Is TV the new Radio?

Sometime earlier this year, I was at a bar with some friends.  I met a guy who’s an A&R for Justin Timberlake’s label.  We exchanged emails.  A few days later he sent me an invitation to a performance by one of the label’s artists, a singer by the name of Matt Morris.  I figured he was a brand new artist, just got signed.  Someone fresh on the roster making his rotations, and setting himself on the map.

About a week later, I was talking to the homegirl @Bellametaphor.  She asked me, “Have you heard of this guy Matt Morris?  He’s a singer on Justin Timberlake’s label…” and she sent a YouTube link to his videos.  I asked her how she heard of him?  She replied “Oh, I saw him on Ellen today.”

Then last week I see that both Ellen and Letterman have started their own record labels!

I started wondering: is TV the new radio?

We can trace this all through American Idol, America’s Got Talent, America’s Best Dance Crew.  All that.  I’ve looked at commercials on YouTube and see people ask “What song is that playing in the background? Where can I find it?”  It’s as if people are lookin at television for quality music.

A while ago when I did my R&B Stock posts, I talked about Janelle Monae, asking “Why hasn’t she made any television appearances?”  Well soon after that, within a week she was on just about every late night television program performing, including this knockout performance on Letterman.  Maybe this is how she got to be #17 on the Billboard charts with little other promo and just her fan base.  21,000 copies sold in a week.  Not bad at all for an indie artist.   I can’t tell if the numbers would have been higher if she had been performing on shows before the album dropped, but it could surely have sparked more discussions around the water coolers and school grounds for anticipation

“Yo did you see that girl Janelle Monae last night?  When is her album coming out!?  I want it!”

But still, why would anyone like Letterman, a man who’s been a staple of late night television for about 28 years, want to have a record label?  How is it that people like Jimmy Fallon are so regarded because of the music acts they choose to have on?  Are they better filters than radio?

There was a point where being on the radio meant that you were either the next hot thing that the label’s discovered, or that the American public was going to decide on what the next hot thing was going to be.  Of course labels got their tie in, pay for play and all that.  So now, we have a situation where just about every station plays what’s “hot”, which is really whatever the label gives them.  And whether the listener likes it or not, it will be in heavy rotation throughout the day, everyday.  This pretty much seems to be a national issue.  All my friends across the US have complained about hearing the same songs over and over.  And for every song that gets heavy rotation on radio, you see heavy music video rotation, and then the clubs play it ad-nauseam.  Within a month you can get sick of a song and you want something new again.

Well of course the public somewhat supports the cycle, partly because they don’t really know what their other options are, or don’t have the time or patience to go searching.  So what’s the next best filter?  Television.  You have American Idol where people can vote on the next star (which usually ends up being a dud after the show), and you have your late night television programs.  They almost have to be sure to get good performing acts because if the person is bad, then you end up switching the channel.  Now I’m sure there’s politics involved in being on television, but for an indie artist like Janelle Monae to break through and capture such a wide audience at once!?  That’s HUGE!  Imagine if some of the other great indie groups could work their way in like that?  But of course, Janelle does have the brand of Bad Boy backing her, so there’s no doubt that politics and credibility have to be established.  But who else is going to filter that?

Just a few weeks ago I was at the post office and saw Ellen’s face on a poster for stamps that donate to PeTA.  Then when I get home she’s on a huge billboard for VitaminWater.  She has a hit daytime show that may only rival Oprah.  Letterman really doesn’t do anything else besides his show, but he makes over $30 million a year.  How could either of them be successful in an industry that is losing sales every year!?

Well it’s pretty simple…they’re the few people that the American public trusts.  And even if the music industry isn’t doing well right now, their television shows are doing great.  They will hardly have to invest much to get a return.  And their hold of trust ensures that they will be more successful at selling music than a faceless record company.

Ellen is the new host on American Idol.  How much easier is it for her to filter in acts!?  And her first artist, Greyson Chance.  A 6th grader from Edmon, Oklahoma.  He can play piano.  He can sing.  He has stage presence.  He could pretty much trump Justin Bieber.  He already has nearly 25million views on YouTube.   That’s pretty much certified platinum the week of release.  He’s gonna hit the studio, appear on Ellen with new songs (hopefully they’ll be good), he’ll tour, do more shows, and sell out the gate.  He’s good.  I can’t be mad at that investment!

As for Letterman, he’s signed a Pop-Punk band called Runner Runner.  Basically it’s a boy band.  I see them doin well with teens, and probably overseas.  But with Letterman’s backing, I’m sure they will sell well also.  They sound pretty polished up.  Not my type, but I can easily see them on a lot of soundtracks, like the Twilight films.  If they have a few hits under their belt, they could be the next version of Maroon 5 of sorts…ohh well what do you know!  Here they are doin “She Will be Loved” by Maroon 5!

But let’s not fool ourselves too much here.  These labels aren’t completely the sole ventures of Ellen and Letterman, they are partnerships with big labels.  Ellen with Warner Bros, and Letterman with Capitol Records.  I wonder who approached whom first?  The hosts to start a new venture that they felt was an untapped resource, or the labels who knew they needed faces people trusted?

In any case, radio is on the brink of disaster.  The Internet and technology really has nothing to do with it.  It’s because they have failed at doin their job at securing the public’s trust and giving variety.  It’s easy to see that they only care about advertising and getting money.  Payola has been clearly exposed repeatedly to the point where the public now knows that being on the radio really doesn’t mean anything anymore.  As it is, television has become very redundant with reality shows. I only hope it doesn’t become the same cycle as radio, where every show runs the same music act to secure viewers.  I wouldn’t put it past them though.



  • I wouldn’t put it past them, either. The whole system seems to be the people with the most money behind them getting the most radio time and people are tired of hearing the same songs over and over.

    After pay for play/payola, I think ipods put the nail in the coffin for radio. People like to feel they have a choice in what they’re listening to (hell, at least I do).

    If Ellen or Letterman can bring good, interesting, and varied talent to the forefront, more power to them. I just hope it doesn’t get tainted.

  • 06/04/2010 at 9:23 am //

    TV is not the new radio. It is what it has always been– a platform to distribute information about products.

    Ellen mentioned in her announcement how “popular” her first signed artist is on Facebook and Youtube, not how good his music is. She simply told her viewing audience (supporters and haters) where to go to follow her new artist and how many other people like him. She introduced him to people who have not met him yet. And perhaps she is investing in her new artist because he has already proven how good his music is: good enough to command tremendous popularity, which is what attracts investors. (I wonder how many hits and friends request he got on Facebook and Youtube after her announcement and if she’s a shareholder of Google, Youtube and/or Facebook stock?)

    Ellen and Letterman are business persons who are smartly using their stapled platforms–TV–to promote and advertise (P&A) their new business ventures, kinda like what the makers of laundry detergents, cereal, toothpaste, etc. do everyday.

  • @Jadolphus- if that’s the case then TV & radio are the same thing really. Radio and TV are platforms to distribute products. At least they are increasingly just places to keep people watching/listening for commercials than to display art/entertainment. In this case, TV is just similar to radio in the way that new musical talent is being displayed as the hook. In this case Ellen, as you are explaining, is working like a major commercial radio station. Imagine if radio stations had labels attached to them (which they kinda do). In that case, she saw him on YouTube with his video views (which I’m sure was set up) and then she funneled him into her label, her new business venture.

  • Funny how this connects to J*DaVeY. Jack worked on Ellen left for her full-time music career and got signed by Warner Bros. Then performed on Ellen who you say is running her new label under Warner Bros ? I wonder if Ellen turned Warner Bros heads to J*DaVeY ? I’m sure they’ll be performing on her show when the album is near release .

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