The UK’s first ever electronic music business conference – Brighton Music Conference – takes place on April 11 & 12. Mixcloud are excited to take part in BMC, and will be joining the panel The Role of Radio For Digital Music.

Ahead of that debate, we have interviewed four of the panelists taking part in that discussion – Huw Owen from BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix, Daniel Nathan, CEO of Juice FM, Rashid Mustapha, Ofcom’s Senior Broadcast Specialist, and Mixcloud’s own Andreea Magdalina – to get their thoughts on where they see radio heading in the future.

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Huw Owen, Producer, BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix 

@huwowen

What do you think is the role of radio in today’s digital music world?

Radio is probably the most powerful music discovery tool out there. It has scale, authority, personality and authenticity. In fact as each new digital music service comes online, the need for trusted guides becomes more crucial. And that’s where I think stations like Radio 1 or Rinse FM, or DJs like Pete Tong or Annie Mac, come into their own.

What are the pros and cons of on-demand listening, from both a producer and listener perspective?

It is all pros as far as I can see. But the killer combination is on demand and live. In the case of the show that I produce, The Essential Mix, on demand listening is vital. Our show is on late at night in the UK and so giving listeners the ability to catch the show whenever is best for them is a great thing.

However, the fact that the show has a live slot is very important. It means every show is an event unto itself. You have to have the live ‘moment’ to create the excitement, and then offer the ability for people to catch up or catch again if they want.

How can radio adapt to work better in today’s on-demand environment?

Radio has to think about its shape and how it fits the online world. Traditionally radio shows are two or three hours long, which is perfect for radio listening, but not so great for online consumption when you are battling for attention in someone’s timeline.

One way to address that is by creating short elements & features within radio shows that listeners can take away with them, whether it is a live session, an interview, a clip of an exclusive, or a great bit of filmed content. BBC Playlister is another great way of making radio fit with today’s online music world.

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Rashid Mustapha, Senior Broadcast Specialist, Ofcom

What do you think is the role of radio in today’s digital music world?

The term ‘radio’ is becoming quite ambiguous in our multi-platform era – it is no longer used just to describe communication by electromagnetic waves to a wireless set, but increasingly to describe any linear (real-time) audio programme.

The way we consume it is changing, as are our expectations as listeners. There is no equivalent platform that has such high (and increasing) availability, and is free from paying for a service to receive it.

Radio provides a tremendous amount of creative freedom at a relatively low
cost and reaches an average 90% of the total UK population every week.

It is clear that people want a way to be kept entertained and informed in an effortless way – unlike on-demand media which tends to be more ‘needy’. Of the 90%, the vast majority (83%) use radio primarily for music listening – that’s a pretty big role!

What are the pros and cons of on-demand listening, from both a producer and listener perspective?

I referred to on-demand as being ‘needy’ from the listener perspective because it demands interaction – that’s a chore when listening should be effortless and enjoyable.

Also, the expert curator is a missing dimension from the experience. Another issue with on-demand is that good content is often lost in the noise of the bad, which is a problem that is only likely to get worse over time.

That fact is, it’s not so good from either perspective! I can see how independent producers might find ‘per download’ payments more appealing than traditional royalty collection and distribution mechanisms though.

How can radio adapt to work better in today’s on-demand environment?

A lot of the radio industry is doing a good job at adapting. Many stations now offer listen again type services, but there is a long way to go in getting metadata right – although the same can be said about all on-demand content. At the moment there just isn’t enough information.

You might have something amazing in your on-demand library, but if the content description amounts to a name, date and time, and a lazy description then your audience is going to have a hard time discovering it.

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Daniel Nathan, CEO, Juice FM

What do you think is the role of radio in today’s digital music world?

Radio is being disrupted and transformed by the mobile internet and an ever growing list of smart people and organisations – just like every other mass medium.

Radio has held up remarkably well though: it has qualities of companionship, and is entertaining and informing while we get on and do other stuff. But the competition for ears continues to increase.

The ‘celestial jukebox’, instant access to a near-entirety of recorded music and video, is here on smart phones, tablets, connected TVs, game consoles – and coming soon, in car too. Where does radio fit in?

It’s all about the people, DJs, presenters and producers, the voices who entertain and inform; the companions, the trusted guides. It’s about personality, relevant news and information and a connection with a community of interest. Great music, a slick logo and a vapid slogan is no longer a viable long term USP for radio stations.

What are the pros and cons of on-demand listening, from both a producer and listener perspective?

The big advantage is immediate and unlimited access to anything, anytime, anywhere. The practical problem is that all that unmoderated choice is overwhelming and tricky to navigate.

Trends can catch fire across continents in a few hours and while it used to be a mission to discover something underground – it’s all out there.

Licensed / pirate radio can act as a filter, curator or ‘trusted guide’, but with the barrier to entry lowered by the internet and almost every radio station in the world accessible by over a billion smartphone users worldwide, connecting with an audience of any scale as a producer or broadcaster is a huge challenge.

How can radio adapt to work better in today’s on-demand environment?

Radio is the original social medium and the ideal companion to every moment of the day. As an industry we need to make sure we are present in every aspect of peoples’ lives on any device that has a speaker.

Turn us on, press play and listen. Over the next five years, technology will continue to disrupt radio in many ways that are predictable but others that aren’t.

This year’s buzzword is ‘hybrid’ radio, as we start to converge the best of broadcast over the air and narrowcast over the internet with extra services and digital accountability mixed in.

In a multiplatform future, listeners are increasingly unlikely to realise which platform they are listening to at any particular time – and they might not even care.

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Andreea Magdalina, Head of Community, Mixcloud

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What do you think is the role of radio in today’s digital music world?

Radio is still very much one of the most influential media in terms of news as well as entertainment. For many people around the world it’s the primary source of information still.

It is up to us, the early tech adopters, to understand this fact and make the transition towards digital as smooth as possible for both the audience and the medium.

Radio has adapted really well to digital. It’s one of those 20th century mammoths that had to learn new tricks in order to survive. I like to think that Mixcloud had a role in this process, by bringing once hard-to-find audio content to the finger tips of anyone with an internet connection. We were able to find a legal on-demand listening solution that’s free for all and we hope to keep it that way.

What are the pros and cons of on-demand listening, from both a producer and listener perspective?

If you’re a listener the benefit is obvious – you get access to a huge pool of content that in the past used to have an expiry date. On top of that, you are now recommended related content based on your social network and listening history.

If you’re on the other fence, this means you are now able to reach an audience beyond space and time. There are no more barriers.

The downside to all this is that the relationship between the producer and the listener is getting weaker and weaker. It’s true that the two are now closer thanks to social media, but the communication channels are so open now that you lose that feeling of an exclusive, intimate relationship that you used to have a few decades back with radio shows. As Head of Community for Mixcloud, it’s important for me to observe this and play cupid!

How can radio adapt to work better in today’s on-demand environment?

I believe in lots of instances radio has already done that. Look at people like NTS (London), Red Light (Amsterdam) or East Village Radio (NYC), just to name a few.

They reinvented the traditional radio identity, both in concept and delivery. And then come podcasters like LDBK (Brussels) or Soulection (Los Angeles) who started out as small, independent radio producers and ended up becoming serious tastemakers in their scene. It’s all truly exciting and commercial radio is catching up.

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