To say that Bruce Warren—Program Director for Philadelphia’s WXPN—has been responsible for numerous artists breaking from unknowns to the national stage would be a massive understatement. Over the course of a twenty-plus year tenure at ‘XPN, Bruce has discovered, championed, and successfully promoted a veritable whose-who of artists.
In this interview, he offers some crucial tips for artists attempting to increase the amount of airplay they are getting.
It’s a great interview, and I encourage you to watch it all, but here are some important points:
1. Do your homework.
This has been a recurrent theme in the interviews I do, and it’s true for radio as well. Doing some sort of mass mailing to every radio station under the sun is an exercise in futility. To this end, make sure that you’re only contacting stations that play the type of music you make. This seems obvious, but you’d be shocked at how few people do their homework. Part of this homework means understanding which formats are out there. WXPN, for example, is a AAA station. Do you know the other formats?
2. Know the rules.
In addition to knowing the different formats, and knowing which stations are likely to play the music you make, the next step is to know when/how to contact the relevant parties. Of course, this means knowing who the relevant parties are; you must know who determines which music is added to a station’s playlist. This is typically the Program Director and/or the Music Director. As you can imagine, these people are swamped with more music than they can possibly play on their station. To this end, they limit the times when they will take calls from people who want to pitch their music. You must find out when these times are. Will it be easy? No. Is anything?
3. The battle is being waged online.
As Bruce notes, they have weekly music meetings to discuss what might be added to the station. While, of course, the music is of paramount importance, given the lack of spaces available, there are other factors that differentiate the artists, and determine which get play. This means, you need to have a great social presence (active on Facebook and Twitter, for instance), and a web site that articulates who you are and what you’re doing.
Speaking of what you’re doing, you need to be touring. WXPN, and all the other stations in this format, are servicing a local community. Therefore, for them to champion you, they need to see that you’re going to be in that community—at some point—playing a great show.
5. Label or no label?
Do you need to be signed to a label to get on radio? I posed this question, and…well…here’s what Bruce said (no way I can improve on it): “No. I don’t care. It’s got to produced really well. You’re competing against the production quality of other artists—whether they’re on a label or not. Ultimately your music is going to be put into battle against someone else’s music. It has to sound good on the radio.”
Bruce was honest with us about the role of indie promoters, that is, people who artists (and stations) work with to build a bridge between artist and label. In essence, it’s a cluttered landscape, and, as Bruce said, certain stations do rely on the advice of indie promoters.
Do watch to the end, because Bruce gives some GREAT tactical points; for example: DON’T MANUFACTURE CALL IN CAMPAIGNS!
Bruce ends the interview on a note of optimism, with a phrase I love, “The more music the better.”
The industry needs more people like Bruce Warren.
George Howard is the COO of Concert Vault, Daytrotter, and Paste Magazine. Mr. Howard is an Associate Professor of Management at Berklee College of Music. Follow George on Twitter.