The Radio Heavy

by SaskMusic

August 6, 2009 in Industry Developments

Hearing your song on the radio: it’s a great feeling, and many artists secretly hope for a “hit”, whether at college or top 40. What are the rules of radio in today’s industry? How do you get those elusive spins and not go broke in the process?

The good old days of a solitary DJ “discovering” and breaking an artist with one spin of the vinyl are pretty much over. Fortunately, music directors in Canada do still have some control over what makes it onto their playlists, meaning that if you have a GREAT song you might get some airplay. That’s GREAT – not good, not mediocre, but an absolutely strong product.

Radio promotion is a process - one that differs slightly for commercial vs. non-commercial stations. Before you start, take a good hard look at where you fit and figure out your goals. Can you realistically only expect some “token” airplay locally? Are you looking for play in the college format to drive CD sales and command more money for shows, and/or are you yearning to make it onto major charts and become a household name? This is a very important conversation to have with yourself, as it will determine your plan of attack, i.e. how large and expensive a campaign you’re talking about, and whether to do it yourself or hire a pro.

Airplay may help your overall career goals, name recognition and “hipness” factor, but don’t bet the farm that you’ll get rich off royalties or increased CD sales. You might see better gigs, media attention, distribution, feedback, and buzz…but there are no guarantees, even IF you end up charting. Be aware of the risks and rewards, and be clear on what your goals are.

For the inside scoop I talked with:

Joe Wood, owner of RDR Music Group (, authorized dealer of Musicrypt’s Digital Media Distribution System (DMDS). RDR also provides manufacturing services and e-commerce portals.

Rita Di Michele, VP of Marketing & Promotion at Music Media Network ( A Canadian company in business for about 19 years; provides radio promotion for college radio in Canada and the U.S., and commercial markets in Canada, the U.S. and Europe (all genres). They’re “proudly pro-Canadian” and were voted the 2006 Top College Radio Promoter by New Music Weekly (U.S.). Their current client list includes The Duhks, Patrick Watson, Dubmatix, Los Lonely Boys and more.

Scott Pilling, Ultimate Power Duo. UPD is one of many local bands who’ve had success at college radio, and worked it themselves. And, Scott himself has worked at a college radio station.

RDR and MMN are excellent resources and work with potential artist-clients to develop a specific radio campaign. For example, Joe can provide feedback, help narrow down the single, and devise a strategy that may include targeting specific shows/hosts for your sound. MMN will only take on clients whom they believe in (something you want in any promoter you’re considering). Rita says, “The music must be something we can actually market and support; having ’good ears’ is so important in this business. Everything that comes in to our office is listened to and goes to a music meeting.”


The number of stations in your campaign would vary by format. Your track must be of the highest production quality.

• Includes Alternative, Modern Rock, Rap, R&B, Smooth Jazz, Top 40, Adult Contemporary, Hot AC, CHR, Urban, Country, Americana, and Adult Album Alternative (AAA).

• Driven by the need to sell advertising spots. Therefore, artists (and playlists) who keep the audience tuned in are the goal – generally, stars who are already familiar to the audience are the “safest” adds.

• Generally works on a light, medium or heavy rotation status (referring to number of spins per week).

• Charting can translate to increased CD sales and higher-profile shows. Are you ready to tour more extensively? Are you prepped to give professional interviews? Is your management team in place? Bottom line: if you had a hit at commercial radio would you know what to do with it?

• Distribution: More than ever, it’s important; “Most stations won’t want to play it unless you have it out there and available”, says Rita. Is your album available across the country – or, how quickly can it be made available?

• Greater potential for royalties (if you’re the songwriter/publisher), as well as performer royalties (a.k.a. Neighbouring Rights) for the artist. Keep in mind it’ll take a while for those royalties to filter through the system and land in your mailbox.

• Charts are compiled from BDS-monitored (reporting) stations.

• Some potential for artist interviews and plugs.


A campaign could include the approximately 55-60 Canadian college and community stations such as CFCR, CKUT, CKUA, CJTR, etc. Also send directly to shows and hosts that suit your music (not just to the station’s music library) - some hosts will just play what is sent directly to them rather than pulling from their station’s new release library. There are also 32 CBC stations in Canada which are considered non-commercial. If you “hit”, you could reach 500,000 - 2,000,000 listeners daily.

• Appropriate for genres such as Alternative, Metal, Roots, Rap, Hip Hop, Jazz (non smooth), Reggae, New Age, World, Electronic, and Novelty/Comedy. Generally, college leans to “harder, louder“ (75% of North American playlists being alt and punk/ska/industrial). Specific stations may favour a certain genre more than others.

• The college market is a community, and strong at promoting Canadian music and eager to hear new artists. Stations may be more interested in finding bands that they can claim as their own discovery, than what other stations are playing.

• Generally, have few paid staff (with the exception of the CBC); often, volunteers or students who love a particular type of music and program their own shows in cooperation with management.

• It may be hard to achieve multiple plays per week on any one station. A station would report, i.e., “one play this week” as opposed to light, medium or heavy rotation. Chart status is a better barometer of success than spin count.

• Major labels may monitor college charts to stay on top of that market.

• Charts for college are strictly based on airplay music logs. Each chart/trade magazine gathers data from different reporting stations.

• Good potential for interviews, hosts “talking up” an artist, etc.

• Can build up your live audience.

• Less concerned about whether you have distribution, tour dates, or a previous track record - though more likely to play you if you’re coming to their town for a show. Do make sure you have CD Baby and/or other digital sale options, in addition to side-of-stage.

• Royalties: SOCAN monitors college logs at various times of the year…if you are played during “log time“ you are more likely to see royalties. However, you can’t predict when those times are going to be. Rita says, “SOCAN does a good job of paying out to Canadian artists…whereas U.S. and European artists often don’t see payments from their performing rights societies.”

A spin refers to each time a song is played. Artists who target reporting stations in any format will have a chance to “chart“ in one of the industry trade magazines. Chart placement is based on the number of spins a song receives on reporting stations.

WHY WOULD AN ARTIST SEEK COLLEGE AIRPLAY? Rita says, oftentimes it’s to see “Can we get airplay? Is there interest in our music – is it marketable?” The first time out may establish a band’s name and start to get music out - build a foundation. Festivals, for example Canadian Music Week, typically select a lot of college radio bands for their lineup…and the A & R people watch. “Majors look to college to break the next act for them…then there’s the aspect where indies are [having that exposure lead to] JUNO nominations.

(We’ll cover more on CBC and satellite radio in a future article.)

DO YOU NEED A WEBSITE? Yes. Especially important for non-commercial radio – as about 100% of college students are online and will use this source to seek you out. Websites are used in pre-promotion campaigns; and yes, MySpace and/or YouTube are strongly recommended.

DIY - OR HIRE A PROMOTER? So…how much free time have you got? Pleasant telephone manners? Endless patience and tenacity? Maybe you can track your single yourself. That is, if you’re going non-commercial.
The elusive Music Director (MD) is a hard-to-get-a-hold-of species. If you choose to promote and track yourself, you can literally spend days on the phone each week just trying to reach someone. As well, MDs change constantly and part of a promoter’s job is keeping on top of who’s new, who’s moved to another station, which stations have changed formats overnight, etc.

A good promoter has a far better chance than you do of getting someone to actually listen to your song. Since they speak with directors on a weekly basis, they already (hopefully) have a good rapport. Through these connections and personal relationships, they can encourage an MD to listen to your song and take it into their weekly music meeting for consideration. After that, whether you get played or not can/should weigh mostly on the quality of your song.

Before selecting a promoter, ask for references; talk to other bands that have used the company. You may also want to talk to music directors, record labels, publishers to see who they enjoy working with. Remember, not all promoters work all markets (or genres) equally well; find the promoter that’s a fit for you and your music.

MMN, for example, provides prospective clients with a written proposal - including goals identified by the artist - after they’ve determined it’s a project they want to take on. Whoever you are negotiating with, get it in writing, with agreed-upon fees and services: length of campaign, cost and payment schedule, frequency and detail of tracking reports, and extras (such as whether they’ll be arranging product giveaways or radio interviews). There are no guarantees for airplay, so go into it with as much forethought as possible. You want someone you can trust - who’ll tell you when it’s time to cut your losses or when to extend the campaign.

WHAT IS PRE-PROMOTION? Before your CD hits an MD’s hands, the promoter (or you!) starts pre-promotion, letting the MD know the CD is on its way. Then they must convince the MD to take it into their programming meeting for consideration, and receive feedback on how it rates. If you start receiving airplay, your promoter should supply you with weekly tracking sheets, indicating exactly which stations are playing your single, and how many spins per week (at commercial, airplay can range from one test spin to a regular scheduled number of spins per week). You can use these reports to promote your CD, or book performances in towns where you’re getting prominent airplay. Your promoter will also be updating all the stations on a regular basis - letting them know who’s playing and who’s added you.


  • While non-commercial radio may appreciate the personal contact/relationship with an artist, a commercial station will likely NOT. They would sooner deal with a professional tracker who won’t burst into tears when they’re told that the single is not going to be added.
  • You and your promoter must decide on a single. Some promoters will “test market“ several tracks with music directors.
  • A professional promoter should be in personal contact with all of your targeted stations each week - trying to get your song listened to as quickly as possible. There’s only so much time in the weekly music meeting, and you ideally want to get taken to the meeting the first week you submit…not five weeks later.
  • Major label artists will probably always get first consideration based on their reputation and/or track record; they’re a safe option for the station. But their track still has to be GOOD. Independent artists will be considered for any remaining space. It requires extra effort and continual contact to get an indie played.
  • DO NOT ask your friends to phone in to radio stations outside of their own listening area!! If someone from Vancouver is calling or emailing a Toronto station to request your song…well, they’re on to you. Don’t do it! You’ll just p*ss off the MDs.
  • All stations follow a certain format, so it’s pointless to send your single to a station that’s incompatible with your sound. A promoter will ensure that your single is only going to the appropriate stations.




  • It’s possible for artist to do their own radio promotion: Do you have 10-15 hours per week for calls and follow-up? Can you be tenacious and persistent?
  • Aside from the huge issue of time involved, hiring a professional promoter can make your CD stand out: a reputable company calling on your behalf, actively promoting you.

Scott Pilling offers some great tips: “When preparing your mailout, remove the cellophane, send a one-page bio only, and then stick on a label with this info:

From Saskatoon
Ultimate Power Duo/ We’re in Control Now

the Ramones, the Clash, 77 Punk (RIYL is “recommended if you like“; if they like the Ramones chances are they will play the CD just by seeing this)

Tracks: #2, #6, #7, #10 (they won’t know your best songs so tell them what to play; if they like that they will listen to more of the CD)

Contact: (name, phone # and email), websites

Available iTunes/Label (even if indie)

“We also sent a poster and asked them to hang it in the control room as a constant reminder - sometimes this works. After mailing the CDs, follow up to make sure they were received…CDs sometimes go missing so be prepared to resend some.

Watch the charts; as soon as you place, call them and set up a phone interview. This will stimulate play and you will end up charting higher. There are many (individual) shows you can contact, as each DJ may set up an interview.

If charting high, you can also set up a gig there! Once you have a gig in town, call the station to set up interviews - sometimes in-person and play a couple acoustic tunes; some will even have bands come in for an hour to play live on the air...just ask. Stop by the station with a couple of giveaway CDs; invite the DJs out and put them on your guest list.”


MAPL. Having the MAPL symbol on your album may help with airplay based on the fact that you’re helping them to fulfill their CANCON (Canadian content) requirements OR their desire to support Canadian talent. It should also say “Made in Canada“.

NIELSEN BDS. If you are releasing to commercial radio, send a copy to Broadcast Data Systems. Their computer system analyzes your single with “patented digital pattern recognition technology”, which then can identify it when it is played on stations throughout the world 24 hours a day. The information is transmitted through a satellite system; BDS Reports capture the number of spins, from what station and how many people were listening at the time of your airplay. (These reports can be purchased; some promoters include it in your fee.)

BDS captures over 100 million song detections annually on more than 1,600 radio stations, satellite channels and cable music channels in the U.S. and Canada. Among the many companies who use these reports are SOCAN, and Billboard and R&R (Radio & Records) charts. There is no fee for registering your song(s) with BDS. Visit for submission information.

SOCAN. The only royalty collection agency in Canada, they need to know about you if you want to collect any royalties, either from Canadian or international airplay. Always register your songs with SOCAN as you start performing/recording them; this becomes especially important when you are doing a radio release. SOCAN uses BDS data to calculate commercial radio royalties (about 65% of SOCAN’s radio revenue will be distributed based on BDS census data). However, for non-commercial stations, information is gathered from music logs provided by stations themselves. Keep SOCAN in the loop as to where you are getting airplay – especially for non-commercial formats – to ensure you don’t miss out on any potential royalties.

DMDS. Commercial radio uses, almost exclusively, the Digital Media Distribution System (DMDS) for all new releases. DMDS sends your single as a digital file directly to MDs across the country, simultaneously. 100% of commercial chart reporting stations use DMDS, with all major labels using the system for their own new releases.
Radio likes it because it’s quick and easy - no bulky packages or lost CDs. They simply receive an email when a new single has arrived; then it’s click and listen, or download a high quality audio file. For the indie, it levels the playing field – your song is delivered alongside major label songs. The MD can also see photos, bio, label info, tour details, links and contact info.

The savings for artists is in time, money and hassle. DMDS delivery is cheaper than what you’d spend on manufactured CDs, postage and packaging. (Through RDR it’s $97.50 for initial setup, and $2.95 per station/destination). You KNOW your single is actually getting to its destinations, and at precisely the time you want it to. The number of stations and shows you send to will vary depending on your own campaign - you can choose to have the single delivered to various media outlets, associations, record labels, and others in the industry who have signed up for DMDS delivery. Another great thing is the system tracks who looked at the release announcement, who listened to it, and who downloaded it into their system.

As mentioned earlier, RDR can work with the artist to develop a strategy. That could mean developing the plan, then letting the artist go away and work on pre-promotion before the single actually goes out to radio. You’ll receive a list of where your single has gone. They can also suggest trackers who specialize in your genre. Some promoters like MMN have their own DMDS account as well, and can service their clients directly into that system.

SEND PHYSICAL FOR NON-COMMERCIAL. College radio is still an “album” submission format; you’ll want to plan on a mailout of your full CD, and they’ll prefer if you have at least a six-song EP (shorter “samplers” could work as a teaser to a forthcoming album…but then you might just want to wait until your album is done). While some community, college, and Christian stations are now online with DMDS (including CKUA and many niche shows), it’s advisable to check with a DMDS agent to see which stations will accept via DMDS, which want physical copies, and which want both.

THINKING ABOUT A CAMPAIGN AFTER-THE-FACT? You can still send product that’s up to a year old - as long as it hadn’t been sent out yet. Don’t promote a record that you mailed six months ago…if you missed doing the promotional campaign right off the start, it’s too late now. Whether or not you received airplay, if your album has already moved out of the new releases section at the station, it can’t easily be “restocked”.

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN? Let’s say you’re an alt rock band. You’ve decided you want to give college radio a shot - shooting for more gigs and some buzz. Rita notes, “Most of the bands we work with don’t do cross-Canada tours; regional tours are more common. Not having a national tour isn’t a real detriment; adds are really based on the strength of the music. And, most of our artists land on the charts.”

At MNN a sample campaign could look like this: tracking, promoting and marketing an alt rock artist to college radio would be 1 week of pre-promotion, then an 8-week campaign. They’ll select specific shows/hosts that should receive your album directly, and determine if you’ve got CBC potential. You send out the packages, with labels provided by MMN. Next, MMN calls the music directors to let them know a package is on its way. Then, MNN will call and ask if the CD has arrived yet. You may receive your first tracking report two weeks after the mailout. Budget $2000 CDN for this 9-week campaign. At MNN, one staff person will handle no more than two artists at once, and the company will not “compete with itself“ by representing two similar artists to college at the same time. They will set up radio interviews - especially when you’re on tour. If the station’s playlist is full, it may take 5-6 weeks to get added.

Once an MD receives it, they’ll give it a listen, and (possibly) mark which songs they prefer. Thus when a show host is grabbing a new release they can see which songs have been designated.

If the initial campaign goes well, you may want to extend it another 4 weeks. (Promoting for 12-20 weeks might be feasible if you’re on tour and stopping in to do interviews at stations, etc).

WHAT ABOUT FOLK & COUNTRY? “For an artist like The Duhks, we send to all (non commercial) MDs…plus individual copies to every folk show host and country show host. We service over 130 hosts and MDs.”

WHAT ABOUT THE COMMERCIAL COUNTRY ARTIST? Rita notes, “Currently, we could promote to over 100 Canadian country stations, both secondary and (chart) reporting. For a commercial campaign, we’ll have one dedicated staff member giving it their undivided attention for 12 weeks. You really need to stay on top of it – when you get an add, it’s promoted to all the other stations. It takes 50-60 hours a week throughout a commercial campaign, complicated by the fact that you’re dealing with different time zones.” MNN will also set up radio interviews. An artist can choose to target secondary stations; reporting only; or both. It’s a big investment, so MMN offers payment plans.
There you have it...the heavy on radio promotion. If a radio campaign is part of your overall career strategy, take some time to make careful choices. Good luck!

RESOURCES (Canada) (U.S.)
• Canadian college contacts – (possibly the most regularly updated list)
• MediaBase (college is not monitored)
• Canadian radio – (see Directory, then look at each station’s format. Time consuming, is regularly updated.)

By Lorena Kelly for SaskMusic. Originally published Winter 2007.



These archive versions of The Session Feature Articles are posted as initially published. Deadlines, contacts and links have not been updated. Please keep this in mind when using this resource. In some cases, updates can be found in a more recent editions of The Session.