Every time I hear a debate about music and the charts, without exception one person will chime in and say ”the cream always rises to the top”. Meaning that the best songs will always prevail. REALLY? Honestly, do they? Come on now. I twinge in pain when I hear that blanket statement, which is designed to end a debate about an uncomfortable reality – the cream does not always make it to the top. At least as far as music and radio airplay is concerned.
First we have to declare what the definition of this brand of cream is, because it is relative depending on your vantage point. Is it……
- Songs that “test” big with radio stations and as a result are propelled up the chart?
- Superstar artists that deliver an adequate single and propelled up the chart by star power?
- Songs that appeal to the lowest common denominator (hit the bulls-eye)? (see #1)
- Songs that have enough money, promotion, and marketing thrown behind it?
- Songs that drive powerful Soundscan and/or social media numbers?
- Songs that are original, well crafted, and strike a passionate chord of feeling/emotion or thought with the audience?
There is no one size fits all answer, but my own opinion would be closer to #6, which tends to spur a good amount of #5 if they are heard. Of course, the answer is relevant to what you feel is a “hit”, but I’m 100% certain that the best songs don’t always win the radio and chart game. I’ve seen it happen to artists all along Music Row. Exceptional artists and singles get lost in the crowd for any number of reasons and much of it, beyond a business of artistic subjectivity, has to do with an addiction to homogenization and formula. I’ve also seen stellar singles from new or emerging artists get lost in the mix of superstars releasing less than exciting music.
It’s just another example of the resulting collateral damage left by the unfortunate collision of art and commerce. I don’t think radio should completely forsake one side for the other, but I do believe it’s a complete disservice to listeners and fans to not give them something refreshing, different, creative, and that stands out from the non-polarizing background music. There have been some very positive signs lately.
The debate will always be there, but don’t think for a minute that if a song somehow makes it into the Top 10 or Top 5 that it must be the cream of the crop. Dig deeper fans. It’s out there for you to find. Music that YOU love.