The democratization of media has been happening for over a decade. Gone are the days when despotic gatekeepers would single-handedly choose who lives or dies in the entertainment industry. Now, If you have the talent, you can simply upload content to one of the almost infinite number of platforms available to the public. Want to get your name out there as the world’s greatest steel drum percussionist? Get a friend or passerby to upload your street performance to TikTok. Come up with a solution to the latest political news story in your shower? Podcast about it on Patreon.
Of course, there are still more traditional avenues artists can pursue to boost their brand like the ever-popular American Idol and America’s Got Talent, but the best performers inevitably transcend the platform and make the rounds on social media anyway.
Former Rockstar: Supernova contestant, recording artist, and Stationhead CEO/co-founder Ryan Star has been on both sides of the media machine, first toiling away as a cog under the watchful eye of the almighty gatekeeper, and eventually finding freedom from the archaic mechanics of it.
Star has reinvented himself as an entrepreneur on a mission to unscrew the last nuts and bolts from the rust-stricken mechanized beast that is traditional media.
Stationhead is a social audio app that turns its users into streaming radio DJs. Fans all over the globe come to host stations, stream live together and talk, chat and celebrate their favorite artists. The idea behind Stationhead is to democratize music streaming and recapture the personality of traditional radio broadcasts. It does this by bringing back the kind of conversation and personal connection that’s missing from a playlist.
“They don’t want gatekeepers. They don’t want Spotify algorithms telling them what to play. They want their people having an experience with them,” Star said.
One of the more genius moves in the creation of Stationhead is integration with Spotify and Apple Music. The partnership means Stationhead doesn’t have to make its own licensing deals with the music labels. For listeners, it means when a DJ plays a song, they’re hearing it stream from the music service of their choice.
In addition to giving young artists a platform, Stationhead has provided an opportunity for music lovers and fans to come together as a community.
“It’s really evolved into more of this experience, more of this music experience together and it feels more like you join… Lately, it feels more like a place where you go to experience the community and experience the music together than a traditional radio where I have a mic and you’re going to listen to me,” Star said.
As the lines blur between content creator and consumer, a symbiosis is being created between the two; fan communities are driving artists’ careers. Stationhead is further facilitating this dynamic by offering a platform where artists and consumers can interact. And interaction is the keyword in today’s era of instant and continuous communication.
We are never truly alone in the modern world. Whether we are reading an article, commenting on a post on social media or listening to a podcast during a morning workout, there is always the faint buzz of external stimulus swirling around in the psyche. Furthermore, we can’t just experience something in a pure form — we must hear the analysis, watch the reaction, listen to the commentary. That’s where Stationhead pulls away from its competitors. It’s fan-based streaming of content — a democratized radio-streaming platform hybrid that has so far been lacking from a seemingly endless list of platforms.
Of course, there would be no interaction if not for the content created by artists. With Stationhead, artists and streamers can hang out in the same virtual space, giving artists a chance to build real-life relationships with their fans.
“It’s this really, really special place where these stations are created and the fans become the new creator, and then the artist comes and this whole beautiful world’s happening and it’s really special because I feel like it’s where Spotify and Apple and the DSPs kind of left off in this very lonely music experience,” Star said.
Social media has undoubtedly created opportunities for up-and-coming artists where there was previously a brick wall. But, with the democratization of media comes a desperate scramble by creators to claw their way to prominence.
“There’s a narrative going on with these big stars kind of saying, ‘Really? This is what I have to do now to be a musician?’ I would submit a record to my label thinking that was my content and they’d say we need content, and they meant go take pictures of your French toast in Brooklyn and post it so people might find out who you are.” Star said.
Stationhead changes this paradigm and allows the experience to be all about the music and the community of fans behind it.
“For many, it was like, they love music and they want to play music so where’s the platform where they could do that, and at the time, for me, it was just on the radio,” said Star. “It was like, I had to drive through the night to put headphones on and talk to fans and play music. It doesn’t really, it doesn’t exist anywhere else in that social experience.”
Through the turbulent early years trying to “make it,” Star gained a new perspective on the entertainment industry. The constant clash between him and record label and television executives stifled his artistic expression and career path. That’s likely why he is so passionate about giving young creatives a path to success.
“When I went back out as a solo artist, I’d have some success at radio and I was told multiple times that, ‘Hey, we don’t break the hits, we play the hits,’ and I thought, ‘Well, that’s dead, that industry.’”
“That terrestrial old archaic model is going to die because that’s never been cool,” said Star. “In radio’s defense, it wasn’t set up that way in the beginning.”
All the famous artists before us were the equivalent of what’s happening now. People were taking chances. They were radio DJs and at midnight, were spinning the new Aerosmith back in the seventies. It was all about chances. So you take the fearlessness and the independence away from any industry and it will become the machine and the man, and then the youth will want to rebel. We are on the rebel side of that.”
While his understanding of the traditional music industry spurred him on to reinvent it, Star has always been passionate about helping people in their careers and giving them a platform. In 2010, Star shot a music video for his song Breathe. Flush with a Hollywood budget for the video, he created the project Breathe for Jobs, the goal of which was to hire unemployed artists and actors for the video in hopes of launching their careers.
“My mom’s an activist,” said Star. “I grew up with the understanding we all need to make this world a better place. That was in my value system growing up. I took it with me. I also learned that one person’s voice can change the world for a kid that grew up in the, who cares, slacker grunge, fuck everybody generation.
“I saw the light because my mom taught me that you can make change and for the better. So I took that with me and yeah, when I had the opportunity and a real-life Hollywood budget was sent my way, the idea to only make me look better or win didn’t make sense to me. It seemed uncomfortable.
“So the idea at that point was to repurpose the money to make good, and the common thread and belief I have. One of our investors, his name’s Kevin Liles, is a well-known music executive, hip hop legend and the CEO of 300 Entertainment.
“He has a quote that he said on Stationhead once when he was talking to some kids starting out on music, and he said, ‘It’s not an opportunity unless it’s an opportunity for everybody,’ and I take that with me. I think you don’t win unless you win with everybody.”
According to Star, There’s something special happening with Stationhead. There are 12 to 24-year-olds around the planet just realizing there are people like them out there and that together, music is more fun.
In fact, it’s so much fun that the artist wants to be a part of it too. Young artists are mobilizing and monetizing their passion and talent by becoming creators. In the words of Star: “We’ve given birth to a new kind of creator and that’s the fan.”
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