Feature Opinion

Is All Music That’s Local Really Lekker?

In the recent few weeks there has been a lot of talk around musicians and fans asking radio stations to support local music. I think the first thing to note around this debate, is that last week, David Scott from The Kiffness was trying to make the point that the song he was listening to (Nadia Nakia’s ‘Money Back’) was a direct copy of an international sound, more specifically, an American sound.

What Scott was not saying, was that, you should support local music because it is local. What then transpired was people jumping on the band wagon about #LocalIsLekker.

I think there are a lot of “experts” (and I use this term very loosely) that think they know how radio works. So I thought I would share a bit of knowledge about how radio works.

When you want to start a radio station, you need to apply to ICASA. You give them a proposal on the profile of your radio station – your target market, what your format will be (talk, music etc.) and then based on who your target market is, you would decide on what music format you are going for. For instance, if you speak to an audience that is 35 – 50, you would play adult contemporary music and when you receive your licence, you have to stick to that specific format i.e. contemporary music.

As of late, all radio stations have to play a 35% quota of local music. When it comes to a commercial Top 40 radio station (that is a station that plays COMMERCIAL Top 40 music), you have to take into consideration a wide variety of genres – hip hop, pop, indie rock and dance (that includes most sub genres of dance – electro, house, trap, drum ‘n’ bass etc). So you can well imagine the amount of songs that get submitted by record labels as well as independent artists. To put it into perspective, a radio station can possibly receive 60 tracks per week to listen to. The radio station will then decide on about a maximum of 8 tracks to playlist per week. This is so that you can actually hear the track a few times. If there were more than 60 new tracks a week, your chance of hearing any new song gets less and less. This also means that you don’t actually get that familiarity of hearing a song and as you know, you don’t always like a song the first time you hear it, you normally need to hear it a few times before it “grows on you”.

The way a music radio system actually works is that they will have numerous categories playlisted – their Top 40 tracks (which will be on the highest rotation because they are the most popular), Current Tracks (which are on a slightly lower rotation than Top 40), New Music and then Old Tracks. Now try to imagine the amount of music going in and out of a music station.

A huge factor in play here when it comes to rotation is format. Format at a radio station is what gives them their “sound”, whether it be urban, commercial, adult contemporary, classical or whatever. You cannot submit your metal track to Classic FM and say you should play it because its South African. Do some homework on which station you want to submit your track to and think if your music fits that format.

So that is just a simple perspective on how radio works.

Now lets get to the point that has been raised about supporting local music. Do you honestly think that American or British bands go to a radio station and say, you have to play my music because it’s American or British? What planet are you living on?

I totally get the fact that a band or artist having their song playlisted on radio helps your career. That is why I supported local music on radio and helped as much as I could. Because I am extremely passionate about local music. But let me be clear here, I’m extremely passionate about good local music. I don’t want to listen to radio and go, “Oh that sounds like a South African track,” because the quality or songwriting is shit. I want to listen to a song and go, “Holy crap, that is a great track!”

And don’t for one moment think that I support all aspects of radio. I read an article the other day about going back to where radio has “tastemakers”. People who are so passionate about music, they are bringing you good music. At the end of the day, even if that person gives you some form of good music, there will be people that moan because they aren’t playing this band or that band. We all have our own taste. And it will never be the same.

So where do we go from here? Keep submitting your tracks to radio. If your song is rejected, don’t give up. But always check if your music matches the stations format and target market.

I do believe that things will change, and there are people out there that do support all forms of local music. We live in an amazing time, where radio is not the only medium you can find music on. There are hundreds of avenues you can now pursue to listen to exactly the music you want to listen to. Use them.

Follow Catherine on Twitter.