The Fourth Quarter Blitz in Music

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The Fourth Quarter Blitz in Music
How the record business winds up the public.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Last week, I watched the presidential debate with interest. I knew immediately from seeing the candidates how I felt about them. No post-debate spin doctoring would change that.

I think the same is true with music. When I hear something I love, it's obvious. No amount of hype makes me decide to love something I don't. So it kind of fascinates me how the music business attempts to apply its own spin doctoring, particularly in the fourth quarter. If you're in the pop, rock or hip-hop business, you've gotta be feeling the heat right now. That's because October marks the beginning of the highly anticipated fourth quarter buying season. If you consider that up to 70 percent of all CD sales take place during the period of Thanksgiving to New Year's, you can understand why the music business takes their spin doctoring so seriously.

Wise professionals know that CD's that get the most radio airplay, television time and instore positioning in the holiday season will most likely do well. For some executives, the fourth quarter is a battleground of politics and market share ownership. To maximize this short window, the music business has devised some elaborate ways to make sure their music priorities are getting attention in the right places.

On the radio side, throughout the country, commercial radio stations are gearing up for their holiday concert bashes, which run in late November through mid-December. This kind of radio station event marketing has become very popular with commercial radios, particularly in the last 15 years. The negotiations for an artist to perform at a Holiday concert begin months in advance. Pass up this opportunity and the chance of getting concentrated radio airplay during this critical time becomes even more slim. Needless to say, few artists refuse.

On the media side, the music business has been supporting the Billboard Music Awards since its inception fifteen years ago.

Airing in December, the TV award show packs a powerful punch for consumers to see label priorities in action.

At retail, the politics are also intense. Throughout the year, record stores sell their floor space to record labels, to display new releases. So when you walk into the next Tower or Virgin, chances are the new U2 CD is in the front of the store because someone paid to have it put there. During the holiday season, most of the major retail chains boost their display prices, sometimes even doubling their normal rates. Real estate during the holidays is so competitive that a few years ago, one major distributor attempted to buy all the prime retail positions for their artists at the biggest chains. The plan backfired. Most retailers felt the label's roster was not strong enough to command all that store space, and retailers refused to take the money.

I'm one of those people who believe I know what music moves me and what doesn't. I wish record companies spent far more time focusing on quality, and a lot less time trying to convince me something that's just OK is actually great.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.