“Complacency Killed the Radio Star” by Sean O’Bryan Smith

So…it’s that time of year again. We are all in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the holidays and doing all our Ye Olde Yearly Reflections. I, for one, have had a truly amazing year resurfacing in the music industry and I must thank an ever-growing number of you for this. I am humbled and honored. Now that I’ve said that, let me recap on some things I’ve seen and some thoughts on how we can all help each other in the new year.

Let me quickly digress. While new to the genres, many of you know I am not new to the industry of music. For the past two decades of my nearly four-decade career, part of my presence in the music industry has been consulting. Much to my surprise, people have actually wanted to hear my thoughts on areas in the industry, especially, when it comes to the business portion of music. My expertise has been shared with labels, radio, artists, producers, you name it. This led to writing everything from columns and magazine/web articles to being a contributing author on a book on these subject matters. Verbalizing my direct yet, sometimes entertaining spewings about the business of music has been a blessed part of my life. That being said, I am constantly analyzing and assessing trends, situations, etc., and the NewAge genre now is a source of fascination for me and not just to feed my creative muse.

As I’ve said in past articles, from my observations over the past year this genre can befuddle me at times. Some of the daily business operations are truly outdated and are considered archaic in other genres. I can assure you that some of the practices I witness by artists, professionals, etc., in this genre would yield immediately bad results in any other genre. After two decades in Nashville, which was on the verge of cutthroat all day/every day, it is hard to just sit back and accept some things in this genre just because “It’s how it has always been done.” I get that there are traditions in any genre, but we cannot be lazy about it when the rest of the industry is moving forward. That right there leads me to the one word that explains why this genre does not perform as well as it once did among overall listeners: Complacency.

So, for some of you, that may have just been a slap in the face and there’s a good chance you didn’t ask Santa Claus for that. Trust me, I get it. Hard truths are not fun, hence, the word “hard.” Part of that whole digression a couple of paragraphs ago was because I wanted to say that industry professionals would reach out to me because I was going to tell them like it was. It was not so that I could be the Bad Sheriff and they always came out smelling like on the rose, even though I am fine with that. On the contrary, it’s precisely the opposite which is why I tend to be so passionate about it.

Apparently, I’m long winded today so let me start getting to the point and not that point on my head. They probably shouldn’t have dropped me so much as a kid. Anyhoo, as we move forward into the new year, I want us all to start thinking about what we can do to truly grow this amazing genre that we are all an active part of, because I can tell you right now that it isn’t nearly as successful as it should be, especially with the caliber of talent that I witness on a daily basis. It starts with us all getting our heads in the game and most importantly out of the past.

One concept that I have been actively preaching for over two decades is the fact that the music industry as a whole is a broken toy, and it is a product of its own doing. This brokenness literally started with its inception. If you were to draw out the business fundamentals of the music industry and hand them to literally any business analyst in any other sector of business, you would need a mop to sop up the vast amount of urine on the floor from them peeing themselves while laughing. I mean seriously! How this industry ever thought it would exist forever based on the foundation it was built on is like putting the Eiffel Tower on top of a single wide trailer whose cinder blocks are made out of Play-Doh.

The fact that the music industry has been so successful as it has for so long while operating on a broken business model is arguably the greatest fluke of all time. It was never designed to survive because it was feverishly built around arrogance, greed, and the capitalization of creative content. I don’t think it was entirely intentional, but the primary issue is it happened so fast that people scrambled to stay on top of it and therefore, missed a whole Hell of a lot of problems thinking “we’ll fix it later” except later never came. Then, the worst possible thing happened. People got used to doing it that way.

With this genre, we’re all a bunch of salty, seasoned war veterans, per se. With that it is safe to say we all can remember life before the digital takeover that is our current state of affairs. While we all reminisce on the way it used to be, we can’t fall into the trap of trying to still follow that business model, but unfortunately, we do it anyway. That is why I say that complacency is such an issue. There are people in this genre that have had an “oh well” or “it works for me” attitude for way too long, and for some, they are starting to realize that times have changed, and they have to catch up. Let me tell you something gang. It is NOT going to go back to the way it was. We must evolve and better yet, actually rewrite how it is done.

Having done this for as long as I have, I’ve seen it all. A prime example of this again harkens back to my Nashville days. A small, unassuming upstart label was making some noise around town but, nothing relevant until they discovered this young singer/songwriter on MySpace (That should date it). Virtually overnight they became THE powerhouse record label everyone wanted to work with in town and that artist was just named “Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.” I’ll hold out on the name drop since I’m sure you are as tired of seeing her name in the headlines as I am. I could care less that she’s at a Chief’s game…. again.

The primary thing I’ve witnessed in life is how fast the industry as a whole changes from day to day. New Age, ambient, whatever is unique in that we exist on the outer rim of the musical universe, but don’t forget that for the listeners, they don’t give a damn about that, and we can’t be complacent and expect to be relevant. If we are not moving forward together to keep up with the rest of the music industry, then our struggles will continue to get even harder than they are. Look around. It’s already happening.

Whether it was THE chart to be on, THE person to work with or THE radio station to be on, things are changing at a mind-numbing rate. Trends will change, the movers and shakers will change, the “it” artists will change. I’m amazed how much it has changed just in my short time amongst you all. The thing is though, the listening public has already changed, and we are currently all in a position of playing catch up.

It’s obvious that this genre has been too comfortable for way too long but, there’s hope in the fact that listeners are starving for fresh, creative content, and I genuinely believe some of the finest artists ever to create are among all of you. We just can’t be complacent anymore. Unite. Help each other and toss the broken toy. I hear Walmart sells other toys. Just saying…

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and I truly look forward to sharing 2024 with all of you.

Until the new year…. Adieu.


Sean O’Bryan Smith is an award-winning film composer, author, producer and recording artist. As a musician, he has recorded and/or performed with over 100 major and independent recording artists worldwide in multiple genres. As an author, Sean’s regular columns have been published in numerous musical periodicals and he was a contributing author alongside Gene Simmons and Nile Rodgers for a series of books dedicated to the ins and outs of the music industry. Sean’s music continues to be heard across the globe on radio, film and television. He is currently composing, recording and producing from his home in South Florida as well as serving as Director of Artist Development and Relations for Wayfarer Records where he is also an Artist in Residence.