If January’s Arbitron monthly ratings report card is any indication, Alternative radio is in for a tremendous 2013. Of the top twenty nine markets, twenty stations had up months, albeit up from the holiday monthly rating period. Regardless, our State Of The Format series has everyone pointing thumbs up to the ongoing potential of Alternative radio. From Program Directors to Music Directors and Sales Management, you can feel the momentum. And that momentum includes the various record executives we spoke with regarding the health of the format.
The diversity of sound at Alternative radio is partly attributable to the forward thinking A&R departments at major labels who are signing a sonic diet of bands where the electric guitar is not always the signature or primary instrument being represented by the band. Combine that with a cadre of seasoned major and indie label Alternative promotion executives, many who have been through a few cycles of Alternative music and know their way around breaking bands, and you have a resurgent scenario between alternative radio and records.
Mike DePippa, VP Rock & Alternative Promotion at Columbia Records tells Alternative Contraband, “I think the state of the format is great. The format is capable of breaking bands and artists, and crossing songs. I find that exciting, the best it’s been in a long time.” DePippa emphasizes the format’s need to continue to break and support core bands, saying to be wary of too many novelties and one hit wonders.
Other Promo execs cite the format’s ability to cross songs to other formats as being a renewed strength. ADA Label Services VP and Head Of Promotion & Labels Services Tyson Haller says, “One of the strengths of the format is reflected by how many cross-over hits to other formats there are. Records that are so strong and mass appeal that exemplify the alternative format yet can crossover to these other mass appeal formats and still sell records.” Haller feels this strength is not only in the great songs, but also the maturity of the format in general saying “the alternative format is broad demo-wise. You have a very wide age range, and you have females and males and that is what gives these records the ability to crossover. That will continue to be the strength of the alternative format.”
Alternative Contraband addressed the lengthened amount of time it takes to break a song in today’s Alternative radio world. Alternative has evolved into a less churn and burn song format than in the past. A look at March 5th Mediabase and its most played chart shows the range of “weeks on” in the top twenty at Top 40 radio was from 5 to 23 weeks while Alternative’s was 2-42 (!) weeks. “Medium rotation at Alternative radio is two or three spins a day, and it takes a while to get familiar,” says Capitol Records Head Of Promotion Howard Petruziello. “Plus, people are just not sick of the more popular songs, like Muse and The Lumineers.” This clearly speaks to the number of distractions in today’s modern world, especially for Alternative fans who are early adopters to many new, technological tools. DePippa’s view of this recent phenomenon at Alternative radio is, “It takes longer but I feel like it has always taken a long time. With alternative radio, it’s a one prong attack so to get to that point of familiarity and get it up the chart and all those things take a long time.”
As recently as a few years ago, getting four adds in four weeks meant pulling the plug on the project. Now, it takes patience and knowing your metrics to determine continuing with the project. Petruziello notes, “As long as you see some sort of positive growth and signs, you keep going. It is very key to communicate to radio stations. Certain programmers look for reasons “why not” as opposed to “why” and if you were down 12 spins a week that is something you have to manage and get in front of.”
Alternative radio’s increasing development of festivals, concert events, and digital media expansion has given the labels an increasing toolkit of exposure to break a band in a given market. Petruziello enthuses, “Alternative radio on the digital side is pretty quick to adapt, to expose records when they’re playing them. It’s a good way to get things started. I’ll do things with stations that aren’t even playing the record.” DePippa enjoys working with stations on their major festivals and concerts saying, “It’s about marketing our artists through the stations big branding events. When radio and records sees results that’s when it is most beneficial”
As with our series with Program Directors, record promo execs did not voice many concerns with the format, feeling it is hitting on all cylinders. Columbia’s DePippa slightly differs saying, “I think that there are not enough stations. Additionally, there’s still only a real handful of leaders being aggressive and making the first move on breaking these bands, but it’s proving that it can work and it can happen.”
ADA’s Haller feels stations that do not have the ability to use call-out research can be a dangerous thing saying, “You have less stations that do research and I happen to think research is a good thing, compared to not having it at all. It leaves radio in a kind of a weird place. Do I follow other stations? Do I follow my gut? Do I pull the plug after 180 spins? If a record is taking a long time, people are going start looking for slots, likely with a developing band. The only thing to help this is research.”
All in all, everyone working in Alternative radio and records should be proud of reviving a nearly dead format as recent as four years ago!
Alternative Contraband would like to thank everybody who participated in our State Of The Format series exposing the strengths and cautions of radio’s greatest format. Haller sums up the series by pointedly saying, “It is a very exciting time for the format and industry. I don’t know why people are saying radio is dead.”
What is your state of the format? Join the conversation here.
State Of The Format Part III–The Sales Department http://www.alternativecontraband.com/?p=8048
State Of The Format Part II http://www.alternativecontraband.com/?p=7934
State Of The Format Part I http://www.alternativecontraband.com/?p=7879