Part 1  - How to Promote your Music to Radio Stations   

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Radio Promotion -  How do you get your songs on the radio



  by Bryan Farrish Radio Promotion

RADIO AIRPLAY 101         PART 1

- The Overall Picture of Music Marketing

There are two options for your independent music in the music business: You can either try to be your own record label (and/or PR firm, music company, entertainment agent, etc.), or you can partner with others who will do the work for you if you pay them. Either way, you need to know   who does what.

A Record label, PR firm, music manager, music publishing company, entertainment agency, music distribution firm, entertainment lawyer, music magazine, and most any other entity in the music industry are all part of a "mass media" wheel that generates airplay, publicity, gigs and record (CD) sales. All this is part of a record deal (from a record label), or, it can be used to get a record deal. Alternatively, you could decide just to keep as much of it in-house as possible, thus creating your own operation. This is a realistic option if you will be in the business for five or more years, and you are willing to work at least 30 hours a week at it.

A real record company handles four basic areas of music marketing: Radio, PR (public relations), gigs, and music retail. The radio portion is what this entire site is about; radio is the most complicated part of the music industry, and the most expensive part of the budget of a major record label. If you hire an independent radio promoter, they can also help a little with PR, gigs and retail, provided the airplay campaign is large enough.


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The PR (publicity) portion of the entertainment industry is obtained by hiring a PR firm (or PR person). A large record label has these people on staff, but will still hire out for more push. A smaller independent record label sometimes will just try to do its own publicity, maybe by just focusing on some local music magazines. Big mass media music magazines, however, will be beyond what an independent music label can get.

The gig portion of your music marketing is obtained by partnering with an entertainment agency who book gigs for you (good gigs can get you some PR too.) Small music labels will just try to book their own gigs. Note that an entertainment agency for gigs is not the same as an entertainment agent that an actor would have.

For the retail part of the music industry, a record company would hire a retail promoter, whereas a small independent record label would just call stores on their own. Note that this is NOT the same thing as music distribution, which is simply a middleman between the record company and the music retail stores... they just take retail orders once the retail promotion person causes the sales to happen. If you have no retail promotions person, you will have no sales, regardless of the radio that you do.

The entertainment industry has a few other entities you will have to work with... like the music manager (i.e., personal manager) and the entertainment lawyer. While they are not into music-marketing or mass-media details the way a record label or radio promoter would be, they are needed with things like music publishing and general operation once you are on the road (but probably not before.)


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The Stations
No conversation about music marketing would be complete without the word RADIO rearing its ugly head time and time again. Few songs sell well at retail without it. None sell millions without it. You've got your CDs what can YOU do about it?

Radio is one of the MASS MEDIA that record companies use to promote CDs to a wide-spread audience. It is the only medium that gets songs to an audience on a REPEATED basis (meaning, a person can hear a song on a particular station 20 or 50 or 100 times...just compare that to TV, film, print...or even touring.) So the question stands: How do you get your songs on the radio? With this and following installments of Airplay 101, we will look at what radio avenues are realistically available to indie bands and indie labels, whether or not you use an independent promoter.

The Total Number of Available Stations

Radio is broken down into two main categories: Commercial and Non-Commercial. If your favorite station promotes itself on billboards and TV, and if its commercials are "in your face", then it is a commercial station. But if it never seems to have blatant ads for itself, and if its "commercials" are very "soft sell", then it is a non-commercial station. The two types of stations are treated very differently as far as airplay is concerned.


 There are approximately 10,000 commercial stations, and 2,500 non-commerical stations, in the United States. Here is a rough breakdown of the ones that have new-music formats:


Adult Contemporary


Hot Adult Contemporary


Modern Adult Contemporary


Soft Adult Contemporary


Adult Album Alternative




Urban Adult Contemporary


Rhythmic Top 40


Top 40




Rock and Modern Rock




Country (all forms)




Smooth (contemporary) Jazz












Non-Commercial (consists of college, community, and NPR stations):

All styles on one station








Stations that are not listed here are either news/talk, oldies, foreign language (besides Spanish), traffic info, or some other non-new-music format.

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Regardless of what you were thinking were the "charts", you should familiarize yourself with radio-only publications that "track" airplay (as opposed to tracking retail or ticket sales.) Also, you need to be careful of the word "chart", because confusion will inevitably occur if you do not specify what chart you mean: "Charting" in the "trades" or magazines is what most people mean when they use the word "chart", but it is constantly mistaken as meaning charting on an individual-station's chart, or "playlist". The first chart is an average of many stations, while the second chart is from just one station.

A long-standing entry-level publication for this purpose is CMJ (College Media Journal). With the variety of genres that it covers, and with its acceptance of up-and-coming projects, you can get a good feel for what you are competing against in the radio airplay world. If you are hiring an airplay promoter, then you do not need to subscribe to CMJ or other charts, but you do need to know how the charts work. Note: Your music MUST fit what college stations play, in order for CMJ to be of use to you.

CMJ is the starting point for non-commercial (mostly college) stations. It comes in two versions...the consumer's monthly version (found on some newsstands) which is called the New Music Monthly, and the professional weekly version (available by subscription only) called the New Music Weekly. The professional version is the one that is of interest here.


With its seven different weekly-airplay charts, the weekly version covers the seven basic areas of music heard on college radio. They are Alternative (called the TOP 200 chart,) Metal (called the LOUD ROCK chart,) Electronic (the RPM chart,) New Age/World (NEW WORLD chart,) Hip Hop, Latin Alternative, Jazz, and Singer-Songwriter (AAA chart).

Forget Billboard...For an indie act with a limited budget, its airplay charts are impossible, since they incorporate sales. Other charts such as R&R and FMQB are possible, however, and we will get to them later.


Which Stations to Choose

We now look at which stations you should choose to promote your music to. Your airplay promoter will help you, but in general, your choice of radio stations should be based upon:

o Long-term (1 to 2 year) goals: Do you want to sell CDs, or generate attention and sign with a larger company (so they can sell CDs for you)?
o Genre.
o CDs: Do you have manufactured CDs, or CDRs? How many?
o Web presence: Do you have an in-depth site with articles, photos, individual bio's, mailing lists, and tour info, or a simple site or no site at all?
o Previous promotions/experience.
o Distribution, Touring, and Press. Note that SERVICING your music to a radio station, and PROMOTING your music to a radio station, are not the same thing. "Servicing" is simply getting your CD to the station. "Promoting" it is getting the station to find it, listen to it, play it, and report it.

LONG TERM GOALS: If you are (or if you have) only one act, and if your intentions are to build a buzz to the point where you can "sign" with someone, then non-commercial radio is probably for you (note: your genre MUST fit.) Non-commercial radio is very accepting of new acts, and these stations "report" their airplay to the trade magazines readily. They will also interview you, play station-identifications made by you, and (in general,) work with you. This all adds up to a good buzz. But...these stations will reach only about one percent as many people as commercial radio will.

If, on the other hand, you are running a small label and you intend to build the number of artists on it...and you intend to sell CDs, tickets and other merchandise through it, then commercial radio would be a good choice for you (again, genre permitting.) Only commercial radio can get your song to enough people, enough times, to sell large quantities of CDs (meaning, more than a few thousand.) But commercial radio is also the most expensive.

GENRE: Non-commercial radio is very accepting of Alternative, Metal, Rap, Hip Hop, Jazz (non smooth), New Age, World, and Electronic.<br>

Commercial radio is accepting of Alternative, Modern Rock, Rap, R&B, Smooth Jazz, Pop, Adult Contemporary, Country, Americana, and AAA (Adult Album Alternative.)

CD'S: If the CDs that you have were burned on a computer (i.e., "CDRs", "write-once CDs", "burned CDs" or "one-offs",) then you must choose non-commercial radio. Commercial radio will just laugh at these.

WEB PRESENCE: A strong web presence can be a great reason to choose non-commercial (and in this case, mostly college) radio. College kids (age 18-24) have the highest percentage of access to the web (100%), most of which is high speed.

PAST PROMOTIONS: Have you promoted a previous release to radio? Have you just completed a college tour? Have you done a retail promotion with a chain store that advertises on radio? If so, make the most of the momentum.

DISTRIBUTION, TOURING, PRESS: If you lack having your CD in many stores (on the shelf...not to be confused with "in the system"), and if you have no performances in cities other than your own, and if you have no articles written about you, then non-commercial radio should be a strong consideration for you (or possibly, a non-charting attempt at commercial radio, using specialty shows, smaller stations, and outer-lying areas.) These stations do not have strong concerns about distribution, touring, or press...

Most commercial stations, however (especially larger ones in larger cities) It works like this: Radio stations are paid based upon their ratings (the number of listeners they have.) If a record label exposes an artist to many potential fans by way of performances, posters, TV, articles, or film, and these fans then want to hear that artist's song, they will have to tune in to the radio station that plays it. This means that this radio station is going to get all these new listeners, and thus is going to have higher ratings. But new acts can't do any of this for a station, and the station knows this

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Non-Commercial Radio

We now focus on the "Non-Comm's": Why, and how, they should be chosen for airplay by you and your promoter.

Non-commercial stations are comprised of three groups: College, community, and "NPR" stations. The "NPR" and "community" stations are mostly the same ones, and are owned by community non-profit organizations. The community stations that are contracted to carry the NPR (National Public Radio) programs are the ones that are often called "NPR" stations. Community and NPR stations, in general, have few paid staff (perhaps just the manager and program director.) The majority of the "labor" comes from community volunteers who love a particular type of music or talk-subject; they program their own shows (and for music shows, they choose their own music,) in cooperation with the management.

However, some of the more strict music-format community and NPR stations (such as Jazz, Classical or Religious) have a single Music Director that oversees all the music that is selected. In general, the people at these stations are more mature, and they prefer softer music, compared to the people at college radio stations.

College radio is by far the biggest non-commercial group, with about 1,000 stations in the U.S. and Canada. A college station is part of a college's Communication or Media department, and is almost always comprised of hundreds of separate one-hour music shows, each one being done by a different student taking a broadcasting class at the college. In general, college radio likes the harder, louder music. Indeed, Alternative music comprises 75% of all the music at these stations.

The biggest advantage of college radio is that it is the easiest and fastest way to get airplay, and with it, the comments, favorite tracks, interviews, and reports in CMJ and other magazines, all of which become great tools to market your band with. The biggest disadvantage...actually the two biggest disadvantages...of college radio is that college stations are very difficult for promoters to reach (by phone, when promoting to them,) and they have a limited listenership (since they are non-commercial, and have no promotion budget.) So to "work" college radio properly, you have to work a lot of them at the same time (hundreds) in order to get enough results.

Overall, airplay on non-commercial stations should be used as a developmental tool for artists or bands. It is possible to sell CDs using non-commercial radio (as it is with commercial radio), provided you have a full-time salesperson to call the stores. But since most new acts and labels don't have such a full-time salesperson to call stores, non-commercial radio is best used for other purposes.

With non-commercial radio, you are looking to generate a tool that can be used to obtain gigs, get articles, get CD placement in stores (maybe with store performances), find out which single the stations like, practice doing station interviews or I.D.'s or visits, and of course, learn how the "charts" work, either at the individual station level, or at the trade-publication level...all stuff which is of interest to bigger labels, management, bookers, lawyers, publishers, and TV-film people.

The toughest part about working your CD to college radio is that there are so many kids running in and out of the station, and there are so many stations which need to be worked, that is becomes very difficult for the promoter to reach the stations. For a new act on a new label, stations need to be reached every week, by phone along with some email, so that they can be told what's up with your CD, and so you can ask them what's going on with your CD (the latter task is called "tracking".) If you are trying to "chart" your CD in CMJ, you will need to service and contact AT LEAST 300 stations EACH week if your genre is not Alternative, and at least 500 stations EACH WEEK if your genre IS Alternative. This has to be done for a MINIMUM of several weeks in order for you to have a real chance of charting. Note: Leaving a message counts as a contact

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Commercial Stations,


DISC JOCKEY: He/she is also known as a DJ, talent, air-staff, or jock.

SPECIALTY-SHOW OR MIXSHOW HOST: Does a one or two-hour show, usually on the weekend or late at night, using music that may not be suitable for regular airplay (rotation).

MUSIC DIRECTOR: Handles most of the telephone calls from
record companies and artists; opens most of the mail.

PROGRAM DIRECTOR: Decides who and what goes on-air; talks with major labels and indie promoters.

PUBLICITY DIRECTOR: Decides what free-mentions will be given, sometimes within special show-segments designed to highlight local activities.

SALESPERSON: Also known as an AE (account executive) or rep (representative); works with local and national companies, attempting to get them to advertise on the station.

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GENERAL MANAGER: Oversees programming, talent, sales, news and engineering. Very often, the GM comes from a sales background.

WHO DECIDES ON AIRPLAY: On commercial stations, the program director (PD) is the person who decides which artists gets played and how much (i.e., the amount of "rotation" or number of "spins".) If someone other than the PD tells you your CD is playing, then you may not be getting accurate information. The music director (MD) does provide input to the PD, but the DJs generally do not. Thus, calling and talking to a DJ on-the-air is of no use. As for specialty shows and mixshows, the individual hosts do pick their own music, but just for their one or two-hour show that airs usually late at night. (These shows are sometimes called "new music" or "test" or "indie" shows.)

P1, P2, P3: These are the sizes of the audiences of a station. For example, a "P1" station might be a top rated station in Austin, while a "P3" station might be the bottom rated station in Austin. However, a middle-rated station in New York would still be a P1, since it has so many listeners, while the top-rated station in a very small town would be a P3, since it has very few listeners.

MULTIPLE-STATION OFFICES: One of the first things you will have to adjust to when calling commercial stations is that several differently-formated stations will have the same office, phone/fax, and employees. When you are calling a Country station and you hear Alternative music on hold, this is why.

STATION REVENUE: Stations make money with one thing...advertising. Advertising is when a company pays the station to create and air a commercial which advertises the company's product. This is why the station was built, why it operates, and why the station employees get up and go to work each day. A commercial station is in the advertising is NOT in the music business. Its job is to accumulate listeners, and then sell these listeners to advertisers. It makes no money when you sell your CD, and it makes no money when it plays your CD. As a matter of fact, they actually PAY money to play your CD, through BMI etc. (albeit, very little.) So it all boils down to advertising... the more listeners (ratings) a station has, the more advertisers pay to advertise. Note: 80% of a station's advertisers are in the same city that the station is in (i.e., they are "local").

THE WEB: Still a troublesome novelty to stations, the web is certainly gaining in importance. Commercial stations use their sites to get listeners to stick around longer.

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We now talk about what is needed to promote to these types of stations.

MAILING: Although mailing your CD to stations is not considered "promotion" in-and-of itself (promotion requires phone calls), it nevertheless must be done, and when doing it is recommended that you do your own mailing instead of using a mailing service (or worse, a compilation CD service.) CDs from mailing services, which are sometimes sent with a magazine, tend to get lost. Also, they are sometimes delivered with many other CDs, which can dilute your project. If you do use these services, do so in addition to doing your own mailing, i.e., consider it an advertisement.

SPECIALTY SHOW VS. ROTATION: On commercial radio stations, specialty spins (also known as tests, spikes, new music shows, local music shows, or dayparting) is what many bands mistake for regular rotation. As a matter of fact, one of the uses of a specialty show is for a station to put songs that it can't really play (but doesn't want to tell the artist/label this.) The average new artist/label will be very happy to hear that they are "being played", because the artist/label doesn't realize that this means only one or two spins.

Only regular rotation can reach a large number of people (and can help you sell records IF you have a full-time salesperson calling the stores)...but it is also (by far) the most difficult to get. Specialty shows (and mixshows) however, while not nearly as powerful as regular rotation, do still have uses...for example, building the buzz, introducing a song to a station, or providing airplay practice for a new label or artist. And many times, the person at the station who does the specialty/mixshow also sits in on the same music meetings with the music director and program director.

PROMOTERS: Also called radio promoters, airplay promoters, radio teams, promotion departments, etc., promoters are the people who call the stations and give them the information they need to play your song. (Faxes/emails are also used.) You will find promoters who work at labels who only promote the artists on their label, and promoters who work independently (these are called "indies") who are for hire by labels and artists.

The main thing that a promoter does is try to make it appear that a big picture is developing: Adds are happening, spins are increasing, interviews are occurring, great comments are being made, and if pertinent... sales are occurring, shows are selling, and press is printing! All of this is updated and repeated every week to every station (25 to 3000 stations, depending on the promotion level...most often it is 100 to 500.)

As for indie promoters, they vary in the reports that they give you (some don't do them at all,) the stations they call (some do only one genre, others do more,) the promotions or advertising they handle (some don't do this,) and the accessibility that they give you (some are easy for you to reach, others never answer the phone and hardly ever call back.)

TRADE ADS: Buying printed advertisements in the radio airplay magazines would be the first step that a serious label/band would consider as their next step beyond simply hiring a promoter. These printed advertisements (1) show stations that you have a serious project, (2) get critical info to the stations in a high-profile and timely (weekly) manner, and (3) greatly increase your chances of an editorial review in the magazines you advertise in.


STATION ADVERTISING: High-level airplay promotion will include the buying of time on broadcast stations (which understandably may be beyond the indie label.) Advertising on stations does several things:

1) Lets the public hear samples of (several?) of your songs.
2) Tells the public where to buy the CD.
3) Tells the public about your gigs.
4) Gets the attention of the station management, who pays more attention to the ads than they do the music.
5) Greatly increases your chances for airplay, because the station is now making money from you.

...And with a little extra work on the part of the promoter:

6) Gets your CD onto the shelves of large chain stores.
7) Gets you gigs in larger venues which you could not get otherwise.


CMJ magazine

Let's now focus on a chart...the CMJ college airplay chart, which is a great place for most new artists and labels to begin (provided, that your genre is suitable!)

CMJ is the "College Music Journal" or "College Media Journal", depending on whom you ask. For us, it stands for music. And we are focusing here on the professional weekly version (available by subscription only), not the consumer monthly version (which is available on some newsstands.) You can get a feel for CMJ by looking at their site, but most of the real material is in the magazine only. Your promoter should provide you with all the CMJ info you need.

CMJ used to list (on a weekly basis, in the back of the magazine) a huge number of playlists of individual stations around the U.S. These lists, being that they were from college, community and NPR stations, actually showed music from new artists. CMJ stopped listing these playlists in January 2004, and now only offer them as a pay service in the "industry" section of their site.

CMJ (and college music in general) is about 75% alternative. Indeed, the first chart we want to look at (and the main chart in CMJ) is the "Top 200", which is 200 listings deep of alternative charting artists (compared to 40 or 50 of other charts). 200 might seem like a lot, but on any given week, over 2000 artists are attempting to chart (and don't.) There are about 1000 college stations which are eligible to send their playlists to CMJ to be included in the Top 200 chart. About 350 to 600 do it on any given week.

It works like this: A college radio station's programming is made up of many one-hour segments, each one being programmed by a student who is taking a broadcasting class, or by a volunteer that comes from the local community. Each student or volunteer presents his/her one-hour playlist to the music director, and the music director then compiles a "top-30" for that station...the 30 artists that are getting the most airplay from the different DJs at the station. The "top-30" for that station is then sent to CMJ. CMJ then averages all the individual top-30 charts for that week, and this is what makes up the Top-200 chart for that week (and that week ONLY.) Any top-30 received before or after that week cannot count for that week's Top-200 chart.


The stations that report to the Top-200 range in size from huge to tiny, and as you might imagine, the larger stations count for more than the smaller ones do. Whether or not you appear on the Top-200 chart is dependent upon how many stations put you on their top-30's *that week*. To make it onto the bottom of the Top-200 chart, you will need anywhere from 5 to 40 individual top-30's for that week, depending on the time of year.

A companion to the Top 200 chart is the "Radio 200 Adds" chart. An "add" chart is different from an "airplay" chart, because at non-commercial radio, an "add" just means a station "added you to the music library" does not mean they gave you any spins (airplay). Getting an add is usually the first step to getting spins, however.

Another companion to the Top 200 chart is the "Core Radio" chart. This chart only accepts playlists from the largest 100 or so college stations, so theoretically, having an artist appear on the "core" chart is worth more than having the artist appear on the "regular" chart. This may or may not be true, and is fuel for further discussions. Your promoter should be able to shed some light on the value of core stations.

The next chart to look at in CMJ is the "Loud Rock" chart. This is where all your metal and hard rock shows up. This chart is divided into the "Loud Rock College" chart and the "Loud Rock Crucial Spins" chart. The "college" one is 40 artists deep, and has a most-added section that is 5 deep. About 400 stations report to this chart. The "crucial" one is also 40 deep, also with 5 most-added. The thing that makes the crucial one different is that it is comprised of about 100 commercial specialty shows, instead of college stations.

Next up is the "RPM" chart. This is where your techno/electronic stuff is charted. It also 40 deep, with 5 most-added spots. About 350 station report to it.

"Hip Hop" is your next largest chart; all your rap and hip hop fit here. It is also 40 deep with 5 most-added. About 300 stations report.

"Jazz" is next, also 40 deep with 5 most-added. About 250 report to it. Note that it is mostly traditional jazz, and not "smooth" jazz.

"New World" is the chart where new-age and world music fit in. It is 40 deep, with only a 3 most-added. It has about 200 reporters.

"AAA" (Adult Album Alternative) is your singer-songwriter chart, and is 40 deep with 5 adds, but it has only about 50 reporters. This chart has a lot of major labels on it.

"Latin Alternative" is another smaller is 15 deep with 3 most-added, and it has only has about 20 reporters.



An "Internet Broadcast" chart has recently emerged with about 10 stations.

And a brand new development is the "RAM Crucial Spins Chart"... where RAM means "realtime airplay metrics". This is the college radio equivalent of BDS and Mediabase, where certain stations are actually monitored, and the charts thus reflect what is actually played as opposed to what is said is being played. There is a RAM chart for albums, and another for singles.


Specialty / Mixshow Radio

A specialty show or a mixshow is a one or two hour show on a commercial station, usually late at night, and many times on the weekends, which plays music that the station normally does not play. A disadvantage of these shows is that you get only one or two spins per week on any particular station (which is even less than some college stations give you.) The advantage of these shows, however, is:

(1) The number of listeners to these commercial stations is much higher than with college stations, since commercial stations have promotional budgets which they use to attract listeners (billboards, vans, bus benches, TV ads, etc.)

(2) Commercial stations have a steady listenership level year round (compared to college,) although listenership does peak somewhat in the spring and summer because of increased outdoor activities.

(3) A song's prominence on commercial stations is higher, due to most commercial stations' higher visibility.

(4) An often-overlooked asset of specialty/mixshows on commercial radio is the fact that the folks who host these shows, many times also sit in on the music meetings with the station's music director and program director. So if your long term goal is to be in regular rotation on these stations, the specialty/mixshow route is a great preliminary step.

Speaking of long term goals on commercial radio, if you envision any type of radio advertising or indie promotion for your project, then starting out with the specialty/mixshow circuit (on these same stations) might be a good idea.

The specialty and mixshow circuit is about as far as you can expect to get without getting into some heavy commercial promotions. With college radio, heavy promotion is not required, but since specialty and mixshows are on commercial stations, you should start looking into serious promotion at this point.

Specialty/mixshows are generally alternative, rock, techno, dance, urban, jazz or blues, and there are separate charts for each of these. Relative to college radio, specialty/mixshows are fewer in number (usually less than 100 per genre,) but are more difficult to obtain. Relative to regular rotation on commercial stations, specialty/mixshows are far less costly to work.


Regarding your CD type, specialty/mixshows require fully-manufactured CDs (with lithographed graphics)...not the computer-printed CDRs. Fortunately, however, CDRs can still be used for college radio.

How do you choose between promoting to specialty/mixshow and college radio? Well first of all, larger labels would do both, and possibly commercial regular rotation on top of this. But most brand new projects will need to choose between specialty and college. Here's how (genre permitting)...

Have limited CDs? Go with specialty...the most you'll need will be 100 for a charting campaign.

Have only CDRs? Go with college...they'll take almost anything.

Hate commercialism? Go with college.

Wanna be visible to larger labels? Go with'll generate more "paper" chart results to put in your press kit. For the same number of dollars, you won't get as far in commercial.

Wanna build your own label, sell records in stores, and add other artists long-term? Go will prepare you for commercial regular rotation...which is what reaches the most listeners (and helps you sell records, provided you have a retail promoter/salesperson.)

Wanna do some regional appearances? Do college, because there are many more stations to pick from in any particular region. But if you are going to eventually try commercial regular rotation, then go ahead and choose specialty now.

These are, of course, just rough guidelines, but the most important aspect to any radio campaign is that whatever you choose, stick with it and see it through to the end. Stopping a 10 week campaign at 5 weeks (or an 8 week campaign at 4 weeks) will guarantee that you will get almost zero results.


Music, CD and Case Requirements

Radio has the most stringent requirements for the CDs that you send them, the discs you put them on, and the cases you put them in. Let's go over them...

MUSIC SPECIFICS: Should you make albums or singles? The easy answer is relatively simple: If you are sending to college radio, send an album or EP. If you are sending to commercial radio, send a single. If the format is AAA or Americana (the only formats that are both comm and noncomm,) you can send either one, but preferably send the album.

As for the number of tracks on an album, try to keep it below twelve. And make the first track begin with some energy... don't begin with a song that has a long, slow, building-start (you can do that later on when you are promoting an accepted talent.) For a station that received 20 or 30 releases for review THAT DAY, an album from an unknown artist that starts slow is going to have a tough time being reviewed.

For singles, generally you should have four versions on the CD: The radio edit (clean lyrics); a full length (i.e., "album version"): an a capella version; and an instrumental version. The radio edit should be no longer than 3.5 minutes long. The a cappella and instrumental versions are sometimes used in station commercials, liners, and ID's. Others versions which may be useful are mix/dance versions and 12-inch cuts (genre permitting).


SPECIFICS ABOUT THE CD: First off, I should make a point that you NEVER send more than one release to a station. It's difficult enough getting one release from a new artist reviewed. You are only insulting the station by sending more than one release (i.e., sending a current release and a previous release too.)

CD recordables (or "burned" CDs) are the type that are blue-ish or greenish in color. They are printed on computers, and they are the type you get when you order small quantities like 10 or 100, or if you order from CDRs can be sent to college stations only. CDRs are too unreliable (and are an insult) to commercial stations.

Manufactured CDs are the mandatory type for commercial stations. These are the types of CDs that have a minimum run of 300 or 500, and are silver in color. They are reliable, and show that you have a serious project that you are not going to skimp on.

On the CD graphics, be sure to state artist, title, label, song lengths, the versions, contact info, and (if it is a single) that the song is "from an album", with a small picture of the album.

For commercial radio, do not use any CD oddities like mini's, special shapes, odd colors, built-in videos or anything else that is wildly different. Commercial stations only view these as "tricks" by new artists who want attention. Leave that stuff for established artists. For college radio, however, anything goes for any artist.

CASE TYPES: There is a simple answer to this... use standard (not slim line) plastic jewel boxes ONLY. Period! It is the worst peeve of stations when slim cardboard or vinyl cases are used... they don't fit the CD racks properly, and will just get thrown away. Cardboard and vinyl sleeves literally "slip through the cracks."

As for the wording on the case, make sure the artist, title(s), label, song lengths, and version descriptions are all on the OUTSIDE of the case (they can be inside, too). And very important... if you have a bar code (or you'll have a space for one), put it on the back of the case, in the corner, so that you can poke a hole through the plastic/barcode without harming the CD (you do this by using a soldering iron or drill). Note: If the CD is being sent ONLY to radio (and will not to be sold at retail,) then a barcode is not needed.

Finally, when mailing the CDs, use first-class postage. Third-class postage will cause great delays, and can jeopardize the project's timing.

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Commercial Formats

Commercial radio has a word for what music people call "genre"'s called a "format". A format is like a category of automobiles... trucks, cars, SUV's, station wagons, etc; each category is made up of different makes from different manufacturers, but no matter where in the country you go, everyone understands what you mean when you say "truck"... you simply have to specify what make and model you are referring to.

Same with radio. A commercial radio format is a collection of types of music that are similar, from different artists. Most of the broadcast day will stick to the format, and every station in the country that is of that particular format will play the same types of artists. The purpose of a format (on a commercial station) has to do with how a station sells advertising, but we won't go into that now. Note: Formats do not really apply to non-commercial radio, and especially not to college radio.


Below are the main new-music formats in the United States; most U.S. cities will have a station for each one. Canada is similar but smaller, and with many French stations too. The formats below are sorted (roughly) by the number of stations in each group. Note, however, that this does not correspond to the number of LISTENERS. The number of listeners (or "ratings") of a format or station will be covered at a later time. Also, these formats are broad groups; you most likely would only promote your music to a portion of a particular group. The formats are...

COUNTRY: 2,300 stations. Country is the real "top 40" of the U.S. because of the number of stations. "Young Country" and "Hot Country" appeal to the younger listeners, using newer artists, younger DJs, and a more energetic approach. The whole "new" approach really took hold about the time Garth started gaining popularity. More traditional country stations (sometimes known as "Heritage" stations) are sort of the "oldies" of country radio... but they also are specific in which new artists they play.

One special sub-category of Country is the "Americana" format. It is a more roots-based country, and it has about 100 stations, most of which are small. Americana is an interesting new format, with some really eclectic artists and new labels supporting it.

RELIGIOUS: 1,900 stations. Includes Christian in several music styles, Gospel in many styles, Praise and Worship, and Ministry. Although a big format, hundreds of these stations offer less chance for new music because of the large amounts of talk, satellite programming, and older songs that they play. There is no absolute number of religious stations which play new music; instead it is a variable, and a particular station can play anywhere from one to 24 hours of new music.

ADULT CONTEMPORARY: 1,500 stations. Also called "AC". Includes "mainstream AC", "modern AC", "hot AC" and "soft AC". More people listen to AC than any other format. AC is similar to Religious, in that hundreds of the stations have limited capacity for new music because of the talk, satellite or sports programming they carry. Nevertheless, AC still remains as one of the melding pots for new artists on small labels. By this I mean that there are enough small AC stations (which play new music) for a new artist to stand a chance... if promoted correctly.


ROCK: 800 stations. Includes "modern rock", "alternative", and straight-ahead rock. Most people know of these stations. Problem is, they are tougher for independent artists to get played on. One thing saves the day, however... their specialty shows.

SPANISH: 600 stations. All variations included.

TOP 40: 400 stations. Called Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR), it includes "rhythmic crossover" stations; i.e., Top 40 with a beat. A very difficult format for indie artists. But again, specialty shows (and mixshows) save the day.

URBAN: 300 stations. Includes Urban, R&B, Hip Hop, and Urban AC. Also very difficult for new artists, but thankfully it also offers mixshow support.

CLASSICAL: 150 stations.

JAZZ: 150 stations. Includes "straight" Jazz (i.e., traditional), and "smooth" Jazz. Straight Jazz is a viable format for an indie artist. Smooth, however, will take some serious promotion.

KIDS: 50 stations. These mostly are your Radio Disney stations, and they are all programmed from the Disney home office.

Morning Shows

The two broadcast and TV...both occur in real time, and thus are governed by the daily habits of people (as opposed to print or outdoor or web media, in which the same message is available 24/7.) So, TV's "prime time" is when most people are available to view it...which is usually in the evening at about 8 pm. And this is where TV puts their most important programs.

Radio's "prime time" is in the morning, when three things occur at the same time: (1) People are getting ready for school or work and are running around the house with the radio on, (2) People are driving to work with the radio on, and (3) Kids are riding to school with their walkmans on. The "programs" which radio uses in this morning period are called "morning shows", and the radio-business term for this time period is "AM drive" (or A drive) or "morning drive" (as in "drive to work"). Morning drive tends to be more energetic than the rest of the day (so it can wake you up), and more newsworthy (so it can prepare you for the day.) Understanding this about morning drive can be a useful tool in marketing your music.

Two additional things to remember about morning drive is that it is usually the only part of the day that the station breaks away from the "normal" format that they try to stick to, and two, the DJs (or "talent" as radio calls them) are usually their most experienced (and best paid) people. This in mind, here are some areas that can be directly used to market your music.

 NEWS: News is a major component of morning shows, and on some music stations, it's the only news you will hear all day. In smaller towns, concerts or shows which occur can sometimes be news in and of themselves. Obviously this applies to a larger act, but if worked hard enough, smaller acts can get some coverage too. And by being "worked", I mean finding out something about the act/club/event/gig that is slightly out of the norm, and then making this fact known to every possible newsperson at the station in the town you will be performing in.

The news angle is twofold: First, the fact that a show is occurring is "news", although many news directors will try to pass you to the community events person (which is not totally a bad thing.) Second, on the day after the event, if anything at all happened at the event that people should know about, then the news directors need to find out (before you leave town... since they may want to interview you.)

INTERVIEWS/CALL-INS: The next great use of morning drive is the artist interview or call-in (a call-in is a mini-interview, where the artist calls the morning show briefly to detail a few points about a show that is coming up, or a show that just occurred.) You generally have to be spinning on a station before an interview or call-in can occur, but when you get to do them, they are usually done by phone, except for those great breaks you get and the station wants you live.

SKITS: In keeping with the spirit of morning shows, skits are a nifty way to help stations with their programming, while boosting your situation at the same time. Skits can be done over the phone, or they can be taped and sent in. They can be generic, or tailored to each station. Rarely, the station will want you to do it live. Regardless, you want to be brief and be funny; you want to make the DJs look brilliant, and you want to say your band's name several times.

NOVELTY SONGS: Lastly, a novelty song or parody (even of one of your own songs) is a great morning show item. These things will have to be practiced or recorded before you head out on the tour, but they are easy because you only have to do one (unless of course you personalize it for each station.)

Creating a Story

When working with the mass media (radio, TV, papers, magazines), one thing to keep in mind is that they are just that... MASS... and anything you can do to let radio know that you are building a mass story for your artist will help tremendously in your ability to get airplay. A special note here: This info is not intended for an individual artist (or one-person label) to go and try themselves; it is beyond what an individual can do. Even if you had the time (40 to 120 hours per week), you would not enjoy the process.

Commercial radio wants to build a "star", and the first step to doing this is to build a story. A "star" is an artist whose one particular song is being played all across the country at the same time. Radio wants to be part of the other media building this star. Commercial radio (especially) does not want to be the only media doing it, or much less, be the only radio station doing it. As a matter of fact, by definition, a single station (or two or three stations) cannot "build a star"; no matter how much they play an artist. It takes a group of stations, across the country, doing the same thing at the same time with the same song from the same artist.


Let's start with radio itself. In a promoter's daily phone calls with the program directors and music directors, one of the most important things to inform a station about is what other stations have just added the artist. "Add" information is SO important that it is often the ONLY thing that is talked about, especially in the early stages of a campaign. Nothing in commercial radio happens without the add. It might start out like this: "We have adds last week in Tacoma, Austin, Orlando, Fresno, Wichita Falls and Dearborn, and commitments from Miami, Seattle, Dallas and Chicago."

Next up on the airplay menu are spins. Starting with the P1s and then the P2s and P3s, and starting with the highest (or most exciting) spins, the whole list is gone over with the station, describing (and thus somewhat proving) to the station that action is developing. This information is applied to each station in a way that is designed to make them want to jump on the bandwagon.

As things develop, the promoter goes for quotes from the "Mary's record is getting great calls!" or "The XYZ song is moving into's strong females for us!" The quotes are then fed to every station that is talked to; it might take two weeks to get the message to everyone, even with full-time phone calls.

Finally, as the campaign progresses, the promoter might move into telling the stations which stations are doing what type of give-aways, which ones are doing visits, or which ones are doing any number of other things which help the "story" look like it is building.


Moving on from radio, other pieces of information are also fed to stations, thus helping the stations to decide if a particular artist is worthy of adding...

What performances is the artist making? What are the attendances? Is the artist being invited back? Did the artist get a letter of reference from the venue? And most important, did/will the artist perform in the station's particular city? (And, is the venue an advertiser on the station?)

How about retail? If CDs are only available at the gigs, how many are moving at each gig? If the CD is distributed, who is the distributor(s)? Have there been any past sales of this artist? Most importantly, what stores is the CD on the shelf at (and what are the sales at those stores) in the city where the STATION is located? Are any of those stores advertising on the station? This process is repeated with each and every station every week.

Finally, the process is applied to press information (newspapers, magazines, TV, web). Stations are shown a building of interest, especially when the press is in the same city as the station, and when the press mentions the station by name.

- Independent Promoter Checklist, Pt. 1

If you are hiring a promoter to push your artist to radio, here are a few things you can consider which will help you have the greatest chance of success. (And when I say promoter, I mean an airplay promoter, not a club or booking promoter.) The big concern with this process is, if you choose the wrong person(s) to promote your artist... and end up with bad results... you can't just go back and do it over again. That's it for that CD (at those stations). That CD is now "an old project", and you can't go back to those stations until you have a new release.

USING A FRIEND: Non-experienced friends sometimes offer to work artists to radio for free or "for a few dollars". This is fine as long as you use them for the right tasks... like helping with the mailing, etc. If you are working college radio... say, no more than 20-30 stations... then they could help you with some phone calls too. But if they try to call any more stations than this, or if they try to call commercial radio, they will probably stumble after just a couple of weeks. And forget any capacity of doing reports or trade charts.


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SOMEONE FROM THE MAJORS: Staff promoters at major labels sometimes offer to "help you out on the side" for a fee. On their days off, or on the weekend, they say they will "make some calls for you". What happens is that their company finds out and disallows it, or, the person gets tied up on their days off and can't do it. You are then stuck. Either way, it is a conflict of interest for them.

PR PEOPLE: Public Relations (or "publicity") people sometimes offer to work an artist to radio for airplay. But don't confuse PR with airplay. A real radio campaign has nothing to do with publicity. They are two separate techniques, with different contacts, different lead times, different terminologies, call frequencies, and so on. A person who is good at one is usually terrible at the other. This is why they are always separate departments at labels.

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STATION PEOPLE: Station employees are sometimes recruited to work an artist, and will tell you "they know what stations want." This sounds convincing, but in reality, taking the calls (which they do/did at the station), and making the calls, are very different animals. Until station people are trained (at a label or indie), they usually make poor promoters.

OWN CHART: When you do hire a real promoter, make sure he/she is not affiliated with the chart that they say they are going to promote you to. Some promoters actually publish their own chart, and they can put you on it wherever they want to. And they can take you off just as quick. Worse, any advertising money you place with the publication actually just goes straight to them. They won't make any of this clear to you... you'll have to ask around.

BIG CLIENTS: The most-often used sales technique of promoters is to tell you they have worked "some big artist", and that this would benefit you. Ask them what they mean by "worked". Were they solely responsible for charting that artist? Probably not (you will have to ask the artist to verify this... the promoter is just not going to tell you the truth.) More than likely, the promoter was probably just partnered with a label or another promoter, or worse, was just an assistant or sidekick. Again, they WILL NOT tell you they were not the only promoter. You will HAVE to ask the artist or the artist's management directly.

Promoters who really do work major label projects just do not like to work with entry-level projects. With major label projects, the indie promoter ALWAYS has staff promoters at the label doing a ton of the work, in addition to heavy retail (the CD is on the shelf at most bookstores), touring (20-200 cities in major venues), and press (10-100 articles in major publications like Spin or Billboard, along with 50-500 articles in small publications.) And all this is on top of TV appearances. So if you think that the indie promoter is the one person who made the artist chart, think again. He will not be able to do the same for you.

- Independent Promoter Checklist, Part 2 of 2

The following are the more subtle things you should look for when hiring one...


CONTACTABILITY: This is probably going to be the one thing that you end up really liking or disliking about the way your indie operates. Some indies are always there when you call, others are never there. The ones who never answer will invariably tell you, "I spend all my time on the phone talking with the stations... Isn't that what you want me to do with your project?" Good try.

What these non-contactable indies are actually doing is spending "some" time on the phone with "some" stations, and spending a lot more time dining at restaurants and seeing friends. And if you thought it was difficult reaching them before you hire them, just wait until AFTER they get your money. We see this again and again and again. If you think about it, an indie's sole job is to talk on the phone. Why then, if they were there by the phone, would they not pick up when you call (you are the one who is paying them.) What if a station calls?

And that is exactly it: They are NOT there when a station calls... because they REALLY DON'T spend that much time talking to stations on the phone. They only want you to think that they do. And worse, if they say they give clients (and potential clients) a different phone number to call than the one they give the stations, then you can guarantee that you (the paying client) will never get that person on the phone when you need them (or much less, to be able to spend any time learning from them.)

A true indie promoter is a non-stop call center, which gives TOP priority to incoming calls. They should have several people available to answer calls; if everyone is still on the phone when the phone rings, someone should HANG UP and answer that incoming call. Remember, incoming calls are top priority... it could be a station, and stations normally only call when they have good news.

REPORTS: Reports are a requirement that well-organized promoters provide to you. There is no other way you are going to be able to understand (within an hour) what is going on with your airplay each week... much less be able to let someone else (stores, papers, clubs) know what is going on, without a report.

OFFICE: If the promoter does not have an office (even a small one), then you will be competing with things like the promoter's sleep, TV, neighbors, dinner, etc.

ASSISTANTS: If a promoter handles more than one genre of music at the same time, or if the promoter does college radio at all, then assistants are mandatory. The phone calls have to be made, and no one person can call more than 150 stations a week AND do reports AND do faxes AND do emails AND talk to you when you call. Impossible.

COMPUTER LITERATE: I don't have to go into how important computers are. But I should mention that as web radio becomes used like regular radio, those promoters that are not up on computers are going to have a problem. Already, web radio is used for a chart in CMJ, and some commercial charts too.

COLLEGE RADIO: College should be considered for every campaign, even if you are doing high-level commercial radio (provided, of course, that your genre fits.) College radio is relatively inexpensive, and will make some good-looking charts and reports to show retail, press and clubs.

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FAXES: Serious promoters use faxes for commercial radio; faxing is simply the fastest way to get a one-page synopsis of info to commercial stations... with pictures if needed. They are not cheap, but a good promoter should still include these faxes.

EMAILS: While you may get excited about email, remember that since email is free, stations get them from every artist on the planet. And all the emails look the same. So in order to build a project, you must use faxes and calls too, because most artists can't afford them (and that is why you will stand out.)

REFERENCES: Any promoter worth consideration will have a list of clients or past clients. What you are looking for is a promoter with projects that are on your (independent) level. A list of "big" clients, however, means the promoter is used to having massive help from major label staff promoters, national tours, retail promotions, advertising, not to mention hundreds of newspaper, magazine, and TV appearances. Since that promoter will not have these with your project, you will be very difficult for them to work. You need a promoter who is set up to work with indie projects like yours. Besides, real "major label" promoters DO NOT take indie projects.

More likely, however, the "major label" promoter was actually not the promoter that worked the major projects in the first place. They were probably just assistants in the office, or were mail people, or more often than not, they were just outright lying. Happens all the time. You will have to ask the artist directly to find out.

Traditional Radio vs. The Web

How is web radio (and downloading and file sharing) going to impact your efforts in reaching mass numbers of people with your songs? Fortunately, for those who have studied media (yes, "media" is a topic in and of itself,) there is an answer that we can use. But you need to separate "radio" from "web" in order to understand it.

"Radio" (web or broadcast) is the "cause" step; it causes the awareness and desirability of a song to be built. "Downloading" (and file sharing) is the "result" step; it is the result of what happens after radio causes the song to be desired. And this is true whether the radio and downloading are free or not.

Web radio will soon be just another box that we tune-in to. The biggest web stations (meaning the ones that have the most listeners) will be run by those that know how to run big stations: Traditional radio operators. There will always be tons of small stations (web and broadcast)... just as there are already tons of small AM and FM stations (there are 12,000 stations in the U.S. alone.) But most listeners, since the beginning of radio, have always been concentrated on just a few stations on the dial. Why? Because those stations can afford to promote themselves. Adding a few more thousand small web stations is not going to affect the balance that much... most listeners are still going to be packed into a few (200 or 300, worldwide) big stations, just as most web users today are packed into just a few search engines, even though there are thousands of search engines to choose from (bet you didn't know that!)


 So, just like today, the future of radio will consist of key stations (web or broadcast) that you will want to get your songs onto, in order to reach the most people. 50 big stations (web or broadcast) that reach 50,000 people each will always be preferable to 5000 stations that reach 5 people each... because of the amount of work it takes to get on EACH station. (Note: As of the year 2003, the average number of listeners to a web station is less than 1. Yes, that's less than one listener per web station, on average.)

Thus, what happens in the future is that the difficulty in getting your songs on the big web stations becomes the same as getting your songs on the big broadcast stations. It's just like if you were opening a new restaurant: It's more difficult getting your new restaurant into a crowded mall than it is getting it into an area that is deserted. It's always more competitive when there are a lot of people.

Next, add to this the fact that within a few years you will not have to manufacture CDs anymore (all stations will play music files directly... mp3 or otherwise), and what you end up with are artists and labels with a lot of money saved that they are going to use for promotion (phone calls, email labor, visits.) This will make it imperative that big stations get the most push to play your songs, because they will (and are) getting the most push from everyone else. This is nothing new... it's the way music and radio have worked for 80 years. And even before radio, when the best you could do was have your songs sung in theaters and music halls, the biggest places always got the most push to use certain songs, because those places had the most people.

As for "downloading" a song, it will always be the end result of hearing that song. Nothing changes here. And no matter which "result" you want... charging for a download or giving it away for free... the "cause" is going to be the same: Hearing it on a web or broadcast station (or, of course, live.)

Thus, the amount of work it takes to get your songs heard will always be directly proportional to how many listeners you are trying to reach, just the way the bigger clubs that you want to play in are always going to require more work in order to book, compared to the small ones. Amazing!


Why You Have To Promote To Radio

One of the most misunderstood facts of marketing a record is that you must promote it to radio. Notice I did not say SEND it to radio, I said promote it. Sending your release to radio, and getting them to play it, is two separate things. The biggest misunderstanding of everyone releasing music is this: They think that you mail it to radio, and if everyone starts playing it, then it's a hit, and if they don't start playing it, then it's no good. This is NOT how radio works. Even the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) says on its own website, "When you hear a song on the radio -- this didn't just happen! Labels make investments in artists by paying for both the production and the promotion of the album, and promotion is very expensive." Direct quote.

This misunderstanding stems from a few different sources: (1) Radio itself will tell you to "send it, and if it's good we'll play it"; (2) People see a song "start out" on one station, then see it "spread" to others, and assume it just "grew" because it was good. Then, when these people "send out" their own music to lots of stations, and it does not catch on, they assume it must have been bad. Not true. There is a giant promotional vehicle in place behind every successful song. And this promotional vehicle is something you can have with your songs too. Let's compare this whole situation to something, which you can understand: Soda pop.

Suppose you like to invent new drinks, and you came up with a great soda pop that everyone liked. All your friends liked it better than Coke and the rest. You did a blind test with people you did not even know, and they liked it better than Coke and the rest. So, you decide to market it.

You manufacture a thousand cases, with 24 bottles per case, and discover you can sell it to retailers for only $10 per case, undercutting the $12 they normally pay for Coke and the rest. Thus, your product tastes better, and costs less, than every other soda available to all retailers.

So here is what is going to happen: The mom-and-pop stores in your city are going to call you and order several cases each. Next, stores like them in other states will do the same. Next, Ralph's, Delchamps, Costco, Walmart and all the other large chains are going to call you and order several HUNDRED cases each (you see, it's "growing"). Next all the Coke and Pepsi machine vendors are going to put your soda in all their machines (because your soda tastes best and cost less). Next, airlines, stadiums, and all the restaurant chains will place their orders. Eventually, the newspapers, TV, and yes, even radio are going to report on these events, because finally everyone is starting to realize that it is the QUALITY of the product (taste) that counts, and not the marketing. Now, if your product had tasted BAD, it would not have spread like this. But since it tasted GOOD, even to people who didn't know you (and also, since it is priced right), it spread rapidly and became a hit. aa

OF COURSE this is how it works. After all, since your product is now available nationwide, and you have PROVEN that it tastes best, all those companies surely would not make the mistake of continuing to order Coke and all the other sodas, when everyone now agrees that your soda is best. They could not conceivably continue to offer the other sodas, which THEY now even agree tastes worse than yours.


Now, since hopefully you realize that this is not going to happen to you and your soda, NO MATTER HOW GOOD IT IS, maybe you can start to understand that radio is not going to play your music NO MATTER HOW GOOD IT IS unless you MARKET IT TO THEM, giving them business reasons why they should play it. And we are not talking about one or two small college stations, we are instead talking about hundreds of stations (the bigger the better) all over the country, playing the same music from the same artist (you) at the same time, thus CREATING THE HIT.

Airplay vs. Sales

"Sales" is one of the most common goals that people have when they promote their music to radio (second only to "awareness".)

Yes, airplay is the most important force in selling large quantities of CDs (more than 100,000), especially in areas where you cannot play live. But I need to emphasize that the term "selling CDs" does not mean that your phone will start ringing with orders from websites and stores. To cause large sales to happen, you need to contact store buyers. You may get a few web orders, but most of your sales will be retail (about 97 percent of all CD sales are in-person at retail stores.) Your final sales will be a result of (1) your airplay, (2) your distribution (consignment, self, indie or major), and (3) how well you sell when you call the stores. With this in mind, here are some rough airplay-to-sales guidelines...


College radio is the starting point. If your music is playing several times a week on a particular medium or large college station, you can probably sell one CD per week in EACH store that is in the same town that the station is. This is a realistic goal for an artist/label that has not done this before. Labels that HAVE done it before (and do ONLY college radio) top out at around 30,000 units of their best title, and maybe 2000 for their worst, after one full year. But these labels know what they are doing. Your sales will not be this high.

Commercial specialty/mixshow radio, if done by itself, would probably have about the same sales ceiling as college radio by itself. But most labels that are going for "sales" (and not just awareness) do specialty/mixshow and college radio together. Thus, their best titles top out around 20,000 to 40,000, and bottom out around 3,000, after one full year. But remember, they are doing two separate radio campaigns together, and they probably have 3 people doing just the retail sales (full time).

Commercial regular rotation is where the real sales occur, again, provided you have a retail sales team. But to do it properly (meaning, to do the radio and the sales together) is extremely difficult. It is possible, of course, to do commercial regular rotation for just the awareness value alone (i.e., not attempting sales,) but in this article, we are incorporating sales into the concept.

Rock, pop and urban releases on indie labels have the capacity to top 100,000 if distributed by a major, 50,000 if distributed by an indie, 10,000 if self distributed, or 1000 on consignment, after one full year. But these are expensive radio campaigns, ranging from $10,000 to $150,000, and they require a strong effort at retail (3 to 5 full-time people to sell 100,000 units). PR and touring would be nice, too. Other genres, like AAA or smooth jazz, are much more limited in sales, because there are fewer stations and because their listeners buy fewer CDs.

Considering all the above, here are some of the big variables which will determine your final sales (assuming that both the artist and the label are new, and assuming that this is all separate from your web efforts)...

1. Your airplay
2. How much listeners like the music.
3. Radio advertising (an additional cost).
4. How often you call the stores to make a sale.
5. Press
6. Touring
7. The amount of time you spend on the campaign.

Final point: If you don't have someone calling the stores to get them to place an order, your sales will basically be zero no matter WHAT radio you do.

The Add Date

Unless you have worked for the radio department of a label, or else you have worked for an independent promoter or radio magazine, you probably have never heard of an "add date". But the "add date" is probably the most basic building block of both commercial and college airplay, and it is used in every successful airplay charting campaign there is, so we better cover how it works.


The closest analogy there is to an add date is the "street date". A street date is when a CD is "available" to the public. It is supposed to tell retailers when to "make available" the release to customers. That is where the similarity ends, however; radio goes on to be far more complicated.

A radio "add date" is supposed to tell stations when to add a record to its playlist. It is completely separate from, and has little else to do with, the street date. The add date can be before, the same as, or after the street date. Regardless, an add date simply MUST be used with any serious airplay attempt. A negative side effect, however, surfaces: You have one chance... and one chance ONLY... to make a particular song or album go at radio. After all, the date is printed right there on the package. You cannot come back next year and ask a station to reconsider it (and, we are talking here about new artists/labels.)

Everything a radio promoter does when talking to stations centers on the add date...

Four weeks before the add date, the promoter is describing the package to the stations (and for commercial stations... the consultants are handled too,) giving the stations a rough idea of what to expect musically. Also, a fax goes out, showing the release.

Three weeks before the add date, the promoter is describing the artist and the music in more detail, describing the spine of the CD, and scheduling resends for stations with changed personnel/addresses.

Two weeks before the date, the promoter solicits PDs/MDs for their initial interest/non-interest, and continues resends. Also, the details of any pertinent tour dates, press articles, or retail events/carriage are presented. It is also at this time that the first trade ads (advertisements, not "adds") will run... scheduled and worded by the promoter.

Finally, one week before the add date, the promoter fishes for commitments from the most-interested stations; re-words the next trade ads; sends a second round of faxes; re-affirms to each station that they know the correct add date; does a final round of re-sending; scans for possible early adds; and finally, makes one last contact/message with each PD/MD in hopes that the station can be swayed at the last minute... while stations are deciding on which record to add. This is done with 25 to 2000 stations every week, depending on the campaign.

That's the easy part. Now the real work starts... getting spins to occur after the add date; being "added" does not necessarily mean you are being "played". Being added simply is the step you have to go through, "officially", before spins occur. That's why the "add charts" are separate from the "spin charts" in radio magazines. Your goal for the first charting week of every radio campaign is to get on the "most added" chart first, and you have only one week to do it. Thereafter, your focus becomes the main spin chart. And one by one, every week, the promoter contacts/messages each PD/MD, and attempts to get more and more of them on the bandwagon. Artists with bad music, or with no support, will struggle to get new stations, and probably won't be "most added". Releases with great music and good support will easily make the most added chart, and will then jump onto the main chart, with several new stations coming on each week (again, assuming we are working a new artist/label.)

The promoter's work then continues: A non-commercial campaign may go 5-10 more weeks; A commercial campaign (for a single song) may go 3 to 12 more MONTHS, depending on results.


Investors, Part 1 of 3

While indie artists can afford non-commercial campaigns on their own, any serious commercial marketing campaign (be it for airplay or soda pop or tires) is going to cost quite a bit. Most of you reading this will be seeking $10,000 to $30,000 from an investor, but the following points apply up to about $500,000. Here are some things investors will ask you before they are going to back you for commercial REGULAR-ROTATION charting campaigns (NOT specialty or mixshow campaigns, which are only one or two spins a week. Regular rotation is 10 to 100 spins per week per station.) Here we go...

"CAN YOU GET THE SONG ON THE BIG XXXX STATION IN MY CITY?" This is a vanity plea on the investor's part. The PROPER way of marketing a record is to start in smaller markets, and then build up from there (regardless of where the investor lives.) Serious investors understand this, since it is a standard marketing practice, music or otherwise.


"HOW MANY STATIONS WILL PLAY IT?" This is directly proportional to the marketing budget, the music, the genre, the skill of the people promoting it, the time available, the distribution, the press, the gigs, the history of the artist, the previous sales of the artist, and the previous gigs of the artist. Assuming you are a new artist with nothing going on, the budget will be your only determining factor.

Note: HOW MANY stations play you has nothing to do with how many LISTENERS hear you (which, is a function of the size of the stations; commercial stations can have from 100 to 100,000 listeners at one time on one station.)

WILL THIS GET US A RECORD DEAL?" Will nice shoes get you a new job? Will a gym get you a new body? Answer #1: YOU get you a record deal, using tools (airplay) provided by us. Answer #2: Record deals are not yes/no or off/on. They are a variable, ranging from "partnering" with just one person, up to the mythical major label deal. You can, however, buy yourself into distribution (indie or major.)

"WILL THIS HELP US GET DISTRIBUTION?" Ahhh!... Finally a realistic question! Now you have an investor who has a partial grasp on marketing. Yes, airplay has a direct role in helping you obtain simple independent distribution. As a matter of fact, we actually send our airplay reports directly to distributors. They need to know what is going on. Even simple college airplay will help you obtain simple indie "distro" deals. More complex and expensive commercial regular rotation will help (not guarantee) you more serious P&D deals. Of course, though, you can always buy distro.

"HOW CAN WE BE SURE YOUR AIRPLAY PROMOTER WILL DO HIS/HER WORK ONCE WE PAY THEM?" You do this by looking at the promoter's history of clients. Simply talk to the clients yourself. Also, have your investor call and talk to the promoter(s) directly. Caution: If the promoter says they promoted "big artist", yet they won't give you direct contact info for that artist or management, then they did NOT promote that artist.

"IF WE START YOU OFF ON A SMALL CAMPAIGN, WILL IT 'BLOW UP' IF STATIONS LIKE IT?" Projects do not "blow up"; they are built up, using standard promotion. When you see an artist appear on a single station, and then all of a sudden that artist is being played across the country, what you are not seeing is the campaign behind it. And don't use Creed as a counter-example... they spent $5 million of their investor's money in traditional promotions. And no, they did not "break" on the web... that was just the angle that their PR firm was hired to push.

"WILL I MAKE MONEY?" Too vague a question; serious investors will be able to ask more specifics. Besides, radio is only one of the four areas of marketing a CD... and it is not where the money comes from. Money comes from retail, which we are not talking about here.

Here is hint: Instead of proposing that the investor invest in you in order to make money, propose that the investor instead invest in building your awareness; the investor will then benefit by being attached to you, the artist. Then, look to make money in your second or third year instead


 Investors, Part 2 of 3

We now look at how to find investors, with an angle towards using the money for radio. Finding money is an inherently difficult thing for most artists to do, since most artists dislike business people, and also hate marketing (much less, marketing to FIND business people,) But, it must be done in order to pay for serious commercial regular rotation (and charting) campaigns... which for most beginning bands would be between $10K and $100K, but can go to $500K.

The first place too look is obvious... your gigs. Using your mailing list that you gather, send a note to them (along with your regular gig info) mentioning that you are "making plans" for your next phase. That's all you need to say; business folks will know what you mean by "making plans" (although your fans might not.) Never ask for investment directly in mailing lists to fans.

Speaking of gigs, setting some up at lawyer / investment / banking seminars and conventions will do you well since most of these pay, and, since most of your competition will avoid them. Allow most of your free time there to talk with the audience, one-to-one. You will have to market yourself to these groups in order to get these gigs, since they do not actively seek out indie acts for live entertainment. Approach a hundred of these, and you will get two or three gigs (some with thousands of attendees, and all with money.)

Next up are your local business papers or "business journals" found in larger news stands and libraries. In these papers, you will have no competition from other artists. Just run a simple ad stating "Music Investment Sought", along with your voice mail number or email. When they contact you, be sure to put them on the list to your next show, and send them a package.

On the more-intense marketing side of things, your next step would be to direct-market yourself to a contact list of well-appointed individuals in your town. This process is beyond many musicians, since is requires intense phone work, but here is how to do it...

Start by purchasing a list of doctors or lawyers or "high income" individuals. One big supplier of such lists is . What you are looking for is a select list of 500 to 1,000 prospects in your home town.

Your next step is to email / mail / fax them a brief letter telling them the style of music you do, and that you are seeking investors. (It's OK to ask directly for investors here, since you are not under the guise of your music mailing list.) Give them a link to your music, and offer to send them a CD, and a gig invite.

Out of 1,000 contacts, maybe 40 will ask for the freebie CD. To activate the remaining 960 prospects, you have to get on the phone. Start my making contacts or by leaving messages with every one of the 960 names. The best way is to stagger the job over 10 weeks...doing 100 per week. You should also call the original 40 and make sure they know the date of your next gig.

Ivacy VPN


The 960 calls will probably result in you leaving about 500 messages; you might talk to 200 who are "not interested", and get 60 hang-ups, 100 "check back later" responses, and about 100 "send us a CD" calls. Note that it is not necessarily the "send a CD" group that is the best... they may just be music collectors. But do go ahead and send them. Regardless, all 1,000 should be re-contacted two months later and invited to another gig. At this point, you should have created a hot list of 15 to 20 people who are really interested, and your remaining time should be spent with them. Out of these, you are looking for a few offers of $20,000 to $100,000 each.

And yes, the large number of contacts is really necessary, in order to obtain an extremely elusive item... a high income person willing to place at least $10,000 into your radio campaign, with no guarantee of return (or, with no DESIRE of return, since they may just be investing in building your awareness.)

- Investors, Part 3 of 3

Here are the amounts of money to ask for. Again, the preferred angle is to convince the investors that they are investing in building your awareness (and charting), and that they will benefit by being attached to you. It is too difficult to try to generate a profit (and guarantee your investor a return) on your very first release. And remember, we are talking here of commercial regular rotation (10 to 100 spins/week/station) on well known commercial stations... NOT specialty or mixshow, NOR non-commercial, college, public, web, NPR, or other campaigns. Here we go...

AAA and Smooth Jazz projects have the advantage of requiring the least amount to get started (and to chart)...about $15,000 for entry level. These campaigns are designed to get the smaller and medium markets spinning and charting. Don't expect to hear it in NY, LA, Chicago, San Francisco, Philly, Dallas, Detroit, DC, Houston, Boston, Miami, Atlanta, Seattle, Minneapolis, San Diego, Phoenix, St. Louis, Baltimore, Pittsburgh or Tampa. These are major markets, and they are not entry level.

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Campaigns above entry level in AAA and Smooth Jazz are $20K to $50K, But you still have to begin in the smaller and medium markets... which are selected to get you on the bottom of the pertinent chart. The major markets (and higher charting) will come about when they see enough action in the smaller markets, and after you have decided to fund this larger campaign.

Next up are AC and Country. These formats can also be started for about $15K, but due to the large number of stations in these formats, this will be for unrated and non-charting markets only. A better campaign in these formats would be $30K to $50K, and this would move you into the small charting markets. A serious starting campaign (for a new artist and label) in AC or Country would start around $80K, and would still focus on small and a few medium markets. The major markets, however, will not be had in these formats until you go to a much higher level... about $150K, and have already succeeded at the lower levels.


Next are Rock, Alternative, and Urban stations. Since there are really no "small" versions of these stations (almost all are in rated markets), and, since they sell a lot of records, they are expensive campaigns to work. A minimum of $20K is required, and again this is not for the major markets. $50K is a more serious attempt for the small and medium markets, and $100K is a serious amount for medium markets that may move you into a few major markets if things go well.

Pop is the most expensive format to work, because it sells the most records, and because (again) there are really no non-rated markets to work (like there are with AC and Country)... all the stations are in Arbitron rated markets.

$30K would be a minimum to get charting and spinning in the smaller markets. $100K would be a good attempt at both small and medium markets, and $200K would be a hefty attempt at these same small and medium's. The major markets (and higher costs) are best put off until you build a base first.

Keep in mind that all of these costs are radio-only; they do not include any manufacturing, publicity (press), retail promotion, booking promotion, video promotion (or production), much less any payment to the artist. But these radio campaigns do work; they are predictable, and they can put you into the same league as the lessor-known artists at the major labels. (Creed used this path of promotion, and Ani Difranco still does.)

Here are your rough cost breakdowns for the above numbers, which will vary depending on format:

30% Independent Promotion Firm
30% Radio Publication Ads
40% Station Promotions

This would cover one song for up to six months, but for at least three months.

This article is presented by Bryan Farrish Radio Promotions  Santa Monica,  Ca  Sherman Oaks, Ca





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