By Mike King

In a perfect world, radio stations across the country would play songs based simply on the merits of the songs themselves. In a perfect world, a major radio station in a major market could be solicited in the same fashion as a publicist solicits Rolling Stone, for example: by sending a package, making a follow-up call, and if the “deciders” (in the case of radio, the program directors) like what they hear, they would promote the record by playing it on air. Unfortunately this is not how large traditional radio stations work.


Traditional radio is (still) a big business, and there is a HUGE promotional vehicle behind any song you hear played on commercial radio. (commercial radio is a term used to describe the dominant form of radio in the US and several other countries, those that are broadcasting for profit.) The amount of money and resources it takes to get your music played on commercial radio during peak listening times makes it an unrealistic avenue to almost all independent artists and labels.

The good news is that there are a number of noncommercial traditional radio stations that are a completely viable outlet for a musician that does not have a spare $500,000 to drop on a commercial radio campaign. (noncommercial radio is a term used to describe those stations that are not funded by advertising, typically located on the left side of the radio dial.) Additionally, commercial stations often times have specialty shows that fall outside of the regular programming that are open to less expensive solicitation. Furthermore, the rise of online and satellite radio have further opened the doors to independent artists and labels, and provided another avenue for artists who aren’t on major labels to get national/international radio coverage.

Let’s take a step back and talk about what needs to be happening with your band before you consider radio support.

When Should You Consider Radio Support?

Traditional terrestrial radio (as opposed to online radio, which has its own set of rules) should be the last consideration in an independent artist’s marketing campaign for a few reasons. First, it can be incredibly expensive. Second, there are fewer spots available to promote new artists than there are at other marketing outlets (like press, retail, online, and touring), which makes it incredibly difficult to get play during the time of day when folks actually listen to the radio (as opposed to placement at 3 a.m.). Third, and most importantly, radio is best used to support other efforts you already have in place—in particular, a tour.

For example, say you are a New York City-based band, and you’ve hired an indie radio promoter, and they’ve secured radio play at KUSF, a great noncommercial station in San Francisco. Without a tour in that market, without records in the stores in that market, and without press visibility, the radio play will not really do you much good. That being said, there are some folks (independent promoters, usually) that feel that radio play should come before a distribution deal, as it can be used as a “promotional ammunition” to sell the distributor or a label on the merits of your band.

While there is some truth to this, distributors these days are just as impressed by a solid online community, great press, and a band that can draw a good amount of folks to their shows nationally. Radio on a national level is a more expensive and generally a less effective avenue if your goal is to impress distributors or label folks. A national radio campaign should not be considered the “magic bullet” to kick-start your career or marketing campaign. However, depending on where you are with your career, your fan base, and your general visibility, some degree of radio presence can help to propel your visibility into larger arenas.

What Else Should Be in Place Prior To Considering Your Radio Campaign?

To truly capitalize on a radio promotional campaign, both at noncommercial and commercial radio, it’s best to have your integrated marketing campaign running on all cylinders. Radio is designed to complement your other marketing efforts and make the listeners take action. To start, you’ll need to have your Web site up and optimized with tour dates, any press you’ve had, bio, etc.

If folks hear about you through a local specialty radio show and are intrigued, chances are they’ll search for you online. Again, touring, press, a distribution campaign, and most importantly a GROWING fanbase should also be in place before you undertake your radio campaign. It make the radio pitches a lot easier if you (or your radio promo indie, to be more specific) can point out that a buzz happening with your campaign—but you also need to have these other segments in place so that folks hear your music, find your music in stores, and find out where you’re playing,

In addition, if you do decide to undertake a radio promotion campaign, you are going to need to budget for creating and sending a number of promos (promotional copies) of your record to your target stations. This is a serious consideration for an artist on a limited budget.

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This article was taken from Mike King’s online Music Marketing 201 course enrolling at www.berkleemusic.com

Musician, educator, and consultant Mike King is a veteran of several prominent independent record labels and has over 10 years’ marketing, project management, and artist development experience in the music industry. Mike is the managing editor and directs the marketing efforts for Artists House Music. He also authors and leads several online marketing and technology courses for CNET, and is a contributing writer for Making Music magazine.

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