The Rocky Road to Radio Play

by SaskMusic

July 29, 2009 in Marketing & Promotion

Pursuing radio airplay can be expensive, frustrating and time consuming. Some artists assume all that's required is to ship your album to the station, and if they like it they'll play it. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of hard work to get a station to "add" you, especially as an independent.

Before you start, you have to decide what your goal is. Are you seeking some local airplay to increase your sales and gig potential, or are you yearning to make it onto the national charts? This is a very important decision, as it will determine your plan of attack - how large a campaign you're talking about, whether to handle it yourself or hire a promoter, and how large a budget you'll need.

What are the benefits of hiring a promoter, and is it worth it?

First, time. Music Directors (MD) are very tough to reach. If you choose to promote yourself, you can literally spend days on the phone each week just trying to reach them. As well, MDs change constantly and a promoter will be able to keep on top of who's new, who's moved to another station, which stations have changed formats, etc.

Second, an inside track. A reputable promoter will stand a better chance than you in getting airplay. As they speak with directors on a regular weekly basis, they will have an already established rapport. Through their connections and personal relationships, they can encourage a MD to listen to your song and take it into their weekly music meeting, to be considered for regular rotation. This still doesn't mean you'll be played, however.

A professional radio promoter/tracker should be in personal contact with all your targeted stations each week to obtain as much airplay as possible. MDs receive 25-50 CDs per week to consider.

Major label artists will always receive the "adds" first; and based on their reputation and/or track record, they can be added immediately. Then, if there is any space left, directors will consider adding independent artists. It requires extra effort to get an indie played - continual contact by phone, press releases, etc., pushing the merits of your album. College radio also gets lots of singles to consider, but they're a bit more flexible with indies.

Costs. Promotion ain't cheap - fees range from $1500 to $3000 for 6 weeks of national promotion (and 6 weeks is just a start.) That's in addition to enough promo copies of your CD, mailing costs, and contest promotions. Many promoters ask for 50% up front. NEVER pay the full amount up front.

Before selecting a promoter, request references. This list may include former satisfied clients, music directors, record labels, publishers. Call several "different types" of references (not just former clients) and listen to what they're not saying. Then get a full agreement IN WRITING before paying anything. This should state the exact fees and services they include: e.g. 6 weeks of promotion including weekly tracking reports faxed to you by 5:00 p.m. each Tuesday; weekly contact with each MD in your format (specifying whether by phone, fax, e-mail, whatever); arranging for product giveaways on ten stations; etc.

Although it may be impossible, the best possible scenario would be: references from major labels, independent artists, music directors; weekly phone contact with every music director; weekly tracking sheets sent to you on a scheduled day; feedback from those stations who don't add you; promotional giveaways arranged by the station and your promoter; and connections with distributors and booking agents. There are no guarantees in promotion, so go into it with as much forethought as possible. Though no one I spoke to in Canada works on this option, there are U.S. promoters who will work on "results" - until you get your first add, you don't pay them (other than postage).

As with everything in this business, trust your instincts when choosing a promoter. You'll want someone you feel you can trust, who'll tell you when it's time to cut your losses, and when to tough it out.

You Oughta Know…

The Single: You and/or your record promoter must decide on a single (and you may not agree on it). Some promoters will "test market" several tracks with music directors, and poll them on which they would be most likely to play. Do not send a CD without indicating the single. It won't get listened to. The exceptions are college radio, and CBC, who may choose a single or play several tracks from the album. You can indicate the single by printing small labels and affixing to each CD.

Does your album have the MAPL symbol on it? This may help you receive airplay based on the fact that you're helping them to fulfill their CANCON (Canadian content) requirements. It should also say "Made in Canada".

What format? All stations follow a certain format, so it's pointless to send your single to a station that will not play your format. A promoter will ensure that your single is going to the appropriate stations. Formats include Easy Listening (MOR), Adult Contemporary (AC); Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR); Contemporary Album Rock (CAR); Country, Secondary and Campus (College).

Pre-Promotion. Before your CD hits an MD's hands, the promoter starts pre-promotion, letting the MD know the CD is on its way. Then they must convince the MD to take the single into their weekly programming meeting for consideration, and receive feedback such as "considering it", "need to listen more", "not suited for station", "don't like", "added". These reports are provided to the artist by the promoter on a regular basis. Airplay can range from one test spin to a regular scheduled number of spins per week.

If you start to receive airplay, your promoter should supply you with weekly tracking sheets, showing exactly which stations are playing your single, and how many times per week. You can use these reports to promote your CD or book performances where you're being played.

You or your promoter should also send updates to all radio stations on a regular basis, letting (non-playing) stations know who's already playing you.

Spin (def'n: Each time a song is played.) Artists who target major market 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, so your goal may be to get lots of spins on lots of reporting stations.

BDS. Any CD going to major market radio MUST send a copy to Broadcast Data Systems. BDS is a computer system that identifies your song with a code, enabling it to figure out which songs are being played, 24 hours a day. The information is transmitted through a satellite system, reporting an exact number of spins for every artist who's played. BDS Reports tell the number of spins, from what station and how many listeners at the time of your airplay. This report can be bought for a price, but your promoter should have access to it as part of their fee. (There is no fee for fingerprinting your song, though.)

Once again, the address for BDS is: 8100 NW 101st Terrace, Kansas City, Missouri, 64153, USA, Attn: Lana Goodman. Indicate the track number and name of single. The Toronto BDS representative is Paul Tuch, phone (905) 853-6657; fax (905) 853-6403.

And of course, you should be registered with SOCAN. As the only royalty collection agency in Canada, they'll need to know about you if you want to collect any royalties, either in Canada or internationally.

FACTOR's Independent Artist Album Loan contains a Marketing and Promotion component that may help you pay for a promoter.

Information in this article was obtained from several national promotional firms.

By Lorena Kelly for Saskmusic. Originally published August 1998.

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