‘If there’s something big happening with a record, there’s most likely a story to be told at radio.’

Tom Rose

Subscription streaming might be king of music consumption, but radio is still alive and kicking.

According to global recorded music body IFPI, terrestrial radio accounted for 17% of listener engagement in 2022 across a sample of 44,000 music fans in 22 key music markets, compared to subscription audio streaming, which accounted for 24%.

Plus, 73% of those surveyed for IFPI’s 2022 Engaging with Music Report stated that when they do listen to the radio, they listen to it mainly for the purpose of listening to music.

In addition to radio’s endurance in mature streaming markets, equally fascinating is its continued power to break artists in a streaming-dominated listening landscape.

Tom Rose, a specialist on the European radio market, and Managing Director at pan-European PR and radio plugging agency Propeller Communications, highlights the impact that radio can have on artist development, and particularly the role that on-air genre specialists play in this process.

“Tastemakers should be treated as worth their weight in gold by the networks that employ them and everything should be done to help them build a loyal following of listeners,” he says.

“If these tastemakers continue to be properly nurtured, then radio will continue to have a major impact on artist development for years to come.”

Across Europe, Rose points to “brilliantly programmed stations” such as Couleur 3 in Switzerland, overseen by head of Music François Küffer as key case studies for specialist and impactful tastemaker stations.

“[Couleur 3  3’s] left-of-center programming broadcasts to a legion of avid music fans and creates a space for artist development of less commercial artists across the region,” says Rose.

He also cites individual tastemakers such as UK-based Steve Lamacq on BBC Radio 6Music, who, he argues “has had a huge impact in the careers of many many artists over the decades and is still influential today”.

Propeller, which plugs songs to a network of public and private stations in over 30 European territories, was born as an expansion of the UK operations of Norwegian label Propeller Recordings, which launched in the UK market in 2014.

Set up by Rose, and Frithjof Hungnes (CEO, Propeller Recordings AS), Propeller’s UK outpost wanted to form its own direct relationships with key media outlets, so founded a dedicated PR company, called Propeller Communications, focused on tastemaker radio and online press.

“We were lucky that Sam Rumney (Zane Lowe’s ex-producer) at the time took us in and introduced us to the Senior [BBC] Radio 1 teams and we had some good traction from day one,” remembers Rose.

Rose explains further that in 2016, when he was overseeing International Marketing for Propeller, he became “frustrated” because he was working with artists  who he believed “had music that would work outside of their market”, but notes that “hiring top tier radio pluggers in individual markets was prohibitively expensive” for a small indie like Propeller.

The Propeller team then worked hard to plot their own strategy, scouring a list of key (European Broadcast Union) EBU-affiliated public radio stations, and over the course of a year reached out to music heads at those stations to build up their own contact base.

Since then, Propeller has developed working relationships with most public and commercial networks in Europe. It has run pan-EU campaigns for Roisin Murphy (BMG), John Legend (Crockford MGMT), Milky Chance (Wasted talent, Ansatz), Phoenix (Glassnote), Holly Humberstone (Platoon), Girl In Red (AWAL), Rosa Linn (The Orchard), Wunderhorse (Communion), Yungblud (Locomotion), Fireboy DML x Ed Sheeran (Empire), Super-Hi (Blended), Death Cab For Cutie (Atalantic), Raffa FL (Another Rhythm), Kx5 (AWAL/Mau5trap), JVKE (AWAL) and Tom Morello (300).

Based across London and Berlin, Propeller’s multi-lingual team of genre-specific radio pluggers has also grown to nearly double figures under the leadership Rose and Espen Blödorn-Mentzoni (Head of Radio).

“To our knowledge, there is nobody in Europe outside of the majors with an infrastructure like ours,” suggests Rose.

“To our knowledge, there is nobody in Europe outside of the majors with an infrastructure like ours.”

Tom Rose

One of the company’s highlights in recent months was working on European radio for rising British star Raye, whose single Escapism (The Orchard/Human Re-sources)  hit the top of the UK Singles chart last month.

Propeller says that it started the album’s radio campaign in June and achieved airplay chart success in various markets in Europe with previous singles from the artist.

Raye’s single Escapism in particular has since made a significant impression at both radio and on singles charts in European markets including Belgium, Sweden, Austria, and many more.

“Escapism is still climbing the charts in over 20 of our markets and it’s now at a point where it’ll be played on pan-European airwaves for years to come,” says Tom Rose.

In addition to working with ‘current’ artists like Raye, Propeller notes that the company doesn’t work exclusively on frontline releases, having recently taken on De La Soul for the legendary hip-hop group’s radio across Europe. (De La Soul founding member Dave Jolicoeur aka “Trugoy the Dove” sadly passed away over the weekend, aged 54.)

Having already achieved chart success for the group’s 1989 single The Magic Number in The Netherlands, Ireland and Austria, Rose tells us that Propeller now wants to explore more catalog opportunities over the coming year.

Looking to the rest of 2023, Rose says Propeller plans to expand its offering and recruit more specialist pluggers. And in our interview below, he tells us more about the company’s history, the challenges of cracking the European radio market, and the value that the format brings to artist development in a streaming-led world…

Where does radio fit into a streaming-dominated market and can the two formats co-exist in the long-term?

I see two major ways in which radio can contribute to the marketing mix.

First is the undeniable power of large commercial and public radio networks. NRJ, Bauer, SWR3, SRF3, FM4, Nordic P3’s etc. etc. These stations have huge listenerships and when a song is added to a wide selection of these stations, it makes a tangible impact on public consumption in terms of streaming, live and just about every other income stream including publishing and neighbouring rights.

The second is music discovery. People want to be recommended music by people they trust, as well as algorithms. That’s why public radio stations are able to increase in listenership when they get it right. There are less and less media outlets out there with the demise of blogs and print media, but fans still want to be recommended music by tastemakers that they trust.

What differentiates Propeller from other players in the market?

We were the first to properly ‘do’ pan-EU radio plugging – it’s taken us a long time and a lot of resource to build these networks and relationships – and we are constantly pushing to work more ambitious projects. We take a strategic approach for each song that we work and no individual campaign is the same.

A huge thing we have invested in is having a multi-lingual team. Between our small team, we are fluent in every major European language and most smaller markets as well. This is super important for us in markets like France, and Southern Europe, where a lot of our contacts don’t speak english and also aren’t big fans of Google translate. Even in markets where pretty much everyone speaks English better than me, we hope it’s good for the stations not to have to!

We have also invested in genre-specific pluggers that live and breathe the music that they service.

Europe is a complex region with multiple languages spoken. Could you outline the biggest challenges in the European radio landscape and how you’re solving these challenges?

We have faced a bunch of challenges since launching and the two biggest have been building relationships with key radio stations and networks. Building their trust, in knowing that we understand their market and the music remit of their station. We are still learning, but have made big headway in this respect and I think we’re now at a point where we are respected for our taste and the music we send across.

The other is convincing artists, managers and labels that we are able to deliver the results that we can. A lot of people don’t believe us at first, but then see the results for themselves.

Which markets within Europe are the toughest to crack?

I’d say this really depends on the music. All markets are different and each song has a different pathway, so it really depends on the song! As part of our service, we will advise on which markets are most and least likely to react depending on the song and story. We’re happy to give a lot of this advice free of charge, so people can reach out to get an overview of where we can realistically grow a song.

We can also help to recommend remixes, edits, etc.

You’ve worked with British artist Raye in Europe. Tell us about some of the highlights from the campaign, and to what do you owe the success of this campaign so far?

Every now and again we will work with an artist and record that really opens up what is possible. A lot of the time, we’ll be working with an artist who has a hit record and it’s licensed, upstreamed, or becomes a major international priority. We had this with Rosa Linn’S Snap which we were able to significantly chart prior to signing with Columbia US and recently with Cian Ducrot’S I’ll Be Waiting, which is now an international priority for [Universal Music Group].

Because of Raye’s history, re-signing to a major isn’t an option, so we’ve really been able to test our power with an international hit record. We’ve charted it in at least 20 markets to date, as well as having Pan-EU conversations with large commercial networks like NRJ and Bauer, who have been hugely supportive in multiple territories.

It’s great to see The Orchard/Human Re-sources working like a well-oiled machine for Raye’s brilliant debut LP.

We’ve previously spoken about how radio play or support from the right tastemakers at radio can result in either streams or live bookings. Can you talk to the impact that radio can have on an artist’s career in 2023?

Two good examples are indie bands Milky Chance and Phoenix. Two brilliant live bands, with great records and top-notch teams. With Milky Chance (Wasted Talent Berlin/Ansatz), we were able to open up new markets such as Poland and Denmark through radio support to the point where we also brokered TV coverage in the market and had a tangible effect on their live bookings.

Likewise, with Phoenix (Glassnote), we were able to reactivate markets such as the Nordics that had been dormant for nearly a decade, leading to a killer festival run in 2023.

In terms of other metrics, you’ve mentioned that radio play achieved for Shouse’s Love Tonight led to a spike in Shazams. How central is the role of using Shazam stats to determine the effectiveness of a radio campaign?

It’s definitely an important metric for highly commercial releases. Shazam is about the most lean-in way of interacting with music. To stop what you are doing, take a phone out of your pocket and record a song to find out more about it, is a pretty big ask! I hope that Apple continue to develop the platform and I’m really interested in how they use it to pick up on songs that are culturally relevant for individual markets. It’s a great learning tool and we use it to convert initial support into playlist success.

With Shouse there was a real connection between radio support and streaming – especially in Poland where we worked the song to No.2 in the airplay charts with their follow-up single Won’t Forget You. You could see an instant uplift in streaming related to commercial radio support. Whilst on the radio, Poland also became one of Shouse’s biggest streaming markets.

You have taken on De La Soul for their radio across Europe. How do you approach working with catalog at radio compared to working with ‘new/frontline’ releases?

This was a more news-related campaign, where we were telling the story of their recent crowdfunded catalog buy-back. Radio reacted pretty well to this across the board and we even managed to chart The Magic Number in The Netherlands, Ireland and Austria.

TikTok is exploding songs left right and centre and it seems to have no prejudice on whether the songs were recently released. I’m excited to explore more great catalog opportunities over the coming year – if there’s something big happening with a record, there’s most likely a story to be told at radio.

What are your plans/ ambitions for 2023 and beyond?

We are planning further expansion, with more specialist plugger hires and further building our offering. We are also collaborating with the EBU to try and figure out ways for public radio stations to work more collaboratively on specific artist projects, with a goal of widespread and high-impact coverage.

We’ve already kicked off with the brilliant debut single Ladada from Claude (Cloud 9), which is charting in Poland week 1 and [is] Track of the Week this week on Danish DK P3.

We are very excited about Beauty School Dropout (Verswire), who we got to Tune Of The Week on Jack Saunders’ BBC Radio 1 show [in the UK] with their debut single and have a killer new song coming in a couple of weeks.

Also Lovejoy (AWAL) who are another disruptive band, having built a huge online following that we’re looking forward to helping convert into mainstream success.

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