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The Format Is Not Your Enemy, It’s Free To Break The Rules But You Need To Know Why

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The Format Is Not Your Enemy, It’s Free To Break The Rules But You Need To Know Why

Submitted By Peter Åstedt

Many artists follow all the rules and advice that are given to them at conferences, online or in workshops, etc. One rule seems though seems hard for them to understand: format.

Format is how the general audience listens and how music presented to them. You have every artistic right and freedom to not follow these format rules. You need to be aware that you are excluding yourself from a lot of listeners. No, you cannot change people. Either you change for them or you accept a smaller range of audiences. Either way is the right way for you, it's your choice. Right now, however, we have too many people that have chosen to leave formats and then doing PR and efforts that are in a format world, and then complaining that they don’t get the same chance as other artists and that the world is too shallow.

So what are the format rules? It varies, but I can give you an example. I recently received a demo from an artist. Every song was over six minutes long and the album has ten songs. With recently becoming Station Manager of Cashbox Radio, I know that you need to make a really good exemption to play songs over 4:30 minutes. Why this rule? Studies have shown that the audience will change the ‘channel’ if there is a song playing for too long or they don’t like it. Of course, there are examples like Don McLean’s legendary hit “American Pie” that is over eight minutes long. But then they usually fade it in the middle. And if you look at online radio, fading is not that easy to do, so you rather stay in the format of three minutes to four minutes. Then that is the audience hangs on. Playing long songs is risky for me as a radio host and presenter. If you create these songs that don’t fit then it’s my artistic freedom to choose to not play them. It’s your artistic freedom to release longer songs because they should be that way. You take a bigger chance though by leaving the format that I will play it.

Same rule that you should release it on a Friday. Friday is the official release day of music in the world. Many blogs, magazines, and stations have built up their release systems around that. Their working schedule is designed that way. Many algorithms are programmed that way. You can release on a Tuesday, you have to every right to do that. Don’t expect that all these people should change their schedules just because you don’t want to stay in the format. You can release it on a Tuesday but take a chance that you are not picked since it won't fit the editor's schedule.

A lot of complaining I have noticed in the past few weeks has just been around this. Either the artist didn’t know or understand that they broke a format rule, or they just wanted to be cool and different and think that would help them to reach an audience.

The choice is simple.  You lock yourself inside the format and try to be creative inside that. Or be totally outside the rules. Whatever you do don't try to do it halfway that’s just gonna make people take things off.

If the product you release is mediocre, well then it doesn’t matter if you follow the format or not. It won’t fly. It’s only if it’s great and you follow the rules you might have a bigger and better chance if you also follow the format.

There are no real rules, it’s a choice but don’t complain about the system or if people mark it out.

Editor’s Note: Peter Åstedt has been working in the music industry for over 30 years. He has started record labels, distribution systems, and publishing companies. Peter also runs several major showcase festivals and is an advisor for INES and co-founder of MusicHelp/Discover Sensation. He has worked with the Top Ten most streamed songs and had music on both the Olympics and Super Bowl. Peter has currently taken up the seat of Station Manager of Cashbox Radio, working with MD, PD and station owner, Sandy Graham. His latest venture is a new Showcase Festival in Sweden, Future Echoes scheduled for February 18-20, 2021.