Radio is a sound salvation. So sang Elvis Costello back in 1978. Forty-two years on from then, the medium that Costello sung about so reverentially still plays a meaningful role in the working musician’s life. Radio may have lost listeners to streaming services such as for Spotify but it remains a significant revenue source for artists. Royalty cheques related to radio plays are often multiples of the pittance paid out by streaming sites.
Regular radio play also bolsters an artist’s profile and helps to sell tickets, albums and merchandise. It is a lifeblood for musicians starting to make a name for themselves – and they need its support now more than ever.
Last March, at the start of the pandemic, RTE 2FM ran an ‘all Irish music week’ where they played only Irish artists to show support to hometown talent. It was a well received gesture by a station that has done such initiatives before and has been particularly supportive of Irish music in recent years.
That move in March will have generated cheques that will have paid a bill or two for Irish acts. There has been good support also by PlayIrish, a digital radio station that does what it says on the tin, and Eirewave, who have been playing Irish music only around the clock since 2012.
It’s now time for the heads of the more established and commercial radio stations to follow suit, and increase the level of Irish music they play on air. Irish artists currently get a raw deal on Irish radio, according to the figures. Yes, there are some fantastic niche programmes, but they are often preaching to the converted rather than aiming at new ears. About 15% of all music played on radio is Irish music. That’s around about 1 play in every 7, meaning 85% of the royalty license usage fees paid by Irish broadcasters and businesses is leaving the country rather than going back into the economy.
Earlier this week, Tom Dunne, one of our best known music broadcasters and a supporter of new Irish music, wrote about how “musicians really need our help”. It’s hopefully a line he’s uttered inside Marconi House, home to Today FM and Newstalk. If the percentage of Irish music played was increased three or four times on such stations, the revenue generated for Irish artists would have an impact. They won’t get rich off the back of it, but any increase will help them continue to record more music at a time when other revenue streams are limited. The royalties such a move will generate will also go straight back into the economy rather than being taken out of the country.
France has it in law that French radio must play around 35% French music recorded in their native language. Such a quota system is not fully supported here, even by the music industry itself. Some have argued that it will affect the quality of music played on radio, yet it’s hard to see that argument given the quality of music currently being made in Ireland – from Denise Chaila, to Pillow Queens, Joe Chester, Ailbhe Reddy, The Murder Capital, Murli, A Smyth, James Vincent McMorrow, Mango and Mathman, Girl Band (the list goes on) there is so much great Irish music being made that is deservedly winning acclaim outside of Ireland. By increasing plays based on quality rather than hitting a quantified target it would benefit Irish listeners and artists.
Even as a temporary move, public favour would surely be on the side of radio stations that show such support. Radio could truly be that sound salvation.
- Amendment October 2nd: France has dropped its quota from 40% to 35%. Have also clarified that the quota relates to French-language music. Also added reference to Eirewave – an all Irish music digital station.