6 Tips for Getting Radio Play

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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.

4. Touring.

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.”

6. Promoters.

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.

  • Cameronius

    I’ve spent years working on my songs and they’re as good (or better) than the cookie cutter BS that’s played on popular radio these days. After releasing two of my songs as singles, I sent one of them to a local station, that normally plays what they refer to as “new rock” (The Black Keys, Ed Shareen, The Killers, etc.). On Sunday nights, they do an hour of local music. I was sad and disappointed to hear that 90-percent of what they played in that hour was screamo! Aside from that, I notice that most of the local bands that get played on our rock radio stations either all sound *exactly* alike or they’ve all been recorded by and produced by the same local producer. Once again, it’s not what you know, it’s who you blow. Boooooo!

  • JOB MUSIC

    There’s an ego problem, common to all musicians. Everybody believes they make the best music, which is obviously untrue. The sad thing is that in order to have your music played before a MD or PD it’s directly connected with an indie promoter, who is expensive and unreliable. I believe it’s important to these guys, to give a chance to songs coming from independent producers that may be very professional, though unknown at present. I know that it’s common for a Music Director o Program Director, to listen to only 8 bars of the tune and that’s enough to judge if they’re fit to be played (I, miself, was an A&R for a major company and that was the normal practice, that works for the most part. Promoting is an art in itself but you have to play with the right tools. The interview is very valuable because it opens up to many ideas. Thanks for the article.

  • Mike Mint

    Get played and get paid on Mint Music Radio, Mint Music Mobile, and Mint Music Live 365. All genres are accepted and if the content is registered with ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC, you will receive royalties from Sound Exchange. Just sign up at MintMusic.com, upload your content, and listen for songs on http://www.live365.com/station/mintmusic1