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It's Selection that Matters

NMC/Radio and Records eChart main column as published in the 1/18/02 issue of R&R On the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show last week in Las Vegas, it was the best of times and the worst of times, depending upon how you liked your digital music.

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If you were on the show floor at the XM Radio booth, you had the likes of MC Hammer, Yes, and Lauren Hill floating in and out of their booth, not just as eye candy, but performing as well. They are delivering, as will Sirius when they launch next month, on the promise of deep and wide selection of digital music.

On the other end of the spectrum sits the personal digital music enthusiast. pressplay, Musicnet, Rhapsody and now the soon-to-be-re-launched Napster, have paltry offerings at best. Certainly not in terms of sheer numbers; all of the services have hundreds of thousands of cuts to choose from. The challenge is not to offer sheer numbers, but as it is with every music radio station in the world, to offer the several hundred or thousand cuts that matter.

No offense to the 200,000 bands that are clawing and scratching their way through the noise floor to get noticed by record labels, but the average listener in America doesn't care about you, and your music is not going to make any of these services successful. No offense to the labels that have offered up also-ran and budget cut-out catalog cuts to the services along with a very small number of currently charting artists and their current releases, but giving up the lost tracks of your B- and C- level artists is not going to make any of these services successful either.

In January of 2001, listeners want the artists you see to the right. You've carefully crafted promotional campaigns, movie placements, TV appearances on talk shows and Gen Y series, nurturing and guiding those artists to superstardom. You've positioned them as the cream of the crop. The audience has fallen under their spell.

And you're hiding them. You're waving your left hand, begging the audience to look at the hundreds of thousands of unimportant cuts on your services and your labels and on the independent labels that hunger for any sort of exposure at all, and will sign with anyone, whether the target audience cares or not. The music is hardly unimportant to the artists themselves, but to the public in general? Luckily, most independent artists have convinced themselves that they are true artists, nut sellouts, so the general public doesn't matter to them either.

But that's decidedly not a formula for online success. Your efforts to make money online are going to live or die with your ability to give the audience what it wants and craves and for the music what you've led them to hunger. It matters little to them that you're giving them numbers - they want superstars.

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