For most artistes, there's nothing quite like hearing your own song on the airwaves or at the club. It brings about the sense of accomplishment.
But with the diminishing relevance of radio in today’s digital streaming ecosystem, especially since radio is taking cues from YouTube, it's only a matter of time before artiste success is based on upload impressions and engagement.
To the dismay of local artistes, Nigerian and Tanzanian music has taken over of local mainstream media. But as they point fingers at the media, one key responsibility of those in charge of playlists is to feed the audience's demand in order to be viable.
Radio Africa Group programme controller Pete Sinclair acknowledges that there’s a particular leaning towards Kenyan music, even though he strongly believes in identifying big songs that are popular with their target audiences.
“Our policy is to play hits no matter where they come from, because hits create listening and we sell listeners’ time. The more listeners we have the more profitable we can be. That’s our business,” Pete says.
He understands the audience they serve and, along with his radio team, ensures they speak in a familiar language and play a variety of Kenyan music genres, with the main consideration being the strength of the selection.
”If you pick the right record, the entire industry prospers, but if you keep on picking the wrong records, then the industry suffers because people don’t think Kenyans produce good music,” Pete says.
Deejays bring out the best and most popular tunes in the music industry. For them to maintain a lively audience, they have to ensure they are in touch with what’s hot.
Top deejay Joe Mfalme, who expresses much appreciation for local music, says there are key factors that determine what song is played where and when.
Joe says there are certain songs that best fit the club, while others are more likely to appeal to a radio or TV audience. More often than not, he finds himself playing requests from the crowd.
“Crowd-reading allows you to decide which songs work best for your current audience. This way, you are able to gauge the consumer perspective,” Joe says.
Truly, it’s hard to escape the aspect of demand, and unlike a situation where a deejay does the selection on his own, for radio and TV, a panel or team of music connoisseurs will sit together and decide what new tracks to add to the programme playlist, as explained by a programme controller from one of the leading media houses, who prefers not to be named.
“Choosing music is both subjective and objective. The music panel comprises people with their own preferences, and sometimes it’s something as simple as the content of the song to determine if it gets picked,” the controller says.
He adds that it’s imperative that artistes understand media policies set by legislation to govern the selection of music on mainstream media.
“There are guidelines set for what can be put on air during watershed hours. You can’t come up with a song that is full of innuendo and curses and expect that because you are Kenyan, your song should play on radio,” he says.
At the end of the day, quality is not everything, but it’s important. And with digital platforms like social media, especially YouTube, programmers believe it's now easier than ever to identify popular music that is likely to attract massive listenership.
Artistes are well aware of these realities, and ought to change their tactics accordingly. They also need to realise that mainstream media and deejays are not there solely to push their music; they are in business and the bottom line is what matters.