An open letter to people who hate the music on the radio

An open letter to people who hate the music on the radio

U like my lil' hipster b-girl I drew? Thanx.  I'm quite proud of her :o)

I had an interesting convo with an online homey today who listened to the radio for the first time in quite a while and was disgusted by what he heard. He had a lot to say about the topic. His main concerns are "It seems like while traditional front line or 'popular' rap was about the lifestyle, talking trash, egocentric ideals, drugs, and being gangsta- it appears as though all the newer stuff is simply bragging about how much money the artists have now that they're famous." In addition, he stated "I also noticed that a very large percentage of the songs playing in the top 20 are about men manipulating women into bed." He raised really interesting points. My replies to him were so long and detailed that I decided to post them as a blog .

My reply:

Speaking as someone who actually makes a living in the recording industry, I think a lot of what u hear on the radio is an example of art reflecting life. Music used to be something more than a lifestyle accessory but these days the only people in America who are buying pop music in record numbers are the people who want said music because of how awesome it sounds as a ringtone. The structure of most record deals involves either:
a.) the recording artist submitting songs for the label's approval for inclusion on the album, or
b.) the label providing the artist with preapproved songs.
In either case, labels opt for an easy sell, in this economic climate nobody wants to push the envelope. Consumers in this era are more responsive to more risque, provocative music so industry professionals who call the shots become really good at identifying what that type of music is. For example, I've licensed over a dozen songs to major tv networks, and the ones that get placed the most often aren't the soulful ballads or the songs with the most clever lyrical wordplay, its the songs with the catchiest hooks, the songs where I'm talking about clothes & my love of fashion, the songs where I'm demanding to be given whatever I want.

As an artist, I HATE WHEN RAPPERS RAP ABOUT BEING RAPPERS. But consumers enjoy hearing that shit because they want to know what it is like to be famous. That's why they love reality shows. That's why they live their entire lives through Facebook and Tumblr where their friends are their fans and the soundtrack to their life are songs about how swaggy they are. And as an artist, while I might hate it, I'm not dumb enough to NOT make music that has no mainstream appeal. Everyone seems to think recording artists are supposed to "keep it real," when that is, in fact, not our job. Our job is to keep it relevant. I'm not defending the never ending amount of hot garbage that is currently spewing from mainstream radio, I'm just saying that its no longer important for music to be good for it to be relevant. Unless u're being marketed to young kids, the less wholesome your music is, the better. People love to cite artists like Adele as being an example of why this is untrue, then I remind them that, just like Amy Winehouse (RIP,) Adele hit overseas before she made it big here. Go look up Nikki Jean's album's sells numbers and see how well great music is going over in today's market.

There is no such thing as being "loose" or vulgar, there is no place for morals in the digital era. Arrogance just means u have swag, being loose means u know what u want. People say they hate how bad music on the radio is but they don't support acts with more substance. They might download their free mixtapes and all but they don't support those artists in a way that really counts, with their disposable income. I hate this fuckery but I love the game so I just try to find a balance between music I love & music that is commercially viable, and fortunately, for now, its working for me.


In his reply to this, my friend said he couldn't help but wonder "if selling records is the only agenda here," and stated that "There are plenty of artists who don't necessarily go that route like Kanye [more moderate] or Lupe who still make it big- and of course tons more in what is considered the underground or hip-hop scene like Blackstar and Common." He then went on to explain that he didn't understand why the current popular artists are on the radio.

My reply:

To be truthful, there are actually not many artists who can sell records without going raunchy, dumbed down, or gangster. The reason Kanye & Lupe come to mind is because they aren't like everyone else. If someone aspires to go the underground hip hop route & has the desire to fight that fight, more power to them. That's a world I don't seek to be a part of, I fight to disassociate myself from, and am unable to understand. What happened is rappers got tired of being broke while people like Ja Rule & Puffy started making it big off of pop/hip hop. Suddenly u didn't hear The Roots or Wu Tang on the radio anymore. Once the digital era became prevalent, that's when things got even deeper...because that is when we saw the emergence of Soulja Boy. I was actually told by a digital marketing exec at Universal that Soulja Boy changed the music industry by setting the standard for the way the internet is utilized to break an artist. Once that happened the game became SUPER saturated. At that point labels had already started implementing 360 deals (we have the down south music movement to thank for that, labels saw that they were able to build a buzz for an artist PRIOR to signing so now they expect everybody to do the same) but the internet became a way for a labels to be even more strategic about who they were gonna sign. Naturally, the people with the most Youtube views and the most followers on Twitter and the most Likes on their FB fan page are the ones who get the looks first. Often, these are not the most talented people, but the people who are able to keep their peer's attention. Their peers are often teens who's taste in music is influenced by many different social factors. Many of the urban artists u hear on the radio currently, if they aren't artists who have been established for quite some time, are artists who's buzz started online first.

I am not one who believes that there is a secret dark agenda to keep songs about sex on the radio and destroy the culture of America. I don't think that's the goal, I think they just don't care either way. It is not a label's job to care, unless they are marketing a child artist or someone with a clean image. When neo soul sold, they sold us that. When gangsta sold, they sold us that. U actually hear signifcantly less gangsta rap on the radio now than we did just a few years ago, because gangsta only works for established artists right now. Labels care about hits, plain & simple. And hits don't happen on their own, so labels are only gonna invest the money to make a song a hit if they believe in it. And the thing is, labels do make millions off other genres. If u are ever in New York, step inside the lobby of the Sony office builiding. They have tv screens showing videos from the artists on their roster. Most of the videos were from country bands, Latin music bands, folk acts, even opera singers. These are all separate divisions from pop, and its not what we are gonna hear on mainstream radio.


I don't claim to know everything about the music industry, not by a long shot. So if you have something to add to our conversation, please drop a comment below and I'll include it in this blog entry. Thanx!

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  • Nikki you make some solid and valid points here. It is about the dollar, however I do believe there is an agenda to keep us dumbed down. Im old enough to remember when videos were being made on College campuses and we learned about each others history through music. Arrested Development even won A Best New Artist Grammy. As the music has progressed we have lost sight of its power and many artists do not fully understand the power that they wield.

    Our Words are the catalyst to change, they actually activate change. Once we recognize this power we will have the ability to turn this industry on its head. Its time to reclaim and redefine this culture.

    Great Post. Keep making Amazing Music.


  • In reply to Precise:

    Thanx for commenting, Precise. I imply that there is an agenda to keep us dumbed down is to imply that there is a motivation beyond financial gain behind the music industry. I simply do not believe this to be true. When Arrested Development was popular, their music was relevant to the climate of the time. The show "A Different World" was on tv, portraying the lives of black students in college. This was a brand new concept at the time, showing black kids in college on television. Hip hop was still strongly associated with Afrocentric culture, and it was separate from pop. I think what a lot of artists overlook is relevancy. The only way to change the world with the power of your music is to make people pay attention first. For example, Lady Gaga makes crazy, poppy music with provocative lyrics. Now that she has the ear of the public she has made great strides in bringing to light the struggles of the Gay Rights Movement. That is real power. What artists need to understand is that now that the internet exists and we have the power to connect to our listeners directly, it is up to us to create our own culture, our own world for people to be a part of. Once you establish that world u can do whatever u want, because as long as u have the power to get consumers to consume labels will back u. They don't care if u do a song called "I Am Not My Hair" or "Choke Me, Slap Me, Pull My Hair." It all boils down to the power of the dollar. They're just doing their job.

  • In reply to Precise:

    I included your input in my follow up to this blog:

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    Your analysis of the pop music side of the industry is spot on. After all we live in a capitalist society, where the sole goal of any major business is profits. Another reason that compared to 20-30 years ago the songs have gotten increasingly simplified / and concepts have been canonized, is that there is no incentive to create timeless music any more in the pop realm. Why make a song that will be downloaded 1 time and loved for years ? They would rather make music that gets boring fast so they can sell more volume! It's simple economics.

    That said, its ultimately the consumers decision to what they want to listen to music wise. Most of us artists have a much deeper understanding and passion for music then the general public so our views get skewed to what we like as artists. As a producer / musician / song writer its best to be open to anything, especially paid work... save the art stuff for the personal projects if thats what you wanna do.

  • In reply to Chris Kramer:

    I have included your input in my follow up to this blog:

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    I tend to agree with your online homie on music.. I hate listening to the radio these days.. There doesn't seem to be much substance to the music they play but I understand why they play what they do to your point.. I don't blame them or the labels for wanting to profit from today's youth and giving them what they want.. My question is how did it come to this.. @ what point did it turn? We've gone from socially conscience relevant hip hop groups that were actually being promoted as such (ATCQ, PE, BDP,) to (insert 106th and Park top 10 list here).. As for your stance on things.. you've won @ least 1 fan here today..

  • In reply to Ty Poole:

    Thanx for the kind words Ty :o) have u hit up my website to hear my new music yet? ( As I mentioned in my reply to Precise, at the time when ATCQ & PE were very popular, their music was relevant to that time. I AM NOT SAYING THEY ARE NO LONGER RELEVANT, because I consider them to be timeless. But we can both agree that they don't exactly fit in with the current music that is prevalent in popular culture. Times have changed drastically just in the past few years; the issues we face as young individuals in society have changed, the way we socialize has changed, our attitudes toward sex and relationships have changed. The music that is popular right now was mad popular by people who find the music fitting to their lifestyle. And it was the same way when ATCQ & PE were prevalent! This is the way the industry works. Remember, there was a time when Elvis' music was climbing the charts in spite of many people considering him raunchy and risque. popular culture changes when the people who are spending their money change. Everyone likes to justify not paying for music by saying "Album sales don't matter these days anyway." People who say that are the same as people who don't vote but complain about politics. The dollar that u spend on an artist's single is LITERALLY your vote for that particular artist to win. These days, teens and young adults are the only ones casting votes. Hence...the current state of the radio in 2011. I'm interested to see how my fans feel when I start going that route. I wonder how many of them will still give me their vote.

  • In reply to Ty Poole:

    I've included your input in my follow up to this blog:

  • Nice job Nikki! I learned a lot.

  • In reply to Evan Moore:

    Awww! Thanx Evan, I'm glad u enjoyed the post. Are u among the people who hate the music on the radio, or do u just sorta take it for what it is?

  • I appreciate your insiders view on how the music business works. I'm one of those people that hates music on the radio. I either listen to old school or underground. I admit I forget that music is a business, to me its just vibing and hearing a groove but yeah somewhere a cash register needs to ring. But personally I'd rather here a horn riff, a soulful hook or an 808 beat than coins on the counter.

  • In reply to Shadasious:

    I feel u. For my personal listening pleasure, I listen to old stuff like The Mamas & The Papas and Bill Withers & Prince & Guns N' Roses. the only new skool artists I really like are NERD, Noisettes, Foxy Shazam, & Amy Winehouse. But I have to be aware of popular culture because its the world I'm in. i refuse to follow trends because that's hella weak & as far as I can tell it's a one way ticket to failure. But I'm no dummy, I make sure my stuff is commercially viable or else i would not be able to earn a living

  • In reply to Shadasious:

    I included your input in the follow up to this blog:

  • I never liked radio, and it didn't help that I was growing up in Kansas before there was internet, so the only source of music was radio. There was very little live music and what there was of it took place in nightclubs where people younger than 21 couldn't go. Radio has always been boring, too repetitive, and dumbed down. They take decent songs and play them way too often so people get sick to death of them. The radio has done this all my life.
    I've never listened much to rap and hip-hop - I like rock and roll, rockabilly, good country, swing, blues, and roots of all the above. Luckily I discovered the live music scene here and I've rarely listened to radio since. Even when they're playing tolerable music, the commercials and the chatter of the DJs are annoying. Also, the DJs are often offensive.
    I also haven't been doing the twitter or facebook things - I tried myspace but it was too time-consuming and hard to use. After working with computers at my jobs for many years, I don't want to spend my free time on it!
    I buy CDs of the bands I like and compilations of old-time rock and roll. I've been getting along this way for more than 10 years.
    I'm very glad the internet is available so young people all over the world can seek out the music they love. I didn't have that in Kansas. Music lovers should support the music they love both financially and in every other way they can.

  • In reply to Julia372:

    Thanx for commenting, Julia. I can only imagine that once u get accustomed to a live music scene it is damn near impossible to go back to listening to mainstream radio! I totally get the point u made when u said after working with computers at you job, you have no desire to spend my free time on it. I think if I worked on computers all day (on stuff other than music) then I'd feel the exact same way!

  • In reply to Julia372:

    I've included your input in the follow up to this blog:

  • Well, this is a terrible short-sighted and close-minded view.
    Your choice of words in this essay goes against your point, as you repeatidly mention, as someone who sings you should know songs are poetry, so if you can't find better words to use except filth, you really are a low-end artist...or, more likely, lazy.
    So you chose one genre to make a point about all of music.....short sighted and close minded. PS-Listen to Herman Cain's remarks about this very thing. No, I dont support him.
    You also obviously, like all (yes, all) of your generation (of which I am part of, mind you), uneducated in history, specifically music history, and rely only on your own experiences as gospel. Dangerous.
    So good luck with your 15 second songs, run away ego, and so-called artistry.
    The rest of us will keep the legit fight going.

  • In reply to Ralph Wiggum:

    The fact that u're afraid to use your real name sorta invalidates the high horse u're trying to stand on. Your evaluation of me as an artist will matter once u're actually IN the industry, which u're clearly not :op If u'd done your homework on me maybe u'd be able to make a decent argument instead of sounding so dumb. I'll never understand why crazy people are so attracted to the internet. Like, if I was a random angry crazy person I don't think I'd want it to be obvious, I would try to blend in with the rest of society. So that makes me wonder if maybe u aren't crazy, u're probably just one of those weirdo wanna-be artists who's in a monogamous relationship with his left hand, who writes music that nobody ever compliments so u assume that u are super deep and over everybody's head, hence your comment about "my generation." And for the record, "of which I am part of" is not correct, the proper way to say that is "of which I am a part." And shortsighted is one word, no need for a dash. And instead of "close-minded" it's actually more appropriate to say "closed-minded," with a 'd'. Think about it grammatically:

    Describing someone who has a close mind. (Close to what?)
    Describing someone who has a closed mind. (Bingo!)

    U'd use it in a sentence like this: "Only a closed-minded, trivial person would speak ill of a musician who's music they have never heard."

    I sure hope u aren't writing music with such poor grammar! LoL. Maybe that's why u're so busy "keeping the legit fight going" instead of actually having a career. OR maybe u're just one of those suito-intellectuals who get their kicks talking shit anonymously on blogs. Again...can't say I believe u're an intellectual due to your comment being so...not smart. Like, why use Herman Cain to argue your point & then negate it by saying "No, I dont support him." Hahhaahahhahaaha! I don't argue with dum-dums on the internet, I had five minutes to kill while the new episode of Modern Family loaded so I had to engage u, I couldn't resist. Ralph Wiggum is an excellent pseudonym for u. Happy trolling.

  • Radio is dying because of the likes of the iPod and now Spotify. We want to choose what we hear, not what is pushed down our throats. Radio served a purpose years back, but now it's irrelevant. For too long they had the power, hail to the thief. But now, the ball is back in our court. We make playlists and trade them online. We stream our collections, and carry them on our phones. We no longer need radio. Radio needs us.

  • I've become my parents. When I was a little girl, they weren't all that crazy about everything Motown was putting out, and they couldn't stand rock music. When I was a teen, they turned their noses up at disco, and when I was in my twenties, they looked down on rap/hip-hop. I don't like most of what passes for popular music these days. It's rare that I hear anything that makes me want to go buy the CD. I understand that recording companies are in business to make a profit, but the quality of their products is extremely poor. I often wonder, "How in the heck did anybody think that artist was worth signing to a recording contract?" Thank God for iTunes, where I find all the old school music that I didn't buy the first time around.

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