Do the Music Biz Mumbo Jumbo

(A Little Fictional Fun Based on Fact)?

By David Saline

So, the up-and-coming recording artist walks into his record company's office, at their request, to play for them on his guitar some songs that he is planning to record for his next album.

They've asked him to come down and give a few radio consultants a chance to hear and pass judgment on his 12 or 14 selections before they tum him and his producer loose in a studio.

Now you may be asking yourself at this point, what is a radio consultant'? Well, he or she is the person who decides what is good for a large number of mainstream radio stations—country, in this case— to play for their listeners. A certain number of these radio stations are "reporters." That is, they report what is played and how much, in order to determine the position a record will hold in the weekly Top 100 — or whatever the case may be— chart positions that week.

At this time, according to my sources, there are about eight people in the United States who consult for over 400 country radio stations. A very large portion of these stations are "reporters."

In one case, the radio consultant -— let's say somewhere in oh, let's say Georgia — has around 400 "typical listeners" come into a room and be seated. The consultant then plays them eight to 12 seconds of many new records they are consulting on. The 400 or so people give a thumbs-up or -down on each eight to 12-second piece of music they hear.

The consultant then draws an opinion of his or her own, based on what? Well, after 400 people said they liked eight to 12 seconds of a song, it must be a hit, right? What?

Well, maybe the consultant puts his or her own thoughts on the subject in there somewhere. The consultant then sends his or her advice to the music directors of the aforementioned stations. Well, after paying a consulting fee for these ingenious decisions, the music director is going to stick pretty close to those suggestions, right'? What?

A friend of mine said he drove through five states and could set his watch by what time the same record by the same artist was played on five different stations. Did I say "different" stations? Sorry.

Let's get back to the up-and-coming artist. His A&R director at the label informs him that the consultants liked some of his songs but want a few changes made. The artist says, "You've got to be kidding! You let these guys tell you what they think I ought to be recording? And they want changes!?"

"Well," says the A&R guy, "you know how it is. These people know what the public wants. After all, they did sample some listeners and they have a real good pulse on what the listeners want. And we want to get your records played on radio so you can have a lot of hits and become a big star, right?"

"Well, I guess so," says the singer.

"Yeah," says the record man, "and once you're more established on the charts, you'll be able to record whatever you want. Oh and by the way, they thought your hair needed to be a little shorter on the sides and a little longer in the back."

The singer stood up out of his chair. "Wait a darn minute," he said. "They might be the handful of people who basically control what millions of people are going to like before they even hear it on the radio, but they are not going to tell me how to 'look?'

"Well," said the man behind the desk, "you want your records played, don't you?" The singer looked up at the ceiling in anger and disbelief, then down at his boots.

"Yes," he said softly.

As he is leaving the office he says, "Oh, my manager tells me you want us to keep the budget down to $275,000 on this album. Is that true?"

"Well," says the record man, "see how it goes, okay?"

"Yeah, okay," says the singer. "Oh, I'm thinking of changing my name."

"No, really? To what?" "Oh, I thought maybe Bottom-Line Billy, or Sell-Out Sam: perhaps Pete the Puppet."