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Community Saved The Radio Star - NXNE 2010
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2010-07-01

From June 13th-June 19th I was up in Toronto, CA for the NXNE music-film-interactive conference. It's the sister conference to Austin's SXSW and I was asked to moderate a panel on Community Saved the Radio Star. Since part of Section 101's core business is building communities around artist sites, it was certainly a topic about which I am passionate. The past decade has been a tumultuous time of change for many industries, much of it driven by the Internet. In the Music industry, the Internet has changed the way music is discovered, explored, shared, monetized, marketed, distributed, etc.

My panel topic was to discuss how the radio business has changed, and how online communities are helping to save the "Radio Star." Joining me on the panel was Ira Haberman, the Creative Director at Corus Interactive, who develops and implements interactive, mobile and social media strategies and content for Canada's foremost radio group, Elliott Hurst, the CEO of Supernova.com, a very cool musically immersive and interactive community for bands, fans and listeners and Jeff Rogers, the Music Director for AUX. TV, who oversees the production and development of programming and acquisitions for the amazing new Canadian 24-hour digital music channel. Communities are universal; what we all agreed was that radio isn't dead, but it has to evolve. We focused on terrestrial radio v. Internet radio (leaving the satellite chat to the side) and identified how important Internet radio is, and what an amazing opportunity it provides to the curious listener.

People's opinions are involved in this milieu, and it gives bands that might not get the chance at mainstream airplay the possibility of being heard. Since the demand for revenue isn't the same when you're listening online, indie artists have a shot at finding an audience, and that's not something that can be discounted. Internet radio can be viewed as a triangle with the Program Director and the fans on the ends and the artist on top. Radio also provides a channel (pun intended) where a listener can tune in on a local level. Localization and Communities are contextually relevant; the community is formed at the intersection of the artist, the fan and the curator (Program Director). However, unlike terrestrial radio, the Program Director isn't beholden to any one and is able to really give his/her audience a participatory role in helping to program the station.

Internet radio provides the same point of musical detection for the guy listening at his desk in Naples, Italy to the girl doing homework in Cleveland, OH. A shared song or a beloved new band is a shared experience that builds this community. These two people may never have anything else in common but listening to a song on a favorite Internet station, put it's enough for them to start a conversation. In this sense, community has saved the radio star - labels are much less important in this scheme, as it's the fans that hold the power. Restructuring starts at the top and every one is able to participate. It doesn't matter if you have a lot of money or a superstar artist in your back pocket - with online radio, the community plays a big part in what you're going to hear. While neither Spotify nor Pandora is available in Canada, we all agreed that while they do provide a form of discovery they don't replace the need for a recommendation from the tastemaker in a community.

By suggesting "If you like U2, you will like Midnight Oil" you surrender to a calculation. If a tastemaker tells you, you might like well, at a minimum you might just give it a listen. While there's a place for both involvement and suggestion in music discovery, the whole panel strongly believed that even with the best Program Director, the most intense fans and the finest suggestions, it comes down to the music. Communities would be moot without an amazing song to listen to, a terrific band to cheer for, an unknown gem to rally around. You can find yourself in a foreign country, not speaking the language, and find yourself totally at home at a concert hearing a familiar song. Nothing can bring people together - can make communities - like music can. Artists, keep making remarkable music. You, and the listener, will be justly rewarded.

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