For bands of all types and genres, airplay is one of the most reached for promotional goals. Airplay can be a powerful way to share your music with the world. Also, who are we kidding, it feels pretty great to hear your own art on the radio.
Recently, I have been on the radio submission journey with my band Sidewatcher. How difficult can it be to send a few CDs to a couple of stations, right? (I probably just received a mass cringe from veteran radio submission-ers.) But honestly, let's think about it. Radio stations receive hundreds of submissions a week for airplay. What is going to make your band's music stand out from the rest?
As I write this blog, I hope to share my experience in submitting music thus far and what I have learned along the way as an artist working towards promotion.
Does airplay still matter?
Did airplay ever not matter?
Playing shows is an easy way for people to hear your music. People go to the venue, hear your band, and dig your style. Done deal, right? Not exactly. What happens when you want to tour across the country? Often times a band cannot just drop everything to circle cities and gain fans with each pass. Airplay is one of the easiest ways to get your music listened to around the globe. If successful, you can begin to build a fan base in a city before ever setting foot there.
This is the way that I am currently approaching radio submissions for Sidewatcher. We are beginning to book West Coast shows for this summer. Since we are from Detroit, we need to get our sound and name out there in as many ways as possible before traveling across the country.
Airplay is also another way to build connections with other musicians and people within the scene. Depending on the radio's level of self promotion, the station may announce the songs being played on social media. I've experienced many radio stations in the past who have had DJs that post their on-air set for the night. Through retweets and such it is possible to build connections with the other artists whose music is also played. It is all about expanding your circles.
Airplay alone does not guarantee music sales. With work, airplay can make your band more familiar and lead to more touring, which in turn can lead to sales.
So, how does one go about getting airplay?
Work. And a lot of it. I have found that once you get into the flow of things it does come easier.
The smartest way to start working towards airplay is by researching. You want to find out music requirements, addresses to send to, and even which stations are right for your band. You need to find out exactly what stations want to see and hear from musicians in order to further your chances of being played.
For mass national promotion there are companies that will do all the work for you, but for a DIY band there seems to be something very satisfying about handwriting hundreds of addresses out.
Half of the battle is deciding who to send your music to. Non-commerical radio stations and student-run radio stations are your best bet. Commercial stations get payed to play big artists on big labels, so unless your band matches that description, non-coms are the way to go.
In my research I have found Wikipedia to have a pretty good list of non-coms and student-run stations. I targeted campus radio stations in the United States, since this is the crowd that I want Sidewatcher to reach. A lot of these stations had coinciding websites included on the list, but sometimes I had to google the station call sign to find the right web address.
Hint: The "Contact" page and the "About" page are good places to look for station addresses and music submission FAQs.
Most radio stations want physical submissions through the mail. Digital mp3s end up getting lost in the mix most of the time. A lot of stations will accept vinyl, cassettes, and CDs, but I feel that CDs are the most economically efficient and reliable. If you do send in a CD, it is recommended to send it in a jewel case, not a thin plastic or paper sleeve, so it does not get lost. Perks of sending a CD over an mp3? People feel bad about ignoring physical music.
Make your album art attractive. Good looking art is more likely to get listened to then a blank CD thrown in the pile. Often times, album art is the easiest way to guess how an album will sound- especially when you are swamped with choices to begin with.
DIY is always cool, boring isn't.
Read more about Sidewatcher's artwork for Otra Vez I & II here.
A lot of stations also want bands to include a resume with their submission. This resume should be a little pitch on your band, including a short bio, genre, and why the station should listen. As John Richards, of Seattle's KEXP 90.3 FM says, just like a normal resume people normally do not get past the first page... so keep it on a single sheet.
In Sidewatcher's resume I have included a bio, our BMI and licensing status, press quotes, whether we are FCC friendly or not, and more.
As far as mailing goes, you want to research the right type of package to send. You want the most compact package with a good amount of protection. You also want to look at the package shape. Square or rectangular packages do make a difference. Also, sometimes sending a package through USPS instead of a package delivery company can be cheaper. Look into bulking mail and what the most efficient way to send your music will be.
I'm using square cardboard boxes that I have ordered online. They have wings that fit over the edge for protection and they still fit USPS standards.
After you have sent your music to all the radio stations on your list, sit back and take a break... two weeks later and it's time to make follow up calls.
Following up can be very important for your band. This way you can know which stations are playing your music and how heavy the rotation is. Be polite when you call. Pay attention to these radio stations and what they ask on their websites. Some have online systems that do the tracking for you and others simply ask you to not to follow up at all.
This is the step that I'm on right now with Sidewatcher, I have a list of phone numbers I'm ready to call in a couple of weeks.
Most of all, remember that you are not the only band sending in music. Radio stations work with hundreds of submissions a week, so be patient and polite. A lot of these non-coms are student run, so with that they are also students. Patience is key.
At the end of the day, if a station is not playing your music, do not give up. This does not mean to send the same album five more times, it means to keep trying. Maybe your next release will make the station's cut. It is all a learning process.
For more information on everything that I've briefly touched, and for guidance in the airplay world, turn to John Richards and read his fantastic article on Working Towards Radio Airplay. His article exposed me to a system of airplay that I wasn't aware of enough before.
Read and learn: http://blog.kexp.org/2011/08/01/how-to-get-airplay-on-kexp/