Finally the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the final installment of Getting Your Song on The Radio: Getting Your Song On The Radio. The first 5 parts of this series looked at all the preparation needed to execute the things outlined here-from recording and producing to defining your audience and all the boring paperwork that needs to get done.
First thing, since you’ve defined your audience, is to find the radio stations you want to be on, that would play music similar to yours. There are many resources like the Musician’s Guide To Touring and Promotion or the Musician’s Atlas, that list commercial and college radio stations across the country, listing program directors, music directors and addresses and station formats. While these are good tools, even the latest editions are probably going to be out-of-date at the rate today radio stations are changing format and staff. The radio trade magazines are probably the best place to start to find out what stations are playing your genre of music. The trades you should be looking at are Billboard, Radio and Records and FMQB (referenced here frequently). The magazines are updated weekly, and the websites updated daily, and are more reliable than directories that are published quarterly. However, you don’t get the addresses and contact info from the trades.
Once you’ve found the stations that are likely to play your music, you need to verify the information and narrow the list to the stations most likely to play your music. The best way to do that is on the Internet. Look up station websites online. You can usually get the station’s address, Program Director and Music Director on the contact or info page, but most importantly you can verify that the station hasn’t changed its format! If the rock station is now a hip-hop station there’s no longer a point sending a CD if you are rock band. You can sometimes find the station’s submission policy on the site, too. This is very important, it will give you a clue if you are going to waste a CD or not. For example, Clear Channel stations now have an online submission form for unsigned, or independent bands to fill out, while some CBS Radio affiliate stations, like K-Rock in NYC have this disclaimer:
92.3 K-Rock adds new music to the playlist via: listener requests, (email and phone), local audience music research, regional/national building stories, and by the judgments of the music committee consisting of the Program Director, Tracy Cloherty, Music Director/APD Mike Tierney and Music/Programming Coordinator Danni.
Also, listen to the stations for a little while to get the feel for their playlist. If they are only playing hits all day then it’s unlikely that your CD is going to get played. You can also look at what thousands of radio stations are playing on Yes.com. They give you the Top 100 songs plus songs played each hour going back a week This is probably the best way to get a feel for a station.
The next step: making contact. Most radio stations have call days set aside where they accept calls from promoters pitching CDs that they want added. You are now one of those promoters. These hours vary from station to station. College radio stations are notoriously a pain in the ass to a hold of. The MDs and PDs are usually college students that are in class-or should be in class-all day. They usually have office hours 1 or 2 days a week for only 1 or 2 hours each day. Call, find out the hours and call back during those hours. Be polite, courteous and professional, and maybe use your publishing company name instead of your band name when identifying yourself. Some stations may take these call whenever, but if they have these hours set up, don’t be clever and keep calling outside those hours. You’ll just get on someone’s bad side. Once you’ve made contact, you’ll want to verify the mailing address, person to send the CD to, and any special requirements they have. Have a script, or checklist, handy to make sure you say what you want to say about your CD and the information you want to get form them.
After you’ve made contact send over a package. Remember to include the cover letter we discussed last time, re-introducing yourself. Make sure you tell what you are sending and why and how it fits in with their format and why they should play it. If you’re a new artist you’ll want to include a bio, the one-sheet, maybe a sticker. Be creative, but be careful about gimmicks. NoFX made a big noise by including a blow sheep with a copy of their album Heavy Petting Zoo. It got the attention they wanted-on the radio and in print-but the CD in the pizza delivery has been done to death. Remember, you’re not trying to get in the door, you already got permission to send the CD, you just want to get someone to open the CD and listen to it. One band I was in made beer that had labels with our band name and logo and album cover. We sent 2 bottles with each CD to magazines and radio stations. Our CD got played on about 70% of the stations that got that package. Not a bad ratio of success. But remember, the gimmick is not always necessary; we did our research to find out the radio stations most likely to play our music, which was about 80 stations out of over 200 possible stations. Sending to the more than 200 would have been less effective, and cost a lot. And who knows, because we did the research we may have had the same ratio if we didn’t send the beer.
You should also consider specialty shows. These are shows that are only on a special times, like a local band show, hard rock show, new release show… whatever. Because of their limited nature they may not offer the most exposure you want, most songs can only get played once. With these shows, you send your CD directly to the DJ or show producer, not the station PD or MD. But, this can be a good way in to get on the main playlist. But you have to be sure that you’ve already sent your music to the main address, the specialty shows normally don’t share Cd libraries.
Follow-up about 2 weeks after you send the CD to make sure that it was received. Be polite and ask when you can call back to see if it has been reviewed for airplay. It could take a while, consider the K-Rock example above. Unless you are an established major band, you may have to go through the vetting they describe, before getting on air. In the meantime you have to give the radio station reasons to add your music, so add them to your mailing list for events that you are doing in their area, and major national updates. As long as you aren’t calling too frequently you can build a relationship with PD or MD and get some more insight into their particular needs. Find out why they are or aren’t playing your song, maybe suggest an alternate track. Help them to help you!
For college radio stations you can be a little more creative about getting your music on the air. Sometimes the DJs control their playlist and you can bypass the MD or PD. One band I was in lived near a college campus, so we called in to a radio show each week after band practice to talk to the DJ. We developed a relationship with that particular DJ and he asked us to send a CD which he ended up playing weekly. We were invited to become part of the show as regular guests whether or not we had anything to plug, we did on-air banter, read the news and weather and had fun being characters on his show.
This all sounds easy, but you also have to consider today’s political climate surrounding the music business and radio in particular. There are some roadblocks that have been put up in the name of helping us out. The government legislated that commercial radio stations must serve the public by playing several hundred hours per year of local and independent music. This should be helpful, however, the radio stations are driven by ad revenue and are slow to implement this because ad revenue will decrease during those times. Also, the independent promoter/payola scandal revealed by Elliot Spitzer, has caused many radio stations to be very cautious about adding anything new for fear of being accused of taking money in exchange for airplay. Then there’s the new license fees and royalty rates being set by the Copyright Royalty Board that aren’t helping things out. Playlists are tighter than ever, and the odds of getting on commercial radio are still quite low.
Getting on the radio is a big gamble, and like in gambling, if you hedge your bet, betting with the most likely winning hands, and folding with the less likely winning hands, you are likely to win more often. You may not get on every radio station that you try, but can increase your odds of winning-getting on the radio-by following these tips. It takes courage not to send your CD to every radio station. It might be more important and effective to get played on 15 out of 20 stations rather than 15 out of 100.
Got any questions or comments? Success or failure stories you want to share? Please drop me a line and let me know. Best of luck!