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RADIO AND ARTIST PROMOTION
Learn how to get your music heard on the radio.
Learn why the same songs are played all day and all night.
Learn why some songs won't get played.
Gain knowledge about alternatives to traditional radio
such as Internet radio, satellite radio, and college radio.
 



college, commerical, internet

What a Program Director and a Music Director Do

PD:
* supervises and approve any and all MD music choices
* checks with any station consultants for music selection
* hires, supervises, and fires all on air staff
* meets with all station dept. heads regularly
* approves any and all on air activity (news, commercials, announcements etc.)
* meets regularly with station management and/ownership

MD:
* auditions and selects appropriate music for their station in cooperation with PD or Consultants
* prepares music playlist
* reports playlist to Trades
* maintains library
* deals with label promo reps and other music issues as delegated by PD

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Radio Airplay 101 - Why Stations Have To Be Called

To the person who has not worked with (or even heard of) promotions departments or independent promoters, the concept of making continuous phone calls to stations may seem like overkill, or even downright strange. After all, "If the station liked what they heard on my CD, they would play it and then call me to let me know." Not quite.

Take a look at the promotion department at a major indie label: Even small projects (less than $30,000 marketing dollars over three months) will have at least three full-time people doing nothing but calling stations. Larger projects have more people, including people in every market who visit stations personally every week. Songs which do not get into this promotional cycle do not get into regular rotation on commercial stations.... they are relegated to test spins, specialty, or college stations.

It works like this: If you are a PD, and you are talking with someone on the phone about a prospective song/album, you know that this person is also calling many other stations like yours this week too. And since he has your attention on the phone, and since you are looking at his CD while he is telling you what is going on, you have to assume that the other PDs will be listening and looking too. Your job as a PD is to get listeners, and nothing does this like creating a mass-media "hit" (many stations airing the same song by the same artist at the same time). So you have to take seriously the fact that many other stations may start airing the song/album that this person is calling about.

Then, you realize that while you were on the phone with him, you were not browsing through the stacks of other CDs from other artists; you were not surfing around websites looking for other great song possibilities; you were not listening to other stations in your market to check for songs which may also work on your station. You instead were focusing on the one song that the guy on the phone was calling you about. And now that you know all the basics about this guy's artist, it becomes one of the CDs you will be reviewing.

That was one phone call... maybe five or ten minutes long. As a PD, how many of these calls do you have the time to take each day?... Three, four, ten? However many it is, these calls will be the songs/albums that you end up knowing something about, and they will be the ones that you know other PDs will know something about, too. So these become the projects that will get a full listen.

But wait! What about the stack of CDs on your desk that no one called about?... The ones still in their wrappers, or still in their mailers? And what about all those emails? Why aren't you taking extra time to read through all their details, to request CDs, or to go click and listen online? Are the other PDs checking into these other projects? Are other PDs even aware they exist?

So that's it: The amount of phone time that you (as a PD) spend is taken up by certain folks describing certain projects, and these projects are the ones you review. The other projects either we're not reviewed, not opened, or not requested. After all, how many of those other projects can you review, especially when they stand no chance of mass growth because they are not being promoted?

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What is "Successful"?

What is "Successful"?

The first question people have when they want to hire a promoter (provided that they have never done an airplay campaign before) is "What airplay campaign do I need in order to be successful?" There couldn't be a more misplaced question. It's like when a cab driver asks you "Where to?" and you say "Well, where would I need to go in order to be successful?" Where you need to go depends on a million things, not to mention what your definition of "successful" might be.

For some people, a successful radio campaign is getting one spin on one small college station. For others, it is getting 60+ spins per week on each CHR station in the top 100 markets... thus charting #1 in Billboard & R&R... which then produces a major label deal... which then scans 10,000 units per week in the U.S... which results in a 300-date U.S. stadium tour, not to mention all major magazines and TV covering the artist. And this is in just the first month. (This is not an exaggeration of what some artists want with their first release.)

So instead of seeking out a "successful" radio campaign, look at what you have to spend on radio, and then decide:

(1) What hard-core radio results are worth this money.

(2) What you (not us, but you) are going to do with these radio results in the rest of your music campaign. This is where your "success" comes from.

The above two ideas are entirely different. The first point, "Radio results", are what we are hired to produce: Spins, charting, station IDs, station interviews, station visits, and possibly... reviews in the radio airplay magazines. That's it. It's the most difficult aspect of the music business... airplay... but it's the one thing a promoter focuses on. The second point, "what you do with these radio results", is what will determine your "success".

Here are some starting points where you can use your radio results:

TRADITIONAL (NON-WEB) DISTRIBUTION: You can start by getting consignment in select stores. You do this by telling the consignment manager that "you're currently spinning on the WXYZ station down the street." Next you try to get a simple distribution deal through a small independent distributor, which will require more airplay results than "just one station." Finally, you try to get a good-sized P&D distro deal, which in itself could be considered "successful". To impress these distro people, you need significant airplay results that will be quite costly. And keep in mind that no matter how good the radio results are that your promoter hands you, you have to take them and use them properly to make your distribution "successful". And if retail SALES are your final measure of success, then it will be up to your salesperson (who is calling/visiting the stores) to create the sales.

GIGS: Start by showing the bookers your airplay report. Even if a station is not near the clubs, just the fact you have some spins occurring in other places will help you get booked. On the next level, start talking to booking agents... they will need some bigger airplay results to work with... but they will be able to book you into 200-500 seat clubs (with bigger bands) that you could never get yourself. Finally, with commercial regular rotation, you can work with large agents to get 1000 to 5000 seat venues, with or without other acts.

IMPRESSING OTHERS: The final use of your airplay results can be to attract and/or impress others who can help your career. Labels, newspapers, magazines, TV/film producers, managers, law firms, and (especially) investors all know and understand the fundamental value of airplay, and they will see from your airplay results that: (1) Your material is worthwhile; (2) There now is an audience waiting for your next release; (3) You understand how the radio system works; (4) You agree to work with this system; and most important, (5) You already have paid for a certain level of radio, and thus anyone who would be backing you would have to contribute less in order to get you to the next level.

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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!

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Why Clear Channel is Irrelevant to Indies

After endless concerns in the indie community about radio consolidation and Clear Channel, I'm here to tell you that it should be of no concern to you. What we mean by this is that Clear Channel only owns large stations, and large stations have always been impossible for small indie acts. Repeat: Large stations, whether owned by Clear Channel in the last couple of years, or owned by someone else now or 30 years ago, are impossible for small indies to get spins on. (We don't work for Clear Channel, by the way.)

Regular rotation on large stations (Clear Channel or otherwise) in major or medium markets is not available now... nor has it ever been... (for over 30 years) to small indie releases and artists any more than McDonalds is available to you to market your indie toys on their counters. Remember McDonalds' 10-year marketing agreement with Disney? McDonalds is only allowed to sell Disney toys now. But before this agreement happened, do you think you had ANY chance at all of getting your indie toy into McDonalds? That situation is the equivalent of you trying to get your indie release into regular rotation on medium and major stations. Consolidation or no consolidation, Clear Channel or not, trying to get a product with entry-level marketing onto the largest media outlets in the world is a terribly-misplanned idea. (This applies, of course, to new acts/labels releasing their first or second record on their own.)

So why all the hoopla? Because news outlets know that you'll read it. And when you read it, they get paid. News outlets (like the LA Times and Salon) need to print things that you are worried about, so you will log on and/or purchase copies, or else they will close down. Since the worse fear of all musicians is not having their music heard, if the publications tell you how the biggest radio stations are not going to play you, they know you will pay attention and read.

But just because you are just now learning how difficult the large stations are, does NOT mean that it used to be any easier! Fact is, if you were trying to release your own record (even on AM radio) in the 60's and 70's, you would have been going directly up against Capitol, RCA, ABC, Atlantic, CBS, and the other major labels of the time. So even then (with no Clear Channel), you would have had to start off with the smaller stations, just like you have to today. And also back then (20 years before the McDonalds-Disney agreement,) you would NEVER have been able to get McDonalds to carry/market your indie toy; but you can bet that the toy-industry publications back then did their best to paint a depressing picture for the small toy manufacturers, despite the fact that the best way for an indie toy maker to market it's toys (both then and now) is to work with the mom and pop toy stores throughout the country.

What does this mean for your airplay? The same thing we've been trying to get across for years: Start with small market commercial stations (or college stations in any market,) and use the results to book more and bigger gigs, all the while selling your CDs and merch for full price at those gigs (i.e., tour distribution.) You'll never have to deal with getting distribution (or getting paid from distribution), much less have to worry that you won't be getting any regular rotation on a Clear Channel station. If you absolutely won't rest until you get some Clear Channel spins, however, then consider commercial specialty/mix shows... These shows are available on Clear Channel stations from New York on down, and with good music and a good push, you can get a spin or two for a few weeks.

 

 

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