Radio Airplay 101 - How Touring and Radio Work Together

The first area we like to see artists use radio for is gigs/touring. This is because the majority of money made by an indie artist (even if they have real distro) is going to be at live gigs via CD and merch sales. It is also because the number one thing a station would like to see is the artist playing in their market. So here is how to help one, using the other...

Whether you are on tour yet or not, you should start with small market commercial regular rotation (or mix/specialty or college), and see what areas you are getting support from, and using that to book additional gigs. You do NOT want to do it the other way around... trying to work radio only in areas that you are gigging... because you will not get enough mass support by working just those areas (even though you are playing there.) This point seems to be difficult for many artists to understand, so I'll repeat: It's great that you are playing in a certain town, but that alone is not enough reason to only work the stations in that town, leaving out the rest of the stations around the country in that format. It is true that gigging a market is the single best thing you can do to help your radio there, just like gas is the best thing you can get to make your car run. But you first have to have a car, and likewise, you first have to get your radio marketing lined up. This means working radio the way radio works: Getting spins on many stations of the same format/type at the same time, across the country, so as to build a "hit".

After you have starting working the stations, you do two things: Go to the clubs in the markets where you are getting radio support, and ask all the stations (or have your promoter ask) what clubs/venues or other places the stations might recommend for you to be booked at. If it's a commercial station, they might recommend a client club (a club that advertises on the station). This is very useful because the station wants the club to advertise more; by recommending that you gig there, and by giving you some spins, the station is providing what the club needs... an artist that the community will know about. Combine this with the ads that the club will hopefully run, and you have what is needed for a nice turnout. If the station is a college station, the referral-to-clubs is still of use because a club is going to respect the fact that someone at the station respects the artist, and felt that the artist would suitable for the club. And the spins on the college station won't hurt, either.

Some other things you can offer clubs... You or a pre-arranged intern in the club's market can arrive a day early and flyer appropriate retail locations. Also offer (or have an inter offer) to find and post club info on pertinent websites local to the market. You can even just offer to find interns who will work for the club. Keep in mind you have to do these things while you are on the road, so portable web access is important.


Radio Airplay 101 - 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.