*What do singers like Mary Wilson (founding member of The Supremes), Rena Scott (“Take Me I’m Yours” with Michael Henderson), and Eddie Levert of The O’Jays have in common? They all have great new music, but you’d never know it listening to Urban Radio. Why can’t seasoned industry veterans who are still creating great music, get mainstream airplay?
On Tuesday October 23rd, popular internet radio jock DJ Mel hosted a panel discussion on the topic that included the singers (Levert was represented by bassist Jimmy Williams), along with Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard (original members of The Vandellas), and yours truly.
The panel gave varied responses to why they think mainstream radio is not airing their music. Scott who owns her own record label and production company offered: “I’ve met with program directors and DJ’s and found that they’re looking for a certain sound…an urban sound which I am working on. I like what Mary/ Mary, Angie Stone, and others are doing. I have some top-notch R&B songs, but I’m ready to take it to another level.” Indeed she does have a great product that is selling very well through her social media network of fans, but she said, “I have to do it all.”
Williams who has done a tremendous body of work for Philadelphia International – most notably the bass riff on the McFadden/Whitehead hit “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” – thinks it’s cyclical and generational. He remembers how the music of the 1960’s pushed some of the senior stars of that day off the radio playlists. He said, “My dad couldn’t stand James Brown (laughs)…I love a lot of today’s artists, but our senior artists shouldn’t be shut out.”
Ashford and Beard said that during their Motown days all they had to do was show up and sing – everything else was done for them. Because there were more stakeholders involved in a project from production, to promotion, people did one thing and did it effectively. Wilson said she gets airplay by personally sending her product to DJ’s she’s known for years, and she relies on the likes of DJ Mel to keep her music in rotation.
It’s a known fact that the music industry caters to the young, but when you consider how Country radio stations are more at liberty to play a Taylor Swift song alongside a Johnny Cash song, we wonder why can’t Urban radio play a Ray Charles song alongside Beyonce? One industry veteran thinks it’s because Country music is more song-oriented, while R&B music is more production-oriented. Case in point: Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” translated well and became a mega-hit for Whitney Houston, but rarely does it happen in reverse where an R&B song gets new wings in Country. Both Scott and Williams agreed that it’s all about the heart of the song – a strong melody and a compelling storyline. All that aside, Scott added, “Today’s radio should have a segment for those of us who make a living doing what we do, and we’ve been at it a long time.”
DJ Mel stated: “There was a time when DJ’s were allowed to bring their personality into the programming and help sell a song, but now the corporate conglomerates dictate a strict cookie-cutter format and playlist.” He went on to say, “I’m passionate about what I do…I appreciate our veteran artists and give them love by playing their music.” Wilson said, “This is a great discussion, let’s keep it going.”
Another panel discussion will be announced on DJ Mel’s website at www.djmelentertainment.com
A Tribute to Motown featuring Mary Wilson, The Original Vandellas, and The Contours with Joe Billingslea will be performing in the Los Angeles area October 26th at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. The Info Line is (562) 916-8501. Ticket Office (800) 300-4345 or e-mail TicketOffice@CerritosCenter.com