How do you get your songs on the radio PART III
RADIO PROMOTION PART I PART II PART III
by Bryan Farrish Radio Promotions
Comparing Stations to Touring
Interestingly, these same people already understand touring, and the difficulties involved there. They know that they can't start their very first tour by booking the Hollywood Bowl or Shea Stadium. But why not? After all, if they live in LA, why couldn't they just perform at the Hollywood Bowl on a night that it's not already booked? Doesn't the Bowl want to support local talent? Then, after the Bowl, why wouldn't Shea stadium call you for a booking since you are now on a major stadium tour? Further, since you live in LA, why would the Hollywood Bowl make the MISTAKE of booking some other artist who does NOT live in LA?
The reason of course is that large stadiums have a lot of seats to fill, and it's a waste of the time for the stadium staff to deal with any artist that does have enough awareness to make use of the stadium's size.
Fortunately, most new artists understand they have to start in small clubs, or even smaller coffee shops. And they also understand that in order to start their first tour, they need to string together a series of these small gigs from city to city, giving no attention or energy at all to trying to book stadiums, since this would be a complete waste of time.
The same situation applies to radio, except instead of caring about how many people are sitting in seats (and about how many NEW people are sitting in seats because they heard that YOU would be playing,) stations care about how many people are tuning in, and more importantly, how many NEW people will be tuning in when they learn that YOUR song/album will be played.
Just because the station that you (and all your friends) listen to is a large commercial station in your hometown, it does not mean that this station has any reason to play your song/album. Large commercial stations have a certain size (awareness) requirement of the artists that they play. This is one of the reasons that they will play new songs from established artists (and brand new artists from major labels,) because these artists (via TV, stadium, and magazine exposure) will bring new listeners to the station. A new artist on his/her own label, however, will not.
So, what is the radio equivalent of a small-club tour? Answer: A small-market regular-rotation campaign, or a commercial specialty/mixshow campaign, or college radio campaign. These stations/shows do not live and die by the number of new listeners that they bring in every day, the way large-market regular-rotation stations do.
A small-market regular-rotation campaign is so useful that it even has its own set of airplay charts (commercial specialty/mixshow and college campaigns do too.) Matter of fact, you can make an entire career out of just these small airplay campaigns and small-club performances, just the way you can make a career out of running a restaurant in your local neighborhood without ever trying to compete with McDonalds. It's not a huge success, but it is a living.
Yes you can eventually start a marketing campaign to move up to medium-market stations, once the small-market stations are doing good. The difficulty and cost is roughly equivalent to booking and filling 1000-seat venues around the country. And even larger stations can follow next; the difficulty and cost at this level is probably similar to booking and filling 5000-seat venues around the country, and thus is beyond what new artists/labels can do on their first time out; several releases (and years of experience) are required.
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- Tour Distribution Using Radio
Tour distribution is when you rely solely on your gigs to move your product (i.e., your product is only for sale at live gigs,) and you do not bother trying to get retail placement at all. Since you are saving the time and money of trying to get distro, you get to put your energies towards increasing your radio, which will drive more people to the gigs so you can sell more product. Basically, you are just tightening a loose circle.
The traditional forms of distro (from the top down) are major, indie, self, and consignment. They all require the permission or partnership of others in order to get your product onto retail shelves. Getting these approvals is very difficult for a new label, and major and indie deals are basically impossible for solo artists. Even self-distro and consignment deals require tons of time and energy and money to set up for the few copies that they move... and certainly with no guarantee of profit.
However, by purposely deciding to avoid that circle entirely, and putting your focus on radio instead, you can do quite well just selling your product at your gigs (and you'll get full sale price too), since for new indie labels this is where most product is sold anyway. The only exception to this might be hip hop, where distro does well even if gigs are few.
Yes, it's true that by not even trying to get into stores, you'll be catching flack from a lot of people. But invariably, these people tend to be folks who have never gotten any type of distro at all for themselves. Either they are major label people who get all their company's stuff into stores easily (not their personal stuff, of course), or someone at a music magazine/paper... which you are not focusing on since you are concerned about radio, or friends/family who just want to brag by telling people that your CD is in stores.
That leaves clubs and venues. The booking people at these places might also want to give you reasons why you need to be in-stores, until they learn of your radio. Since clubs try very hard to get on radio themselves (most just can't afford it), they really value an act that is already getting exposure. The exposure can of course be spins, but it might also be morning show gibberish, ads, or even community event announcements.
So not only are you going to have more people at your gigs, you'll be booking larger clubs where the booker normally would not take your call. An act that normally sells two to ten CDs and a couple of shirts will now be able to move 20 to 50 CDs and ten shirts. And this is in just one night, and is of course in addition to what the club might be paying you (outside of Los Angeles, of course). And don't forget to use the sales tactic of having someone walk through the crowd and ask every single person if they'd like to buy; don't just put your stuff on a table.
One last area which sort of crosses the boundary of gig-only sales would be in-store performances. When you are able to perform in a retail music store, many times the store will stock (sometimes even pay for) your product for several weeks after you leave. But you still have to physically go and play at their stores in the first place, so it still requires touring, and thus still makes my point.
- Sacrificing Older Releases For Radio
Next, consider this... you're first push to radio will be your worst. That's right... everything else equal, your first promotion to radio is not going to be as good as your second or third. This is because (again), with your first release, nobody at radio knows who you are. Radio always puts preference on acts that they've played/heard before... it's just how human beings work. Plus, radio knows that this is how their listeners work. Given a choice, people always want to hear the next tune from an artist that they've heard before, more so than they want to hear a song from someone they've never heard before. Listeners have this preference even if they haven't heard the new songs yet (thus, the quality of the new songs is irrelevant... the one from the already-heard act is the one that will get played.) These are some of the reasons that all labels want multiple-album deals... because even they can't make money on the first release since nobody at radio responds well to a first release.
This is where a sacrifice comes in. Since you know that your first release at radio will be your least-performing, you make use of an older release that you are not totally happy with. Remember, it's not an old release to radio... anything that you promote to them will be new to them. And since you have your newer release almost done, the new material will become your follow-up release. This is important, because you want to keep the momentum up at radio by having the second release come out right after the first. This applies whether you are promoting albums or singles.
Some people worry that the date on the older release (i.e., "copyright 1999") will cause some problems at radio. It won't. You have months of promotion to go through before some of the stations will even hear the material, much less spend any time reading the small print.
Another objection to an older release is that "it's not available for sale." Well, it's not supposed to be. You are not doing your first radio release to move product... you are doing it to build your awareness with radio station personnel. Your follow-up releases, however, will be what you make all your movement with. If you think that all your action is going to be with your first release, you need to re-think what you are doing. And you can't use major-label new-artist releases as examples as how first releases can perform... major labels methods of operation don't apply to indie releases like yours, just like the operations of McDonalds don't apply to you opening your very first restaurant. They just don't.
Try to view your first radio release the way you view your first live gig: You know that your very first live gig was not very polished, but that was OK, since you expected it and since you knew you were going to have FOLLOW-UP gigs which would be much more refined. But, if you mistakenly thought that your very first live gig was going to (a) sell tons of CDs, (b) get great reviews, (c) get investor offers, (d) get management offers, and (d) end up in a label deal, then you had a very skewed view of how the business works.
- Setting Up Radio Interviews
Setting up the radio interviews is the difficult part. If you have a promoter handling your airplay, they should be able to handle it. However, since the artist's schedule of availability must be matched to the station's, a large number of interviews in a given week (say, 10 to 30) is going to require the cooperation of the promoter, the artist, and at least one assistant who can pre-call the stations.
The trick with setting up the interviews is to make best use of the artist's time. If not scheduled properly, the artist will be waiting by the phone for hours, or will have to make 20 calls just to get one interview completed. At this rate you will be worn-out before you get anything accomplished.
Here is the process: Your promoter fishes through the list of spinning stations for folks that are amenable to the idea of an upcoming interview. The idea is to get the prospective stations to believe that the artist will make for a good phone (or in-person) guest, because the last thing a station needs is for a troublemaker or a boring guest to ruin their sound. Of course, follow-up interviews with the same stations will be much easier later on, provided they liked you the first time around.
Once willing-stations are found (which takes weeks), the scheduling can be done in one of two ways. Either the artist can supply the promoter with an "availability" schedule (where the promoter uses it to match to the stations,) or the promoter can get station-opportunity "windows", and give these to the artists to finalize. Either way, you need a lot of approved-interview stations because of the difficulty of...
Making contact: This is the step that has to occur in real-time. In order to have more than one or two interviews in a single day, the artist must have one or more assistants pre-calling the approved stations, so that the appropriate people can be gotten on the line. Sometimes it takes many calls to get through because they ask you to call the request line. Make sure you get multiple phone numbers (three) for each station, so you can get through when you need to. Ask for the "hotline".
Then there is the holding time. Remember, you will be calling into live shows that have other segments occurring during your call. So someone has to wait on hold until your segment comes up. This holding time can be from a few to thirty minutes PER station. So the best technique is to have multiple assistants holding on multiple phones, so that when the artist finishes up with one interview, the next one will be ready to connect.
A typical scenario might be: The promoter provides you with 40 interview requests over a period of three days. You have four helpers pre-calling on four phones, each one giving the signal when a station is on the line and ready. 10 of the interviews fall through, but the remaining 30 get completed in the three days. However, if the artist tries to work without helpers, he/she may only complete 6 in the same three days... all the while spending the same amount of time on the phone... dialing and holding.
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- Radio, Distro, Tour, Press ... What First?
The nice thing about radio is that it is fast. By fast, I mean that your campaign can be underway in about four weeks, including setting up and going for adds. Compare this to traditional printed press, which takes from a month to six months to get coverage in scattered places across the country. And compare it to booking, which can take two months before the first paid gigs occurs (and even then, it takes over a year to tour the country.) And finally there is distribution, which if not contracted yet, will take several months to a year just to set up, provided you have the ability to do so in the first place. And being paid is another story (which is why we recommend tour distribution.)
Radio starts quick (nationally), and ends in about 3 months for non-commerical radio, or 6 months for commercial. So the radio can be off-and-running while you are still setting up other areas. Best of all, the radio can be used to help get the other areas going in the first place. Radio referrals to press, gigs, and retail can get you in the door at these places, when otherwise they might not take your call. Of course, the best scenario is to have all areas happening simultaneously. But few indie labels can do this, and besides, labels/artists of all sizes need to make use of the value of radio besides just airplay.
There are two techniques you can use to get your radio started, and keep it going, when your other areas kick in. The first is the standard approach to commercial radio (whether regular rotation or specialty/mixshow), where you promote one single at a time. You don't try to sell the single, you just use it for a radio release, meanwhile using the full album for retail, gigs and press. With this technique you can spread four singles (from one album) over a full year, and even continue into the next year with another four songs from the same album. All the while, your recording/manufacturing/handling costs for the album stay small since you only have to deal with the one retail release. And you are selling it for the full album price, too.
The second technique is for non-commercial radio, where you primarily promote full albums. Since most non-comm's don't like to be told which song on the album to play, you push an EP of 4 or 5 songs from the album. This way, the stations still get a choice of material, but you have not used up all your album. A 12 song album can use three 4-song EP's over the course of a full year before you have to get new material. And again, you are not trying to sell the EP's... they are for radio only. The whole time you are selling your full album only, for full price.
The biggest opponent to the several-radio-releases technique is the artist, who often get tired of working with the same material for a year or two... especially when they think their newer material better represents them. The answer to this situation is to remember that your later releases will always do better at radio than your first, because nobody knows who you are at the start. Thus you should go through the "awareness-building" stage using your older material, so that when you go back through later (and people are listening closer), you'll then be using your newer and better stuff.
The idea of using consultants is that these people have come from a label promotion background, or from a radio background, and they have made a lot of the mistakes already that you are going to want to avoid. Plus, they have worked with many other projects like yours before, so they know what you will need in order to move ahead. True, there are also non-consultants that work in radio, music, and promotion (as staff employees), and they do have a lot of the knowledge you need, but they will not have time to deal with you since they have their own full-time jobs to handle. Consultants, however, get their income solely from answering questions from people like you. With this in mind, here are the types of consultants to consider...
BROADCAST CONSULTANTS: These people come from radio, and they now consult mostly radio stations. If their radio experience was in programming (as opposed to sales or engineering), and if they are now consulting other PDs and station management, they may be able to consult with you. However, some people view this as a conflict of interest since you would be paying them to tell you how to get airplay, and stations would be paying them to tell the stations what to play. Still, broadcast consultants may be able to help. Fees are from a few thousand to fifteen thousand dollars. They don't do any of the actual work for you, but they'll tell you what you need to do.
LABEL CONSULTANTS: These folks worked at labels or at promotion firms in the past, and you can hire them to help steer you in the right marketing direction. They are less costly (and less prominent) than broadcast consultants, but they can consult other areas of your marketing besides just radio. They cost a few hundred to a few thousand. Again, they don't do any of the work for you... they just tell you what to do.
MUSIC CONSULTANTS: These are not the right people to help with your marketing; they are only of help in getting songs written and produced.
QUARTERBACKS: A quarterback is someone you hire to consult AND run your marketing. This person is paid a weekly fee to answer your questions and also to hire and deal with the various people that will need to be placed on your project. A quarterback is usually only needed if you are hiring radio promoters, retail promoters, street teams, publicists, and booking agents. When a project is in full-swing at a medium-market regular-rotation level, dealing with all the necessary people on a daily basis is a full-time job, and if it is not done correctly your project will fail, every time. Quarterbacks cost $500 to $2000 per week, on top of the cost of the hiring of the others that the quarterback will have to do for you.
PROMOTERS AS QUARTERBACKS: If your total marketing (radio, retail, gigs, press) for the year is mostly entry-level (under $100,000), then your radio promoter may be able to act as your quarterback. The promoter would still need enough radio people on the phones so that when your quarterbacking activities were being dealt with, your radio calls would still be getting made. Using promoters in this fashion is about $500 to $1000 per week, in addition to the regular promotion
FMQB Airplay Tracking
Enter the tracking systems. "Tracking" is finding out when and where you are played. There are several companies who offer this service, but the focus here is FMQB (Friday Morning Quarter Back.) FMQB also puts out a printed weekly magazine, but it is the tracking service that we are interested in. FMQB tracking is of great use to new artists/labels because:
1. It tracks commercial radio (as opposed to non-commercial/college radio.)
2. It includes small markets (where new indie labels have the best chance.)
3. It does this using the non-monitored system.
4. Results are available 24/7 on the web, real time.
5. It is affordable.
The commercial radio aspect of FMQB tracking is important simply because most folks are seeking commercial radio. Other competing tracking systems also do commercial radio, and of course, there is CMJ for college radio, too.
The inclusion of small markets, however, is a very important feature of FMQB that the other tracking systems don't offer. While CMJ covers stations in large and small markets, it only (for the most part) covers non-commercial radio. And the other companies which do handle commercial stations tend to be only major and medium markets. (See the total list of markets here)
Large/medium markets won't do a smaller label/artist any good, unless it is only specialty/mixshow spins that are desired. For regular rotation tracking in the smaller markets, FMQB is the only choice.
The method of FMQB tracking is the traditional "manual" reporting system, whereby a station sends a fax/email of what they are playing to FMQB. FMQB is the only commercial radio service to do this... the other commercial services instead use "monitoring", where either people or computers listen to what the stations actually play. For new/smaller artists and labels, the traditional model is preferred since you can get reported by the stations even BEFORE you are spun. And you can feed this info back to the people who need to know, like clubs, press, stores, managers, labels, bookers, and most importantly, other stations. With the monitored systems, you don't get any results until after the spins occur, which can sometimes cost you an entire week.
FMQB is, however, similar to some of the other services when it comes to accessing the results, in that it allows you to get the results from their site using a password. This is compared to getting a fax, or waiting for a magazine, or having to load and run a separate program (that you have to install first.)
Lastly, FMQB is only a few hundred dollars per month for Metal, Alt Specialty, AAA or AC. The Metal, Alt Specialty, and AAA cover about eighty stations each, while the AC covers over two hundred. The competing services (which you'll have to use anyway if you have a different genre) start at about the same price and go up, and they don't even include the smaller markets (much less any advance results.)
Some notes on using FMQB tracking: Results usually start coming in on Monday mornings, and they can continue coming in until about Wednesday. There is a percentage-number that tells you how many stations have reported (0 to 100 percent), and it's important not to judge your final results until it says 100 percent. It's actually possible for you to move onto and off of a chart as more and more of the results are averaged into the total.
- Regional Vs. National
The first thing to keep in mind is that radio is a mass medium; it has one purpose... to create a "hit". And it can only do this when many stations are playing the same thing by the same artist at the same time. This of course is the purpose of a "chart"... it show's what songs the similar stations around the country are playing: What songs, by which artists, during a given week. You do not have this level of charting with gigs or press, because these areas are not nearly as concerned about being "mass". And speaking of charts, what do you think the first thing is that programmers look at before they decide what to spin next? Yes, charts. And this includes the programmers in your local region that you want to get to.
The second thing to keep in mind is that national campaigns (i.e., the campaigns that promoters work) are time-tested and well-defined; the promoter talks with the programmers each week, and the only new thing thrown into the mix is your material. However, when you go for a custom regional campaign, the stations you are forced to choose may not be on the regular contact pattern of the promoter; thus you are not fully taking advantage of the promoter's current relationships.
The final point of a regional push is that the promoter will be forced to select stations that are known non-performers, or stations that are not part of the tracking services. These "out of the way" stations can sometimes be better performers, since they get less promotion from other labels, or they can be worse since they might not play as many currents (as opposed to re-currents or oldies.) So, half of the trouble of setting up regional campaigns is knowing which stations to choose among the many that exist. (Remember, there are 14,000 broadcast stations in the U.S. and Canada.)
With the above three things working against a regional campaign, when would regional still make sense? About the only time would be if your act has a very strong regional gig pattern (for instance, 2 to 4 gigs a week, with more than 200 paid attendance each.) Depending on your genre, this might be enough to overcome the stations' fear of working with an act that has "no chance of charting". (Remember, you can only chart with a national campaign.)
If you have ever wondered why your local stations pay no attention to local artists, and instead play other artists from other areas that have nothing going on in your area, it is because the other artists are being put through the "mass media" machine, so at least they stand a chance of charting and being a hit. Since the stations live and die by the charted hits they play, artists that are at least attempting to chart get preference over those that don't, most every time.
One partial exception to this mass media rule is the local shows that some stations have. The very purpose of these shows is to feature locals, but only for a few spins, and never in regular rotation. If you really want to do only a small area like your home town, start with these shows
How to Use Vinyl for Airplay
You may have guessed that hip hop and rap are the prime users of vinyl. While this is true, pop, hot AC, electronic, ambient, and even some mainstream-AC or country dance "remixes" can make use of vinyl. The main decision for the need of vinyl is how much potential there is for dance club play of the club remixes, assuming you have club remixes in the first place.
Starting with college radio, if you are doing hip hop or rap, then vinyl is nice but not mandatory. Projects with vinyl will do a lot better, but it's still possible to get most-added (and then chart) on CMJ without ever pressing wax. Same for electronica (i.e., "RPM"). Due to the large number of college stations, it is understandable that not all projects will have the budget for wax.
Commercial mixshows, however, requires vinyl, period. These guys are your main leads into radio mixshows, club play, and record pools, and they are sometimes the very same people who mix in the clubs (or run the pools) anyway. You can almost do mixshows without even having CDs, but don't try it... you'll be sacrificing some airplay. This applies to any genre that can spin in a mixshow.
With commercial regular rotation, the need for wax gets back to how much you are pushing mixshow at the same time. If mix is definitely part of it, they you have to do wax. But there is also a splash factor with wax which becomes important, and it ties into the other standard marketing items like trade support: When you have wax, you are taken much more seriously, even though for regular rotation the stations are just going to dump the CD onto their hard drive and not use the wax.
So for a basic regular rotation push, you can use just CD; for a good push you must use CD and wax; for a serious push you must push wax and CD to both regular rotation and mixshow (and for a heavy-duty push, you have to work regular rotation separate from mix, and you have to service and work each mixshow guy separately... usually at their homes and on their cells.)
It should be noted that mixshows are not the same as record pools. Record pools are for club servicing only; they do not cross over to radio mixshow. However, about half the radio mixshow guys will also take your wax into clubs.
QUANTITY: For college, if you only do one piece of wax per station, you'll need at least 200 to 400 wax (and CDs) for the basic reporting panel of CMJ. If you want to hit each DJ with a separate piece, you'll need more like 500.
For mixshow, if you are only servicing the mixers (and not the PD/MD) and if you are only giving one piece per person, you'll need about 600 pieces for the basic 300 stations that have active mixshows which report to the trades (there are more, but they don't report.) If you want to include the PD/MD, that's an extra 2 per commercial station, or about an extra 300. Finally, if you are going to be giving the mixers copies for them to take to the clubs, you'll need an extra 300 to 600 on top of that.
Keep in mind when you are servicing wax, you need to send it (with CDs) in a priority box, or first class. Otherwise it may get delayed 2 to 3 weeks if you just use media-mail. If you are not trying to chart (and thus timing is not important,) then this delay won't matter.
Being Overshadowed by Major Acts
But bands, labels and management are on the "push" side of the marketing; they may still WANT to be mixed in with major acts, but they need to realize that it is usually better not to be (unless they are on a major label.) The reason is the "overshadowing" effect that you may already know about: When money (and priority) has to be giving to just a few acts, the major ones get it.
Our particular area of interest here is radio promotion; when hiring a promoter, new acts will instinctively want to hire someone who is pushing "all these major acts." Most of the time, if this route is taken, it is going to be tough to come out ahead. This is because of several reasons particular to radio promotions:
o A promoter who is promoting major label acts is looked down upon if he/she is also pushing a "no name" act on an indie label. Indie labels have no chance of being able to support the level of marketing needed by major stations.
o A promoter, even though he/she is being paid to promote a certain act, can still put great internal priority on one act or another. There is no way around this. So unscrupulous promoters will take the money for an indie act, but never really promote it. He/she then reports back that none of the stations liked it. And it's almost impossible for the act to double check this, because the act can't get through to the PDs.
o Most of the time, the trick used by 9 out of 10 promoters is to say they've worked with some big acts, but in fact they had nothing to do with them at all. Only a few indie promoters really push major acts to radio (be it college, specialty or regular rotation), yet thousands of promoters will "say" they do. Acid test: Call the artist's management and ask, "Is/was XYZ one of the promoters used to promote your artist?". You can't ask the stations, because they have an interest in not having the public know who their promoter is.
So how do you go about picking a promoter (or a publicist, retail promoter, street promoter, etc.?) That's the question that makes or breaks careers... not only for artists but also for people on the label side. Again, the instinctive route is to go with the person who has the "the big acts", but you have to dig deeper and find out if indie acts (like yourself) got what they were promised by the promoter. If working "big acts" were all that mattered, then every single major act would be with just one promoter, because it would make sense to stick with what is proven. But even the major acts shift between promoters because they feel they did not get the push they wanted; if this can happen to them (with their major distro, press, video, street, gigs, etc.), then how do you think you are going to fare with that same promoter?
Pick a promoter that fit's your size, and also, one who is working acts like yours or maybe a little larger. Once you have made headway with this person, you can add-on another slightly higher level promoter, and move ahead in a controllable way.
Performance Royalties from Radio
The reason that a new indie act will probably not see a check from BMI/ASCAP is that they will not get enough spins on the larger stations. BMI/ASCAP does pay for college spins, but even they state that they pay only about a million dollars a year for all college records. The problem is that there are about a thousand records mailed to college radio EVERY WEEK in this country (not all stations get all records, of course,) so using the very numbers from BMI/ASCAP would show that each record gets $20. But what you don't see is that most of the money goes to less than one percent of all the records... the major label and major indie records... because they get the majority of spins, because of the level of marketing that they do. So the majors get a bit more royalties from college radio ($200 to $500?), and the small indies get nothing.
With commercial radio, there is no comparison... unknown indies make zero royalties in comparison with even midsize indies. If you are a grassroots indie with your first release, don't even waste the energy with BMI/ASCAP... spend your time instead trying to find paying gigs, and sell your CDs there (i.e., tour distribution.)
On the other hand, if you are indeed a midsize indie (meaning your average title scan 50,000, and you have been doing this for at least three years,) with at least good indie distro, and if you are getting newspaper press in at least 50 of the top 100 markets, and if your videos are also airing in these markets, and if your gigs are pulling 100 to 500 paid people to see just your act, and finally... if you have some good low-medium level radio promotion ($50,000 or more) going into your next release, then you will probably get enough airplay to be getting some good sized royalty checks, although probably not enough to pay for your radio promotion.
The point here is that small indies have a certain amount of time they can spend on dealing with different areas of marketing, and BMI/ASCAP issues should not be one of the first things dealt with. By all means use radio, but use it for getting more paid gigs (and more people at those gigs) so that you can make some money each night by selling CDs and merch while you are there. And use radio to get referrals to newspapers/magazines, stores, even labels and managers. Use radio chart results to build your marketing kit. Use non-commercial radio to drive people to your site. Use commercial radio morning shows to showcase crazy tunes and jokes. Just don't try to use radio for royalties
Why Clear Channel is Irrelevant to Indies
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.
(Note: Some radio "trade publications" are actually fronts for radio promoters; this means that the promoter is actually the person who puts the information into the publication/chart in a way that benefits them directly; the problem is when they try to do it secretly, so that you will not only hire them to promote your record, but you will also advertise in their publication since you don't know that the money is going to the same person. The way to identify such situations is to ask the promoter if they are in any way connected to a radio publication or chart; and ask the publication or chart if they are in any way connected to a radio promoter.) And of course, get your hands on a copy of the chart.
Trade support is when you provide money in some form or fashion to a radio publication (web or print); it performs three main functions: Information, Seriousness, and Editorial. Here are details:
INFORMATION: The ads get critical info to the stations each week; things like the add-date (don't confuse "add" with "ad"), number of adds, number of spins, station quotes, tour dates, etc. This is all stuff of critical importance to stations when they are deciding what to play next. And this information gets to some of the bigger stations that are more difficult for promoters to get on the phone.
SERIOUSNESS: Stations need to know that you are serious about pushing your record, because they want to build a hit, and you can't build a hit if you just push for a few weeks and then quit. So since the stations know that the trade ads cost a lot of money, they feel better knowing that your project is well-supported, and that it will (hopefully) be pushed longer before you give up.
EDITORIAL: Since radio publications are privately owned businesses, they can do whatever they want, including going out of business. In order to stay in business, they support the projects that support them; i.e., the projects that they want to succeed are the ones who spend money with them. This is why they prefer to write editorial for projects that have/are/will advertise with them... either for the artist they are reviewing now, or for a different artist, so long as the money comes from the same account.
What advertising is available? The obvious is a display ad, usually at least a quarter page. Other options (which vary) are buying a track on a compilation CD, buying an ad on a weekly fax or email, getting a banner on their site, sending your CD along with their magazine, and including your MP3 with their emails.
The trick is to pick a trade that gets to the stations you need to get to, and to avoid the trades that reach stations/people that are too big for you. Billboard is about the only trade that is too big for all indie projects; before you care about dealing with Billboard, you should have charted/supported (and had editorial) with every other trade in your genre. Your radio promoter will be able to tell you what trade support make sense for your situation.
How Touring and Radio Work Together
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.
- How Press and Radio Work Together
Let's divide the music press into three levels of difficulty (they are grouped according to how many readers they have.) First, easiest, and the one with the fewest readers, are websites and zines. The next level up is local music newspapers and calendar sections. Finally there is regional music magazines, and entertainment sections of city papers. Anything higher than this is going to require a PR firm.
Since press and radio have the same goal, just feeding the information from one to the other is one of the first steps you want to make. They want to see that a project is growing. If press sees that radio is supporting an artist, that in itself is enough to get some website, zine, and local paper press. It won't work the other way around, however... almost no level of press, by itself, will start your radio. What radio needs is the use of the regular promotion techniques that have been used for 40 years (which are the subject of all of Airplay 101.) But press is still very important... almost as much as touring is.
Referrals-to-press are a good way to use radio. After radio is familiar with your product, even if they are not playing it, you or your promoter can ask them what newspapers/mags/sites they recommend you to pursue. If it's a commercial station, the press they recommend might be a client or potential client (that would advertise on the station,) or they might be co-owned by the station. If it's a college or community station, the person you are asking might just work at the paper, since they don't' get paid at the station.
What radio really likes to see is it's name in the press (this gets them more listeners.) If you can convince the press to mention the station (with OR without mentioning you), then when you send a copy of the resulting print to the station, they are going to remember you.
If you are gigging in a market, talk to the calendar/events person at the paper (in addition to the music writer) and have them list the station's events and activities, as well as your own. It takes effort to get station activities organized and sent to possible press, so if you can do a station's work for them, then they are going to like you. Are you good with the web? Go a step farther and put up a free site for each market, keeping it updated with weekly station activities around town (and put "for more info" links that go to the station and the press.) Promote the page online, and possibly with stickers and flyers.
A final note: We don't recommend buying ads in consumer press until you have done so first on radio. This is because the press can't "play" your song. (Trade press is different, however.)
- Payola, part 1 of 5
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Payola (part 3 of 5),
How Stations React If You Try To Pay Them.
Let's say you are grassroots artist, or a small indie, or even a small-medium label, and up until now you've done no radio (or, you've always had someone else take care of it for you.) Now, you've decided that since you understand payola, you are going to spend some money and try to handle the promotion yourself, legally. You tell yourself that you are going to contact the PD at three or four major-market stations near you, and set up your own "contract" to play your record. You have enough money, and so you are finally going to get your exposure. Here's what will happen...
First of all, most every beginner wants the major stations, so here is how it will go down in markets #1 to #30 (small markets would be different, of course). You make your phone call to the PD, but he/she is not available, so the secretary directs you to the MD. Since the MD has not heard of you, you will probably get the MD's voicemail. Or, you ask for someone who WILL talk with you... a jock, or even an assistant. You tell the person (or the MD if they answer) that you have some marketing money for airplay, and that you want to set up one of those "legal indie contracts".
Without further thought on their part, you will be transferred or directed to the sales department, where you will get the newest entry-level account executive. This account executive will be confused by your "indie contract" request, but will say that if you are looking to get exposure for your release, you should start out with an advertising campaign (i.e., a spot schedule) on the station, and he/she will also say "if it's good, the PD may indeed start playing it, because I've seen it happen before." You start to think about doing it, and then realize you've been sidetracked. You want airplay, not commercials. You try again for the PD, to no avail, and now the original MD or jock you talked to doesn't want to hear from you again, except for maybe saying "send me the record." You have now been taken completely out of the airplay loop, and you would not have even realized it had you not read this first.
You start rationalizing that you could indeed use some commercials anyway. Plus, the PD will certainly hear the spots, so this may actually be the way to go. But you want to make certain this will result in airplay, so you tell the AE (account executive) that you don't mind spending the $20,000 to $70,000 for a heavy four week spot schedule, but you want to get some kind of guarantee or promise from the PD that the record will go into rotation soon after you start; after all, the reason you called the station in the first place was to set up your own "legal indie contract". You'll spend the money, if you get the spins.
The PD and sales staff now have you where they want you. They have done their job of making you think that your pseudo "indie contract" starts out with an ad (not "add") schedule, and that it will "maybe probably" evolve into airplay. It's the most attention you've ever gotten from a station.
But you keep prodding the AE for that "promise" that you seem to not be getting... that they WILL play your record if you buy the schedule. The AE says almost everything on the planet, except "yes, we promise". You do not feel so great about this. It must be easier than this... there is no way they'd treat Warner Brothers this way, you say. But you have no other choice... the major-market PD will not talk to you (again, small market would be different), and it looks as if there is nothing left to do but run the spots and hope for spins.
Congratulations... you have now completed your dead-end trip. The spots will run, and finish; the station will have your money (legally), and you will have NO regular rotation on this major-market station. The system has worked again.
Conclusion: Paying stations is not a tool for a small indie to get airplay.
- Payola (part 4 of 5),
Comparison to Ads, PR, Merch, and Promotion.
I need to point out some areas where indie bands get confused with regards to giving things to stations. It's remarkable how many bands think that giving advertising or CDs to a station is illegal. What actually is illegal is when you are playing at a club, and you pay the sound guy to get you set up first. That's more illegal that anything a label does for a station.
ADS: Advertising a CD is legal because (1) the result of it (the commercial) is broadcast, not kept secret, and (2) the money is paid to the station (not an individual), meaning that the sales documents are available for public inspection. Even if you buy a non-broadcast remote (where the station makes an appearance at a retail store, but does not broadcast it), the result is still shown to the public. When you advertise on a station, you "own" the 30 or 60 second commercial, and you can "push" whatever you like within it, including your CD. As long as the commercial is not mistaken for regular programming, you are fine, and it is not payola (even though it promotes your music, and even though you are paying money to the station.)
MERCH: When you give a box of CDs (or shirts, caps, or posters) to a station, just because the CDs have value to you, does not mean it is like giving cash to the station. If the station gives them away on-air, then the CDs become part of the programming (like a refrigerator given away on a game show) and thus it is legal for you to do this... even if it does benefit you. If the station does not give the CDs away on-air, but gives them away at a live-remote instead, then that is fine too. Non-commercial stations can even sell them to the public, if they use the money for station operations. About the only bad thing that can happen is when a person at a station sells your stuff on the street, and pockets the money. Other than that, you can even give cash to a commercial station, if they use it for on-air giveaway (it becomes part of their programming.)
PR: Buying a ad for your release in a newspaper/magazine is legal; paying a writer to write about your release, and not making this fact known to the paper, may or may not be legal (newspapers and magazines are not governed by the FCC), but it's close enough to being "illegal" that we'll just say... it might be. Giving the writer a box of 30 CDs might be questionable, unless he/she is going to do a giveaway in the paper.
RETAIL: Buying shelf space for your release if perfectly legal; it's standard contracted-activity with major retail chains, and it's what every major label does with their priority releases. Interestingly, this fact is NOT made known to the public... the public thinks certain releases are "out front" because they are "better". If radio worked this way, you really would have a right to scream. But it's not just music retail that does this... every Ralph's, Delchamps, HMV, Publix and Albertsons grocery store in the country works this way... everything that is "out front" is paid for. And they have NO requirement to tell you this like radio does. So don't get mad at radio.
INDIE PROMOTION: Lately, because of info available on the web, most people have been hearing about "indie deals" for the first time, and they hate the thought of it. Indie deals have been around for over 20 years, and were behind probably most of the material you grew up with on the radio. Indie deals are perfectly legal, and are a separate situation from the real meaning of "payola". You might even refer to the 10-year Disney-McDonalds agreement as an "indie deal."
While a few folks (indie promoters, bankers, doctors, mailmen) do pay people off illegally to get what they want, most do not. But paying people off illegally is separate from a legally-structured indie deal (just like illegally paying a retail person to put your CD upfront is separate from the legally-structured retail POP deals that all store do.)
That said, I'll leave details of indie-deals for a more advanced article, and for now just say (like I said in my Clear Channel article) that you are putting energy in the wrong place by thinking that it's the "bad" people at the labels and radio companies that are holding your indie release back with their "deals."
Conclusion: Paying stations is not a tool for a small indie to get airplay.
BUYING ADS: Do this before you do a show in each station's market. You are probably trying to get to the late-night crowd, so ask the stations for a one-week flight with a frequency of 4 or 5 in 7p-mid or overnights. This will run you about $300 per station in small markets, and $1000 to $5000 per station for medium markets. You would do well to leave major markets alone.
GIVE-AWAYS: If you have cheap access to merchandise or trips, then give them to the station for use as on-air give-aways, in return for "tagging" the artist's name as the provider of the items. Talk to the PD about this, not the salespeople. Good merch would be DVD's, TV's, computers, etc., and they should be available in quantity (at least five) for each station.
MARKETING PIECES: If you are in any way capable of helping a station get it's name out to the public, you can trade this for free commercials or other things. Can you print 10,000 of their bumper stickers for them (per station)? Can you print 10,000 flyers of one of their upcoming events, and distribute the flyers to 200 places around town (per station)? Can you put up street signage at 100 places around town (per station) if the stations provide you with the signs? Can you get 500 to 1000 new people to sign up to the station's email list? Can you promote the station's site so that it shows up in the top 5 of whatever search they tell you to do? Can you call 500 people on the phone and invite them to come out to the station's next remote? Whatever you are good at, or whatever you have the time to do, talk to the PD and see about a trade. Don't plan on putting your artist-info on any of the printed marketing pieces, however.
STREET PROMOTIONS: If you are good at organizing people who are spread out around the country, then set up an organized campaign, and convince people to contact each station's promotion director in order to volunteer to help with street promotions in their local towns. You'll probably have to run paid ads in the local papers to get the volunteers, and, you'll need to keep in contact with them in order to keep them motivated.
VEHICLES: If you can get good deals on used vans, trucks or SUV's, then you can get one for each station, (again) in trade for commercials or some other promotion. If you can arrange for the vehicles to come pre-wrapped with the station's logo, all the better. Don't expect to be able to put your artist info on it, however. Vehicles are good because as long as they are running, the stations will remember who provided them.
Conclusion: Paying stations is not a tool for a small indie to get airplay. The alternate options presented above are for individuals who have the money, who have already hired PR, radio, and booking personnel, and who are looking to build consumer awareness in smaller markets so they can ink a reasonable distribution deal and book more and bigger gigs.
How Retail and Radio Work Together
Although we recommend that a new label get their radio and gigs going first (so they can sell their CDs at the gigs... i.e., tour distribution), if the label gets to where it has at least four or five acts, and EACH one is charting in their respective airplay chart, and each one is doing 100+ gigs per year, and each one is getting 50+ articles/reviews per year, then it MIGHT be time to consider real retail promotion and distribution. But not sooner, and not with less than four acts. And when we say retail, we're not talking about consignment, either.
The first thing you'll want to do once your distro is set up (real distro, not web) is set up a retail buy-in, which will cost you $3,000 to $15,000 per city in the small stores; this may include ads in the chain's or distro's house publication, and a purchase of 500 to 3000 units from the chain. You'll also want to tag the fact that you are doing radio. If the promotion is big enough, you'll get POP space in addition to the listening stations and ads, but you can go beyond this by trying to get talkers on your bin or listening stations, on which you would print something like "As Heard On WXWY"... provided of course you are spinning on that station.
Similar in cost are co-op ad (or underwriting) buys on the pertinent stations. In the case of music, "co-op" is you, paying 100% of the bill. You run the spots for your release(s), which include tagging of the local retailer. And if you can afford it, a remote at the retailer would make everyone happy. Remotes start at about $300 in small/unrated markets, $3,000 in medium markets, and $30,000 in major markets. Your releases are not the focus of a remote, but then they don't need to be... everyone at the station will know who paid the bill.
You'll also want to coordinate drop-bys (or "meet-and-greets" or full performances) with the stores, while the artist is in-town visiting stations. While at the stores, ask the GM if he/she would like to post the playlist of the station somewhere in the store (and hopefully you are on the playlist) if it's not already there. While it's true that the first thing a station does is try to get its playlist into stores, extra help from smiling folks like you won't hurt.
Don't forget to ask the stations (or have your radio promoter ask the stations) for their recommended stores that your product should be placed in, and further, what is the name of the buyer is that you or your retail promoter should speak with there. When you do speak to that buyer, you have a much greater chance of them caring what you have say if you preface it with "Bob at WXYZ is playing our record and said you might be interested in it... can I send you a copy?"
One last area of available exposure would be the community events announcements that stations make. Many stations (even college stations) have someone who's job it is to collect and announce what interesting things are occurring in their town that week. When you have a confirmed appearance/performance at a store, make sure the station hears about it. And if your announcement is aired, try to get a tape or transcription of it, and give it to the store GM or buyer to impress them.
Lastly, there is the need to inform the distro's reps about your project. Even with real distro, you (being a new indie) are just a single page in their book of 1000 other releases that they take with them when they meet with buyers. In their twenty minute meetings, maybe they get around to talking about ten releases; yours will not be one of them, unless it has more "apparent activity" than all the other 990 releases (most of which are major labels.) So you have to make it appear to the rep that you have a lot of things going on, and you do this by informing them, once a week, of everything that is happening with your project.
There is one radio marketing tool that sparks a lot of interest in the new artists/labels that can manage it: Station visits. While majors usually reserve station visits for their priority artists (because of the expense), a lot of well-financed indies... even if they have never done radio before... like the idea also, and they will many times put their dollars into visits before putting them into other areas of radio marketing. This is probably due to the familiarity that these folks have with the concept of traveling itself (more so than with the other radio techniques,) not to mention the nice thought of being able to get out-and-about. This is good, since station visits are one of the most powerful (yet expensive) ways of marketing to small and small-medium market stations. See our market-size list here...
What makes station visits so useful? To start with, stations can see for themselves that the artist is for real and loves his/her music, and that the artist believes this enough to make the trip. It's very rare for a non-local artist to be able to come by a station for a visit, because of the costs and time involved in doing so. And it's of no use just visiting one or two stations... you have to do the whole country (in your format) in just a few months... or else it's just not effective. Small market visits are also rare, because when indie labels try visiting, they usually try the top markets where they don't have a chance, instead of the small and small-medium markets where they are more welcomed. Thus, the smaller stations really remember visits when they happen.
Before attempting visits, it must be decided whether or not the artist has the people skills that are needed to make the connections; the music is not important at this point. When an unknown artist visits a station, he/she will be judged on personality alone; only then will the station care to hear any music performed by the artist.
And speaking of live station performances, they are something that are always wanted by the artist, and indeed, if the artist gets along with the station, and if there is no rush, a live studio performance might just happen (the station will ask you.) Just don't have the artist march in with instrument in tow. Try to be more subtle.
While in town, the artist can do some incredibly important marketing, such as shaking hands with the local store music buyers/managers, music writers, TV hosts, and club promoters. It will be probably be the only chance the artist will ever have to meet them in person, unless you are very successful and the artist gets to come back in a year or so.
The visits will probably need to be set up by your radio promoter... especially if the station is planning any promotions around the visit. But a PR person can do it too. Target all stations in your format in markets 150 and smaller. The airfare and motel costs will be $30k to $50k for a few months of visits, not including, of course, money for the artist. And the schedule will probably have the artist flying criss cross around the country; but it's more important to hit all the stations during the life of a single, than to try to save time/money by grouping close cities together and thus ending up with a week or two of dead time between visits. If done properly, the artist will be in a new market every day. And lastly, save the major and medium markets (1-100) for your second year... you don't want to be spinning your wheels now.
This article has been presented by Bryan Farrish Radio Promotions, well known and respected experts in the field of radio promotion Santa Monica, Ca Sherman Oaks, Ca