ratings, Twitter followers and Facebook likes. "[Indie foursome] Wolf Alice's Moaning Lisa Smile video has had 15,000 views on YouTube and they've got 11,000 followers on Twitter," Ergatoudis tells the room. "James, you want to go first?"
There's a lot of this - records being weighed on how many Twitter followers the band has; the number of times a YouTube video has been played by man or machine; and so on.

A snatch of music, a bellyful of statistics. Surely that's the wrong way round? Surely Radio One should be playlisting music based on the track itself, rather than because it's already popular elsewhere? If YouTube views are the new chart, then this is like the playlist meeting in 1993 choosing records based on what Bruno Brookes had read out on the Top 40 the previous Saturday.

The Observer's Nadia Khomami asks Radio One's George Ergatoudis about this point:
It's faintly depressing to hear bands referred to as "brands" with their worth determined by online data. Stats is business talk. It isn't creative, it isn't art, it's box-ticking. It's playing people the kind of music that they're already listening to. Harding says, though, that there are exceptions to this rule. "There have been moments where we've been tempted to completely go against data. Clean Bandit have had the biggest single of the year so far and we booked them for a live lounge in January last year, purely on the basis that we had a feeling they were doing something special. They didn't have very much in terms of stats. And it took a year of us playing a sequence of singles for people to jump on to them - a lot of people think Rather Be was their first single but actually it was their fourth that we playlisted on Radio 1."
That this is an exception, rather than a rule, is something of a problem. Because if Radio One is basically deciding what to play using a 'what's already popular' formula, you might wonder why its target audience would bother tuning in.

"Hey, kids, listen to the radio - we've got all the songs you liked a fortnight ago, right here."

It's not the most exciting proposition, is it?

"Radio One: In YouTube's statistical integrity we trust."

Isn't Radio One's job to build the talent, rather than count the numbers?


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