Royalty Waivers for Radio?

Here in St Louis and elsewhere also, I’ve always had three major problems with rock radio: it’s repetitive, it plays too many “safe” songs, and there’s way too many commercials. Two weeks ago, I literally timed 23 minutes straight of not hearing music on KPNT due to “bits” and commercials. We’ll save “safe” songs for another post for now, and focus on repetitiveness and the over-abundance of commercials. Can both of those be fixed by a royalty waiver system?

Radio stations have to pay royalties to play music, and they have to have commercials to get money to pay the royalties (and of course other operating costs). When they do play music, it’s generally the same crap over and over again, and that’s made more obvious because there’s so many commercials that the “same songs” make up a larger percentage of the total number of songs played. It’s like this big, ridiculous catch-22.

What would I do?  I would allow radio stations a certain number of “free” plays per day/week/month. Say a radio station could play a song twice a day for free, but they have to pay royalties on the third spin—would they be more or less likely to play it a third time? I guess that would depend on the song. You could apply any play-count you want or make it weekly or monthly, and the principle is all the same. It would encourage radio stations to not only play a greater variety of music, but would result in less costs, and thusly (assuming station owners put their greed aside a second) less commercials. Less commercials mean more time for music, which means more time for more variety. More music and less commercials means more listeners. It’s the same cyclical result, but in a much more positive direction for the music industry and the listeners. Everybody wins.

For new music, it may not change that much, because stations will still want to push “what’s hot” and what their listeners want, but it could drastically change the “filler” music around the bread and butter of the station. For instance, of the top 40 most-played songs over the last week, Nirvana’s “All Apologies” comes in at #37 on KPNT. Sure, it’s a good song, but does that one random old-ass song really deserve to be getting that many spins? I’m not saying take the song out of rotation, but I am saying take a few spins away and play something different. And that’s just one example of the “safe” songs they use.

This also somewhat helps settle the argument of royalties in the first place. Putting aside the controversy over to whom they’re paid, you have radio that says they promote artists and shouldn’t have to pay royalties, and you have artists/labels saying that the artist is what makes the station, and therefore radio should be paying. Wouldn’t this low-play waiver system solve that and help answer that question as to which it is? If a radio station chooses to play a song more, then it’s probably because of the artist’s argument that the song makes the station, and the radio station pays up. If radio can survive by not playing the artist that much, and is actually helping the artist by advertising them, it supports the radio station’s argument and they don’t have to pay the royalties.

I’ve been mulling this over for quite a while, and I honestly can’t think of any negative. Can you?