Saturday, May 01, 2010

How Advertising Companies Killed our Music

This is the second op-ed piece I wrote for The Express Tribune. Here it is in it's original, un-edited form.

Paid Airtime Killed the Radio Star

Let's see if this sounds familiar
You're driving in your car and listening to the radio. Doesn't matter what radio channel it is, pick any one. You hear a song that starts off with the trademark notes of a jingle, a jingle that is fairly well known because some company has made it their trademark. You listen to the song for awhile. It isn't a bad song. In fact it's quite catchy. It seems a little long but that's alright because it's pleasant and easy on the ears. The “song” is actually an advertisement for a company. Even though you know it's an advertisement, you bear with it because it's sung by your favorite artist and you're happy that he's finally getting paid.
A week passes. The same song repeats on the hour every hour. On every radio station. What was previously a mildly pleasant tune has now become monotonous and irritating. Despite your growing annoyance with the song you find yourself humming it in the car, at work and at home.
Another week passes. You dread the clock hitting the hour. Every time you're stuck in traffic the song interrupts your musical bliss and drives you into a murderous rage. You frantically try to switch channels but to your horror you discover the song is playing on all the channels.
You come home, rip your stereo out of the car and bash it against the pavement. Still, the song plays somewhere in the distance and you realize that it's coming on television as an advertisement.
On all the channels.
You go find an axe and/or a noose...
Companies have always been able to buy airtime for advertising, that's what drives our entire media industry. However, It's one thing to utilize airtime for advertising and another to hijack our entertainment. Corporations can now hire people to write entire songs, not just jingles that run anywhere between three to seven minutes long which is an eternity for an advertisement. Make no mistake, while they may be songs and they might sound catchy, they are still advertisements.
Sure you could argue that if you don't like something, turn it off or listen to something else. This is where the real diabolical stuff happens. The companies buy up airtime on all the popular channels and coordinate it so that the song plays on all your favorite channels at the same time so that you're forced to hear it or hear nothing.
There are several things occurring here that are severely damaging. For one, no matter how good a song is, if you play it on the hour, every hour, on every radio and TV station, people are going to hate it. Any artistic merit that the composition, or the vocal performance of the artist will be completely drowned out by the screams of the people who are forced to listen to this song everyday.
However, the greater damage is done to the music industry as a whole. Let me make it clear that I have no problem with musicians signing endorsement deals to promote companies or products. I do have a problem if that artist is promoted to the detriment of other artists. How does one artist compete for airtime when the other one can simply buy it? When a company pays a radio station to run the song of the artist it is sponsoring, we are forced to listen to whatever they want us to. We can't choose the content of our entertainment anymore. Other artists simply cannot compete on the basis of taste and merit. It become a simple, ruthless equation. If you can pay more, more people will hear you. Once that becomes the standard for our industry, rest assured a song will no longer be played because you or me want to hear it. It'll get played because a group of people in suits decided that is what you are going to hear.
I see no winners in this practice except the companies. They get their brand name out there and they achieve their goal. The artist who they promoted might be a little richer, but they will have suffered a major dent in their appeal simply because of overexposure. The biggest losers are of course the general public. We no longer have a say in the content of our entertainment. Our opinion will not decide who gets airplay and who doesn't. That's an industry I simply don't want to be a part of.


Blogger Alpha Za said...

Makes sense. Awesome Dingey basement shows it is!

1:19 PM  
Anonymous aerialmeds said...

Personally, I doubt if the public gets as ticked off as you do. This is a public where a stupid, stupid ad employing the line "Brrrrr!!!" actually caught on (from what I've seen)!

That aside, why listen to radio at all, anymore? The sheer quantity and length of advertisements makes me angry. If you have a casette player, just buy an adapter for your mp3 player and plug it into your casette player's line-in...

12:12 AM  
Blogger mia said...

Ugh!! That is SO apt. I used to enjoy radio so much around 5-6 years ago and now its all about the bloody time checks and adverts and sponsored shows *pulling out hair in frustration*
Yes, so we choose to keep the radio shut and live with the meager play-lists on our phones/ipods/mp3s:(

12:22 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

If by 'OUR' you are referring to Pakistan, you may be right, but if you are talking about ADP then you are completely wrong.

11:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gong...Sab Ki Baja Do :S
Wonderful post :)

3:03 AM  
Anonymous sadsid said...

here's a question for u: so if some bigwig MNC comes up to u guys & says hey endorse the ice cream & we will ensure ur presence on evry radio channel. what will u do? (FYI i've read all ur previous posts and knw abt ur band's struggle... )

10:57 AM  
Blogger Omar said...

@sadsid: That's a great question, and I can't say it's easy for me to have an answer to that.
If we were approached by an MNC, it would be pretty stupid of us to say no to them, however, I would hope that the way they ran their campaign would be tasteful and not some fascist take over of the airwaves. For e.g. I thought Walls did a great job with Noori, the song was great and while it got a lot of airplay, it was tastefully done and it wasn't a bombardment. I would hope that we would be able to work in a similiar way.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous sadsid said...

but that wud be sad & contradictory to what u stand for. hard to imagine - u & ur gang holding ice cream cones, singing 'sultanat' . let me tell u as a member of the fascist MNC world, u wont have ur say at all, u will constantly be told 'ur no body & ur gonna do wat we will tell". See Noori cud have dont that , say no we aint holding no ice cream , they are big enuff to do that & its only when bigwig bands refuse to succumb , thats when upcoming bands like urs have a ground to stand on.
(BTW i just read the comments on ur 1st op-ed i hav some unsolicited advice for u)

12:21 PM  
Anonymous sadsid said...

More blabber: No, the Noori video was disappointing especially after their Aik Alif perfomance. Noori bros came across as morons. their song is catchy though.
At the risk of offending of u im gonna say this - u are in total awe of the Brothers. they hav been supportive of ur band & they r nice guys. so really ur a big fan & they hav special place in the musical chamber of ur heart (i read ALL ur posts).and hey thats gud thing, and im sure that they r cool guys. but their song& cone endorsement was NOT 'tastefully' done, it was overkill.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Omar said...

@sadsid: yeah you're probably right, I'm pretty sure it would be a soul crushing experience to do an ad and yeah we'd probably lose our credibility. Hopefully when the time comes I can find a way to keep my integrity.
As for the op-ed piece, sigh, sure send me your comments, but keep in mind that I have since disowned that piece simply because the editing has made it unrecognizable as my writing.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Omar said...

oh and I'm not offended at all, I'm pretty vocal about being an unabashed, tru-blu Noori fan, so I can totally see your point

12:37 PM  
Anonymous sadsid said...

Noori is one good band , and really their contribution to the local scenario is so good. But its when Noori , Atif , Ali zafar/azamat & the likes will say 'our way or the doorway' to MNCs thats when noone will hav to compromise on their credibility.

My advice is on both ur op-ed pieces, its actually marketing / targeting ur audience advice (im an MNC fascist)... will post it in detail later. (do not share it , it mite just make u a millionaire... ok , maybe a hundred-aire)

Longlive ADP & Lara Croft outfits!

1:02 PM  
Blogger Annie said...


Not everyone wears a suit around me (i work in an MNC and i am in brands).

I knew a person who lead a really good band sometime back, who made fun of people endorsing brands, since he came from a rather prestigious musical background and was a rather cynical & tortured soul. I still have a clip of his interview in which he said all that somewhere. I saw him in a Glow ad yesterday.

When I am getting an ad made for my brand, I am not doing so in order to win a cinematic award. I have only one purpose and that is to get revenue. Trust me, if you did get signed on by a brand (depending on their goals and strategies) there purpose would be to get the most out of you guys and your popularity, by jumping up their sales. If this requires you singing a ghazal, well thats exactly what they will be making you do.

Also the number of channels we get to see has lot to do with the amount of money all these corporations are spending on their advertisments. Had there beeen no advertising, i doubt you would have had the number of radio stations that there are at the moment. Even niche stations like FM 89 are doing well and earning money.

having said all that, i do look forward to seeing your face plastered on road sides and pan shops. Would be interesting :)

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Nida said...

It's just his point of view.. and i agree with him to some extent. listening to the same thing over and over again is TORTURE!
so yes you can't corner him for wanting to earn money and endorse some brands while you fight an ugly battle for your brands revenue..!

11:29 PM  
Blogger Annie said...

"Ugly battle for my brands revenue"

I apologize. The intention was always to make it pretty and pink but well!...

3:44 PM  
Anonymous hani said...

then one has to be GOOD ENOUGH to get the endorsements.

3:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No AD Company has contacted you that's why you are mad. You need to be famous to get an AD and i dont see you guys making it big EVER but if God forbid you guys get famous you'll do the same :)

So stop whining like a 2 year old. First it the Record Labels, then Coke Studio and now the Ads.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Julia said...

Did I ever tell you about growing up in central Ohio and "Bargain" being used for Toyota commercials? I still, to this day, cannot listen to the song and enjoy it properly. Now, I think The Who in general are very "marketable" and are used in an extraordinary number of jingles, but for some reason growing up with that one on the radio every five minutes has truly soured me on the song for life. So I am going to agree, that a song can be used tastefully and not in an annoying, over-saturated way (here I'm thinking of Hummer using "Happy Jack"). A interesting dicotomy, the same band, being used by two different automobile companies, yet one is endlessly irritating, the other rather charming. I also have this whole theory about ad execs using bands like Led Zeppelin in Chrysler commericals in an attempt to make baby-boomers feel like they can buy a luxury automobile and yet remain non-conformist and not "selling out to the man."

All that aside, I enjoyed the article. :-) I had no idea you had a blog, I will definitely visit again. Feel free to check out my own random musings on life at, though I don't have the whole struggling band angle to work in. :-)


12:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with every word stated in your blog.
I believe adding "weird" ads middle of an excellent song is sort of disrespecting to an artist and to bands. Its not important to add "sub khe dou" after every song!
Even though its annoying nobody will do anything about it. Because public has NO say!

9:24 AM  

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