Radio is at odds with the music industry. The moment the labels started raising the issue of royalties and trying to get radio to pay the artists, we made them the enemy -- at least, on the business side of the building. Of course, making the music industry the enemy is like making jelly the enemy of peanut butter. They are meant to be together. Radio and music are a perfect fit.
Dan Mason's recent memo about CBS returning to a policy of back-selling music and identifying titles and artists more often reminds me of a confidential discussion I had about a year ago. I was convinced that I could help make some progress on the artist licensing issue, so I took it upon myself to make some phone calls. The NAB was not aware I was doing this, nor did I represent in these calls that I was representing the industry as a whole. My goal was to create a dialogue with the music industry, knowing that sometimes things can be resolved by making sure we're listening to the issues.
My calls were embraced by some at the highest levels of the music food chain, and I asked what it would take to get this issue resolved. What I learned is that the music licensing issue was being driven by a deep hatred for radio that had been building up for almost two decades, dating back to when radio decided we no longer needed to back-sell records and began to research everything to death and take few risks on new releases.
Though I was able to get a high-level executive to admit that changing these policies might make the labels feel radio is a partner again, rather than an adversary, it became evident that the vitriol toward radio was so deep, the anger running so hot, that these guys were going to take every action they could to get revenge.
At our Convergence conference I spent a fair amount of time with Tim Sanders, author of Today We Are Rich, the essence of which is that success comes by giving. Tim and I revisited this last night in Austin, and he told me a story about how he was bullied as a kid and his grandmother told him the way to solve the problem was not by bullying back or avoiding the bullies, but by reaching out and giving them what they needed. She explained to him that they were probably bullies because of situations at home, perhaps an abusive father, a divided family, or some tragedy that was causing them to act out. She recommend that Tim approach them, compliment them, look for ways to let them talk, get to know them, and find ways to be giving. He turned adversaries into friends by having a giving attitude.
Mason's memo about doing more back-selling of artists and songs gave me an idea. If we want to resolve the music licensing issue, rather than battling the labels and being at odds, why not give them something they are not expecting? Why not give them the opposite of what they have been frustrated over for 20 years? Maybe if they see that we have become the partner they hope for, they will meet our giving gesture with appreciation -- though anything we do should be because it's the right thing to do, not because we expect something in return.
Our natural instinct is to meet every threat with an equal or larger threat and end up in battle. But at the root of these battles is a need to be met, something that can often be accomplished (within reason). I've been told by music executives that they would love it if radio returned to giving the names and titles for music and breaking a few more new songs. That alone could not be used as leverage to resolve our performance royalty issues. Why not do it anyway? Not to soften up the opposition, but because it will help their industry and won't hurt us to do it. In the end, our listeners will benefit the most. Maybe once the labels see radio cooperation again, they'll rethink their vitriol.
As a former radio programmer, I believe we have become so sanitized and so overly sensitive about testing music that we miss those magic moments when a song that was added on gut turns out to be a giant hit. Some songs never show strong in initial music testing, but our audiences grow to love them.
Why not take an an unexpected but welcome approach.? Tim Sanders said last night, "If you want to grow your business, love your advertisers to death. Love them by giving of your time and resources without expecting anything in return. Love them by inventing products that they love. Love them by doing the unexpected. You'll see an average of 10 times return when you give rather than take."
I can't help but think that more of that attitude in our industry would make us stronger with our customers, our employees, and even the recording industry.