The often symbiotic but sometimes awkward relationship between radio and records took a crazy turn earlier this month as superstar Taylor Swift and ex-DJ David Mueller sued – and counter-sued – one another in what became a high-profile trial.
As we discussed in a blog post earlier in the month, at least America was talking about radio – even if it wasn't in the context that most broadcasters would prefer.
In fact, the proceedings were so controversial that sketch artist, Jeff Kandyba, took loads of criticism from angry Swifties upset by his rendering of their favorite artist. He explained that “A person like Taylor Swift, who is very pretty — has perfectly proportioned dimensions on the face — is actually much harder [to sketch].” So, there you go.
But in the end, the case was really all about what became the most (in)famous meet & greet in the history of these often chaotic backstage events. For KYGO, it certainly was not a win. And that led me to think about the value of these behind-the-ropes klatches between artists and radio people.
Record labels and artist managers have long used these events as perks for programmers (and other station personnel) to feel good about adding an artist's records and supporting the concert tour. Obviously, in the case of Mueller vs. Swift (and Swift vs. Mueller), something went terribly wrong in Denver back in 2013.
In thinking about why artists do meet & greets in the first place, and what radio truly gets out of them, perhaps a reset is necessary. These events are obviously perfunctory but necessary for the artist and the band. But isn't the real value about pleasing fans, rather than making a couple of PDs, MDs, and their spouses happy?
And in the case of radio, how much more valuable would a meet & greet be if you made it a policy to give them away to truly deserving fans who genuinely love and revere the artist?
I was thinking about the Taylor Swift backstage legal fiasco when the photo posted at the beginning of today's post showed up in my inbox. It's WMGK's morning vet John DeBella, hanging out with Classic Rock legend Alice Cooper. (John assures me there was absolutely no groping going on.)
When you read the email, it's clear WMGK is spot on with its Alice Cooper backstage meet & greet giveaway – a chance for one member of their audience to enjoy a true “bucket list” experience. And it's a way for the station to celebrate its Philadelphia fan base – something that competitors like Spotify, Pandora, and SiriusXM aren't likely to pull off locally.
And what does it really cost the station? Most veteran radio people are likely tired of the backstage rigmarole anyway. It's already been a long day, the encores are over, and then you stand around with a handful of other radio people, waiting your turn for what is often an awkward two minute brush with fame and yet another photo op for the trades.
But fan-focused promotions turn the experience around. And thanks to email database surveys, it isn't difficult to identify small groups of core fans who idolize an artist, whether your station is famous for Alice Cooper, Cage the Elephant, Jason Aldean, Lil Wayne, or Skillet.
It's about putting the audience first – yes, ahead of DJs and PDs. When your strategy is built on the listener experience – let's call it the LX – good things happen. Stations that are focused on the LX are the ones best prepared to fight today's competitive battles, as well as the ones that will come later as digital media use grows and intensifies.
In programming, music, promotion, and even sales, meetings, when you make it about the listener, good things can happen for your station and your brand.
It's not about making David Mueller happy. It's about the listener experience.