Michael Matthews – DigitalRadioTracker

Words + Interview By Lucky Smith

They say the entertainment industry is small and everyone who is making significant moves of some kind will either come across each other at some point or another or they will have business relationships with some of the same people. Over the years, we’ve run into Michael Matthews, founder of DigitalRadioTracker several times in several different cites at various networking events. With a career spanning over 28 years, he and I spoke about quite a bit but for this piece, we’ve decided to focus specifically on his company and what he has to offer. Take notes because there is a lot of game being given here.

You’ve had a lengthy tenure in the entertainment industry. What is the short version of that story?
It has been 28 years so I’m not sure about a short version but here it goes. I started off in the music industry as an artist manager. I did professional artist management for 25 years. During that time, I built a lot of relationships and decided to launch a marketing company called Dominion Global Marketing. After retiring from artist management, I focused on radio promotion for a while. As I saw technology changing the music industry, I went on to create the internet radio campaign taking the same model from Commercial FM promotion. A couple years later I was led to form the music monitoring company, DigitalRadioTracker.com Inc.

Tell us about your company, DigitalRadioTracker and explain how it came about.
It all started one day as I was talking to an associate. We started to notice that more and more of the songs that we were promoting were being played on digital radio. At the time, it was referred to as Internet Radio. As we began our research, we discovered that no one was really monitoring the activity of songs on digital streaming radio. As a record promoter, you always want to know what is going on with the songs you are promoting and be able to illustrate to your clients that you are working for them.

In talking to some of the main monitoring companies, we found out that they were not interested in monitoring airplay on digital radio as well as some small-market FM stations. These stations are known to support new and developing artists and are much easier to garner airplay from. Being that this was a void in the music industry, we thought if no one wants to do it, maybe we should try and develop something. What started off as an internal software to show our clients that their song was being played at various levels of radio, has now turned into a global monitoring company – DigitalRadioTracker.

Who are the members of your team and what roles do they each play?
The key players on our team are: Ray Hale, Tom McGee, Wendy Day, Michael Nguyen, Metta World Peace and Ricky Anderson. We all bring years of experience from our respective field of entertainment, technology, business management and legal. As a growing company, we are all wearing several hats today to accomplish our goals for DRT. I believe with the wealth of knowledge this team of experts has brought to the table, DigitalRadioTracker is unstoppable.

What about your company makes it a game changer, especially for independent artists and record labels? 
DRT is utilized by artists, publicists, managers, promoters, radio station programmers, DJs, music industry executives and more! The global airplay data that DRT collects is very useful to artists and record labels because they can use the information to book shows and tours, set-up interviews, sell merchandise or promote their songs to other radio stations to secure more airplay. Artists and record labels can also use the airplay information to assist in collecting royalties on their music and increase their fan base or they can use the data to develop promotional strategies and learn which markets to further promote and market their music.

Before now, there was no other monitoring source providing this level of analytics for new independent artists and record labels to be able to monetize their brand. DigitalRadioTracker is the only company in the world to provide a FREE artist/song/broadcaster searchable database to our users which contains over 45 million song titles. This has been an invaluable resource tool for independent artists. Other monitoring companies charge to access their database.

Explain your charting system.
DigitalRadioTracker compiles data to produce nine weekly song charts. These charts are DRT Global Top 200, Top 150 Independent, Top 25 International as well as Top 50 Pop, R&B/Hip-Hop, Country, Gospel/Inspirational, Adult Contemporary, and Rock. We have published these charts consistently for the last 9 years. The DRT Charts are a great measuring tool on the amount of airplay exposure a song is receiving on a global level. Unlike other industry charts that simply focus on airplay in the U.S. 

DRT is compiling data globally and from all different classifications of radio stations. Although we mainly focus on digital streaming radio, we also monitor a vast array of Commercial FM, Satellite and College Radio stations around the world. This has enabled us to give independent artists and labels a louder voice as they are receiving global airplay and representation on DRT Charts.

The internet has become the Wild Wild West and has enabled anyone to call themselves an artist and/or record label. Often, a lot of artists do not have their paperwork in order when they are creating music. Name the top 5 things an artist must have to utilize your system the correct way and succeed. 
The number one thing is making sure your music is tagged properly. If you are unsure what I mean by tagged, check out ID3 Tagging and make sure your MP3 is embedded properly with the correct artist name and song title. You would be surprised at the amount of music that is circulating as untagged MP3. Besides this, make sure your airplay detections are counted with DRT because it may be able to assist with royalty collection.

Another thing that labels and artists would want to do is make sure their songs are copyrighted and registered with Sound Exchange as well as performance right societies. If any music samples are used in the song, proper clearances will need to be done as well. Also, make sure your song is mixed and mastered professionally for radio. Lastly, make sure you have a proper DJ service-pack with all the different versions of your song ready for radio.

We would hope that along with having a passion for music, artists are also able to generate income, especially in the streaming age. How can working with you become mutually beneficial on the monetary side?
By utilizing the analytics within a DRT Report, artists can monetize the information by setting up interviews, booking shows or tours and exploring PR opportunities. Artists and labels can also expand the promotion of their brands into other territories around the world. Artists can see a rise in royalties as they utilize DRT’s analytics to promote their music to other radio stations. The artists that have been able to achieve chart recognition on the DRT Charts have seen an increase in streaming numbers on Apple Music and Spotify. Many individuals use the DRT Charts for new music discovery as well as a research tool. And lastly, several record labels have discovered talent by investigating which independent artists are gaining traction on the DRT Charts!

We have seen artists that have received DRT certified plaques from you. What does an artist have to accomplish in order to receive one? Break that down.
Our DRT Certified Plaques are some of the highest quality in the music industry. They are made using 100% Italian solid wood frame, superior quality printing on plexiglass and 3D raised inserts. DRT is the only company in the music industry to use Augmented Reality technology in our plaques. This feature allows you to scan your plaque with your phone or tablet and it will play the artist’s music video! To qualify, an artist must have a single charted on any of the official DRT Charts for a minimum of one week. This can be at any chart position from 2014 to present. They can order as many as they wish for their entire team. It is an awesome conversation piece and we are excited that they can display their success and enjoy a lifetime of memories with their DRT Certified Plaque!

Has an artist ever gotten a record deal based on his/her work with you? How do you feel about record deals currently? Do artists even need them anymore? 
Yes, there has been several over the years. Our most recent artist is Carson Lueders. He had seven singles on the DRT Charts and is now signed to Timbaland’s Mosley Music and Def Jam Recordings. We have seen his career grow over the last several years! In today’s music climate, record deals are becoming a thing of the past. So many artists are choosing to remain independent and take their destiny into their own hands. 

We are now living in a D.I.Y. society in the music industry. Whether you have a record deal or not, you must put forth your best effort when it comes to marketing and promotion to be successful. My recommendation is that an artist remain independent if possible and really build their brand first before entering into any major record deal.

A lot of people feel that the internet is the end all be all and although your company is internet-based, we have physically seen you at quite a few industry events over the years. Explain the importance of networking in-person and why anyone involved in this business should keep it in their arsenal.
No matter how big the internet continues to grow, it will never replace human interaction. The music industry was built on relationships period. Without relationships no one can be successful, it takes a team effort to obtain success. I cannot express enough the importance of networking and attending music events. Today, most of my business dealings are with individuals that I have met through in-person networking. Social Media is an important tool, but at the end of the day, we do not really know who is on the other side of the screen.

For those who own internet radio stations, how can they become a part of your system and how does it benefit them? We are delighted by the many requests we have received from stations wanting to join our community. DRT does not discriminate on the size of a radio station or how many listeners it has. We are about building a strong broadcasting community that represents a true voice as to what music is being played. If a radio station is interested in being monitored by DRT, they can simply register for a FREE DRT Account on our website. Once registered, login to our web portal and select a monitoring plan from our “Buy Packages” section. We will contact the station to complete the monitoring process and tracking will start within 48-72 hours.

Radio stations from any territory globally can sign up to be monitored by DRT. There are so many benefits to being a monitored station. Especially with Internet Radio, artists and labels want to know there is a third-party verification that their song is being played. Internet Radio is not regulated like Terrestrial FM because many stations receive donations and are doing promotional campaigns. The analytics DRT provides can help stations in securing sponsorships and advertisers. When a radio station appears on various artists DRT Reports, it can lead to additional promotional support for that station. Most importantly, being a part of a larger community of stations will lead to growth by increasing listenership and marketing opportunities for the stations.

What are some of the advantages/disadvantages when dealing with digital radio vs. terrestrial radio?
There are a lot of advantages to dealing with digital radio. They do not have to deal with a lot of the corporate politics that Terrestrial FM does. Digital radio can play what they want to play and support a lot more independent music. This is what makes it such a strong breeding ground for new and developing artists. Terrestrial FM has a larger listening audience, but it is a lot harder for an independent to get support on their music. Terrestrial radio is in business to sell advertising, whereas digital radio tends to focus more on music. This allows more airtime so more music can be played. With DRT monitoring digital radio, we can now see how well a song is trending. This is extremely helpful with understanding if there is potential for an artist to break.

What types of obstacles did you face early on? When did you reach the point that the industry accepted your company as a credible source?
One of the biggest obstacles in the beginning was finding believers. I had so many people tell me, “No one is paying attention to internet radio, there is no value there, no one is listening!” It was very discouraging to hear. I think when you are a forward thinker and a visionary you are going to get a lot of that. Not everyone can see your vision. It was extremely hard to get help, acceptance and financial partners. In some ways it is still that way to this day. The music industry as we all know is exceedingly difficult to break into. And when you are disrupting a space, no one is going to just jump on the bandwagon. A big part of overcoming it is simply time. You must find a way to stick it out. Over the years, as technology evolved DRT have seen more and more individuals embracing digital streaming radio. Through this and perseverance we were able to convince the industry of our viability and that there is a lot of value in what DRT offers. Like anything, you must find those initial believers and grow your brand to becoming a credible source from there.

Who are some of the most notable clients that have utilized your system?
DRT has been utilized by several major labels and distributors such as Universal, Warner, Atlantic, Def Jam, Sony-BMG and Hollywood Records. Also, some major recording artists who have seen their DRT Reports are Billie Eilish, Kane Brown, Luke Bryan, Metallica and Maren Morris to name a few. It has been an awesome experience to be able to introduce DRT to so many notables in the industry, so there is no telling who may be checking out DRT right now as we speak!

Let us talk about Michael Matthews, the man for a few. Where are you from originally and how did you grow up?
I was born in Newburgh, New York and have resided in Houston, Texas for most of my life so you might as well say I am a Texan. I started in the music industry when I was in high school managing a friend who wanted to be a rapper. My brother and I started a music newsletter called Concert Circuit. That was my big start to getting a lot of contacts within the music industry.

What peeked your interests in the entertainment business early on?
Early on, having a music publication really sparked my interest in the music industry. I got to meet and interview several celebrities at the start of their careers like Sir Mix A Lot, Gwen Stefani, Rage Against The Machine, Blind Melon, Geto Boys and many others. It was exciting to see these artists careers grow from no one knowing them to being household names. Through these experiences I knew I wanted to be more involved in the entertainment industry.

Have you always been a numbers/analytics guy? What do you enjoy most about music?
No, I have never been into numbers. I was not even good at math in school. I could have never imagined I would be involved in data mining and compiling music analytics. What I enjoy most about music is the way it makes you feel, the emotional connection we all have when we hear our favorite song or artist. The fact that we can listen to music and it embraces our every mood is what has always gravitated me to music. I knew it is something that will never go away. Music is not a fad; music will live forever.

Who are your “Top 5” artists of all time of any genre?
For me it is about legacy and artistic ability when it comes to my picks for artist of all time. So, I would have to say Michael Jackson, Madonna, Garth Brooks, Metallica and Lionel Richie.

Tell us a random story that is most significant to you and has happened within the last 20 years.
In 2018, I started on a personal journey to share DigitalRadioTracker with as many notable individuals as I can to create my own PR story. Little did I know in a short period of time, I would find myself in the presence of some of the greatest people of our generation like Bill and Hilary Clinton, Michelle Obama and even media mogul, Oprah Winfrey right before the pandemic hit! During my outings I was able to talk to superstars like Janet Jackson, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, Cardi B, Ariana Grande, Lionel Richie and so many more! It was an experience I would never forget!

Give us one fact about yourself that most people do not know.
Most people do not know that before I got into the music industry, I wanted to be a fashion designer.

Is there any advice you would give an artist, label or industry head that is still trying to pursue music as an independent?
The best advice I could give anyone looking to pursue music is, stay true to your artistic craft. Focus on building your brand by any means necessary. Do not allow anyone to tell you that you will not be successful because you do not have this or that. And most importantly do not let the politics of this industry interfere with your success. An incredibly wise person once told me, “When you don’t know what to do, do what you know to do!”

2020 was a difficult year in many ways due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Being that it had impacted the entertainment business pretty hard, what are some strategies you have put in place to be able to continue moving forward?
It has been an interesting year for the music industry that is for sure. For us, during the pandemic last year it allowed us to focus more on branding and creating more awareness about DRT. Although we have not been able to do the traditional in-person networking, zoom conferences and phone calls have allowed us to build relationships and keep things progressing. We saw a spike in business as a lot of artists and labels were spending more time reviewing their DRT Reports and doing online research. We noticed a lot more listeners tuning into digital radio as they were quarantining and there was also an increase in new digital broadcasters during the pandemic. Our strategy is to continue to educate the music industry during the pandemic and beyond and illustrate that digital radio is a solid force and will be around for many more years to come.

To contact Michael Matthews, you can send him an email him at digitalradiotracker@comcast.net or contact him via Instagram/Facebook @DigitalRadioTracker and on Twitter @DRTRadioTracker.

Photo By Curtis Matthews

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