While overused, it’s only apt to describe what we’re going to be talking about as a broken record. Local radio stations, for the longest time have been constantly been nudged by local musicians and listeners alike to… increase the volume (and that marks the end of my radio puns, I promise) of Malaysian-made songs onto their rotation.
When songs don’t get played as often or some don’t get played at all, eyebrows are raised and the “system” that these radio stations practice or have in place is then questioned. Just recently, something on social media (where else?) brought a resurgence to this age-old debate but we’re not here to talk about that. You’ve got sites like WoB with “journalists” that are more adept at “reporting” social media debates and arguments, if that was what you were hoping for.
We thought it’s well about time that we hear it from these Malaysian radio stations themselves to find out just what some of their struggles and challenges are, the efforts that have been put in place to help the local music industry and hopefully, at the end of it, we get better closure as to just how often these songs are played (or can be played), the segments that promote and support local music and what listeners and musicians alike need to know about the whole song selection process.
With that, it was time to reach out. We honestly weren’t expecting all parties to be game for this, perhaps some attributed to a busy schedule while others potentially not really knowing how to properly address something such as this. So it came as a pleasant surprise when BFM, Astro Radio and Traxx FM were all more than happy to help address some questions we had for them. (Media Prima were unfortunately non-responsive to our messages and e-mails, but rest assured, this article will be updated accordingly should they respond.)
The things we wanted to know were quite honestly, simple and revolved around these questions:
1. On average, how many different local songs would you say get played in a week?
2. And how many hours of local music would that amount to in a week, on average?
3. What are the ways you guys source out for new local music?
4. Is there a selection process/system when it comes to picking local songs that get air time? (Do the artists have to be tied to a label, etc.)
5. What would you say is the best way for local musicians who have new releases to get their songs played on your radio station?
Ali Johan, Music Lead, BFM 89.9
“I feel like any media should be allowed to exercise content curation. If we play everything just for the sake of playing them, we won’t really be helping anyone. It should be quality over quantity, and not the other way around. Maybe musicians also need to realize that if a radio doesn’t play a song, maybe the music “tak best” or “tak ngam” with the stations identity?”
BFM has 2 segments that play local music in which the programme producers curate playlists:
BFM Midnight (a full local Malay segment with an average of 15 songs per hour)
When? Everyday, Time: 11PM – 6AM (that’s 30% of the day!)
Wavelength (South East Asian-focused music segment)
When? Mondays, 10PM and Saturdays at 6PM
Alvin Sinclair, Radio Announcer, TraXX FM
“With TraXX FM, any other radio DJ can choose to play both local and international songs freely, as they deem fit, or when requests come in, etc. We’ve never turned a blind eye to our local music here at TraXX FM. Currently, I’ve got a slot for local music called the Indie Hour, where we play a mix of old and new local music.”
But Alvin was kind enough to share with us some rough estimates. According to him, local music gets about 3 to 4 hours playtime (this includes his 1-hour Indie Hour segment). Local songs are sourced through various means – musicians send in their songs via email or phone, sometimes they see an awesome track on social media, it could be word of mouth. Either way, they’re not fussy.
On that note, the artiste does not have to be tied to a label, so everyone’s encouraged to send their songs in. But what about this mysterious… “system” though?
“The process will be them submitting to us: 1. the profile, 2. their song in a CD, 3. their lyrics and then this will be sent to Unit Rakam Khanah P.Ramlee to go through it and then it will be uploaded into our system. We don’t decide who gets more air time. As long it’s a good song and there aren’t any offensive lyrics, basically radio friendly, then we will play it”, explains Alvin.
Indie Hour (fully dedicated to local music, open to any language with a little more emphasis on Independent labels and artistes but they still play others too with an average of 12 songs)
When? Every Wednesday, 10PM – 11PM
Priya Prabakaran, Network Content Manager, English Radio Brands, Astro Radio
“Since the start of August 2020, we’ve started placing local music on our main rotation, meaning it’s mixed with international hits. The selection process works with our newly formed Malaysian Music Panel (with a monthly rotation of industry experts through a ‘blind’ listening session) who pick from numbered tracks without the artiste’s name or song title and a list is formed through that. And you don’t need to be tied to a label, anyone can send over their songs! Of course, with HITZ, it has to be English and radio-friendly!”
While some may question these industry experts (“All Astro staff ah? who are they?!”) and their validity, we’ll have you know that the first trio are Roshan Jamrock from K-Town Clan and Darren Teh from An Honest Mistake, along with Priya herself. So it seems like they’re off to a great start!
Seeing as how HITZ has recently introduced what quite honestly feels like an impressive line-up of initiatives to support the local music scene, we felt the need to prod further. But first, here are some things worth knowing:
- If you’re an artiste with a song that needs to be “radio-edited” for you, they can do that.
- They play predominantly Pop and their listeners are within the 10 – 29 age bracket. You hear that? Know the audience.
- HITZ tests all their songs and essentially, it is their listeners who decide how long a song gets to stay on air via their VIP club.
- For a better success rate when sending your song/track over via e-mail, Priya recommends you have a plan. At least have a desired release date in mind.
The Malaysian English Top 10 or MET10 still airs for an hour with a little more focus on newer releases and up-and-coming artistes and tracks. The songs that remain on the chart are decided by listener votes.
When? Every Sunday from 4PM to 5PM
Now, here’s where it gets really exciting. “Previously our playlist was influenced by a system which ranks songs according to their popularity among Malaysian listeners. Unfortunately, this means some songs may not make it to our daily playlist. HITZ is committed to showcase more local talents and music by including more quality Malaysian English songs in our active playlist”, says Priya.
And whichever artiste and song is featured, appears on their website complete with a profile of the artiste and links to their social pages and music. These musicians will also get “digital support including an explanation of the hit; a HITZ unplugged session for the recording of a cover and an original track (with professional mentoring) and an on-air interview. Additionally, Malaysian DJs also stand a chance to have their mixes featured on-air every Saturday on HITZ.”
But there’s more. If you’re an aspiring musician seeking to get a track produced, you can also send in your demo recordings to HITZ, who will select one track monthly to be pitched to labels for production. All local musicians and DJs can submit their tracks and mixes via their website. This sudden barrage of initiatives is still admittedly, rather overwhelming but is hopefully an indication of better times to come for the local music scene.
We hope this has provided some form of closure and insight into just what happens at some of our local radio stations when it comes to local songs and their much-deserved airtime. Whether it’s specific segments, or a much-welcomed mix where the lines of local and international music are blurred, efforts have been and will continue to be set in place for the Malaysian music scene. And one can only hope that it’ll be on a much larger scale.
The folks from all the local radio stations seem to have no reason to “not play your (or your fav musician’s) track”. It simply does not make sense. Having met some of these people, I know for one that they’re passionate about local music and probably have a far better knowledge of it than you or I, as listeners. But it’s not as simple as getting sent a track and having it placed on rotation just like that, as much as we’d want it to be. What should be appreciated though or at least, well, noticed, is the individual efforts all these guys are putting in and how they’re doing the best they can, within the boundaries that are set in place.
There are many things that have to be taken into consideration and at the end of the day, how much do YOU even listen to local radio stations anyway? Are you tuning in? Sending requests? Voting for your favourite track? If you are, keep at it! If you aren’t, get started. I know I for one, am intrigued after discovering these challenges and initiatives and shall start paying a little more attention to local radio stations in hopes of discovering some great new local music! And having some of the old Malaysian classics wouldn’t hurt either.
Let the support be from all fronts because only together, as a band, musician, radio station, website, social media page, as individuals and more can we take the stride towards a better industry as a whole and wipe away all these perceived differences.