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Can Social tools save plain ole’ Radio?

mic.gifSocial networking around music has emerged as a class of Web service. While terrestrial radio has yet to fully embrace this, music social networking represents a large opportunity for terrestrial radio stations to gain relevance and currency online. Fundamentally there are two functions around music that social networking can fulfill:

One is to enable people to connect with others and show that they belong to a certain tribe represented by the music and bands they follow. That’s one reason band merchandise is so popular because it allows the wearer to make a statement as to how cool/hip/ironic/grungy/ghetto/sensitive/goth they are.

Live concerts enable people to commune with this tribe and, later, tell others about it. Ringtones are all about this. In the online world, there are many sites that are generic services enabling social networking that incorporate music as one of the activities to network around. MySpace is the poster child of this category along with sites like Hi5, Xanga and iMeem. There are also pure-play sites like uPlayMe that use your taste in music to connect you to like-minded people.

The other broad function is to help you discover new music for your personal enjoyment. Traditionally, this recommendation role has been played by radio stations, record stores and MTV. There are many recommendation services online from Amazon’s rich set of reviews to music blogs and aggregators like Pitchfork and The Hype Machine, to the recommendations that service like Rhapsody and Napster offer, all of which are somewhat social but not really networks per se. stands out as being a true music social network that uses the data on what other people have listened to play songs you might like. Other services include iLike, MOG, Finetune, Pandora and Live365 (my former employer, in which I have no financial interest).

These online services face challenges however. A service can either recommend new music but not play it, which makes it less powerful, or it can actually play music, which will require paying some sort of licensing fees. If they opt for the DMCA Webcasting license, the latest proposed rates could make this prohibitively expensive for most to get enough scale to make for a decent business. Services that want to offer on-demand streaming don’t even have it that good. They don’t have a statutory license and have to either rely on the DMCA’s Safe Harbor provisions or, as is increasingly the case, do audio filtering and licensing deals with the labels to enable music sharing and playback on their sites.

This spells opportunity for terrestrial radio. They can use their clout to negotiate on-demand and Webcasting rates to offer these services online and they have the brands, distribution and ad sales resources to be able to optimize the monetization of these services. They should also consider buying some of these music social networking companies and weaving the service into their existing online sites. On the flip side, the labels and music publishers should consider crafting voluntary, standardized licenses for social networks to be able to enable their users to share and listen to music off their profile pages on-demand. After all, they want to get paid for the use of their music and the easier they make this, the more licensees they’ll have.

While music social networks face challenges in becoming standalone businesses, they are services that consumers will use. After all, the basic needs of connecting to others through music and discovering new music haven’t gone away and indeed are becoming more acute. How do I find new music? Call me old fashioned but I still give the nod to sources like Nic Harcourt at KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic. But wouldn’t it be great to also get music recommendations from fellow listeners of the show…

Raghav “Rags” Gupta is VP of Consumer Services & Partnerships at Brightcove, where he has worked since ’05. His personal blog can be found at

16 Responses to “Can Social tools save plain ole’ Radio?”

  1. This is a great article. I’m interested to know if you found any interesting research on the terrestrial radio side. I’m doing some research of my own with one of my professors, and I’d love to have any links you think might help. Were looking into how social media can be best utilized by radio. As I said, really great article, I really like your ideas on this.

  2. Personally, I’d love to see some of these more traditional companies – like MTV etc – get a run for their money. Why? Because most of them have become highly commercialized – showing favour to certain record companies (or the ones with the most money etc.) and therefore only punting what these record companies want them to punt. The total explosion of the hip hop genre is evidence of this. I’m a musician, and have worked in this industry on both sides (including radio.) Even if there is no payola going on, the influence of the record company is strong.

    Enters the internet – and a real, true way, to discover good music for yourself and know what’s really going on underground (and, what is REALLY good.) When I heard about the latest DMCA rates, I was appalled. It seems to me to just be a move they made under pressure from the traditional companies – and the record companies – to stop the explosion of indie artists and record labels, so that the majors can still hold a grip on the market. Instead of finding creative ways to join in on the conversation and community, record companies still want to run things in a ‘business as usual’ way and thus becoming the ‘enemy’ pretty quickly. I really have no respect for major record companies anymore – regardless of their roots.

  3. Good stuff, Rags. We’re in the middle of this space, and it’s not easy getting this message across. We work with practically every major radio group, as well as social networking clients like KickApps, and connecting the two should be a lot easier than it is.

    It should be noted that I know that at least one radio group kicked the tires of one of the major music recommendation engine sites, so the understanding of NEED is there. The understanding of implementation does not appear to be, however. So, absent an outright purchase, this is going to be a slow process for radio.

  4. since you asked….i’ll do a little self promotion Om. I operate a radio show at KUCI, nearby KCRW, called Esthete Radio. While I might not have the resources of NPR behind me (no streaming or downloadable songs, other than live broadcast) on my site, the quality of content is evident. You can always use to get more familar with the artists that appear on my program:

  5. Can innovations like social networking save the music industry in general? Faulty DRM and lawsuits certainly are not the right approach to winning over paying customers. The music industry must embrace the interactive web in order to capture its share of wallet.