Get your music played on the radio.
So you’ve emerged from your studio after several weeks of spent blood, sweat and tears getting your track mixed to perfection. Now it’s ready for airplay. But how do you get your music played on the radio (and more importantly played) when it’s up against hundreds of other submissions a radio network receives everyday?
Hi I’m Emma Houlton and previously worked on a national network BBC specialist show and it was my job to sift through hundreds of track submissions every day. Artists had their work cut out trying to capture my attention, and I certainly had my work cut out trying to clear the hoards of submissions off my desk. What was it that made me put tracks into the shortlist and others straight in the bin? Read my definitive guide to getting airplay.
1: Do your homework and be realistic
Research the radio shows you want to feature and be played, Is your track something that would suit the show? Find out if they play emerging artists. If they don’t, then it’s a waste of your time getting in touch with them. For a full list of UK radio stations. Be realistic though, you might believe that your music is ready to be played on the radio or BBC Radio 1 but if it has not created traction on other specialist shows at the BBC, it is not likely to get played. BBC Radio 1 daytime is heavily playlisted and shows are only given a handful of free plays away from that playlist. Unfortunately they are very unlikely to take a punt on a completely unknown artist and are much more likely to play it safe. Remember, their own credibility is at stake here too. Go for suitable specialist shows that are usually in the evening. They have a lot more free plays and are a lot more likely to give a new artist a chance. Once you’ve whittled it down to which shows your music will potentially suit, get a working knowledge of the show running order so that when you get in touch you can explain confidently why your track would be suitable for their listeners. Look up things such as regular features and who they’ve had on the show. And of course, research their recent playlists.
2: Contact the production team, not the DJ
Find out the names and contact details of the production teams for the radio stations. Get in touch with them about your music, not the DJ directly (unless you are friends with the DJ of course!) Contrary to what you might think, on many shows it’s the production teams who mainly make the decisions as to what is going to be played on the show along with the DJ’s input. Also many producers man email accounts for the shows too. The DJ does not have the time to sift through submissions, they land on the desk of the producer who will cherry pick tracks that they think may be suitable for the show and that the DJ might be interested in playing. The producer and the DJ will then have a meeting about new music they are excited about, and decide together which tracks will get that all important airplay. Yeah, production teams are pretty important!
3: Make sure your track is radio friendly
I know this sounds like an obvious one, but submitting a track that is 10 minutes long or full of expletives is going to make it fall at the first hurdle and doubt you get your music played on the radio, if you’re wanting to get your music onto mainstream radio. Also make sure that its is mixed down and mastered ready for radio broadcast. In your first submission, make it as radio friendly as possible by keeping it simple and cutting out any lengthy intros. You have about 10 seconds to capture the attention of the producer before they move onto the next submission. You probably have even less time to captivate your listener if your track is lucky enough to get airplay, so start the track out in it’s best light possible. Of course if a DJ wants to add your track to their 30 minute mini-mix, they may request an extended version, so have your full 10 minute mix standing by ready to send. When mixing your track intended for airplay, make the lead vocal prominent (if there are any vocals) but aim for a good solid level overall. Make sure that there is no digital clipping though! Most radio programmes are mixed down to an output of -6db and a sample type of 44100 Hz 32-bit. Bear this in mind when mixing down too, If you are new to mixing down we cover this on our Diploma courses Also important is finding out which format the show prefers to receive submissions. Unlike record labels, quite a lot of stations are still old school and prefer to receive CDs through the post. On the show I worked on, we deleted emails with MP3 submissions or Soundcloud links as they just clogged up our inbox. If they do prefer CD submissions, keep it simple. Don’t accompany it with a comprehensive 10 page biog, it’ll just rub them up the wrong way and create more waste paper. We asked Henrie Rowlatt, an Assistant Producer at BBC 6 Music what she looked for in a CD submission:
“Personally I look for labels I know and references to bands I like, plus PRs I trust. But there isn’t just one thing really. Just don’t get fancy on the presentation, no posters or massive heavy GSM paper photos. There’s no point! Have a good striking image in the sleeve, but big A4 folders and gimmicks don’t really work. Though the occasional chocolate is always welcomed!”
If they prefer a link to your music (such as Soundcloud), make sure you send a downloadable link. The easier you make it for them to add it to their playout system, the better. Production teams sometimes don’t have the time to chase artists up for music files, and will quite often get in touch with you after the track has been played.
4: Make a noise on print and online
Radio shows like to see that you have had a positive response in other media. Good reviews in influential music blogs or music magazines will get you a lot nearer to getting that airplay. Get to grips with who the influential bloggers are within your genre and reach out to them. Bloggers are hungry for new music and they often love to have an exclusive on a new release. But note that the really influential ones want the freshest, newest releases around and only really take notice of a track that is less than a month old. Pre-release make sure you get your act together and schedule when you are going to release your track. A self-release or on a label, you still need to have a timeline for how you are going to help promote it yourself. I know it’s also obvious, but a social media presence like Facebook or any evidence that you have a growing following also goes a long way to getting your track played. As much as radio DJs like to take the credit for discovering the next big thing, they don’t want their show to be relied on as a sole source of promotion, they like to see that your music has longevity that will flourish outside of an airplay.
5: If you can afford it, hire a good radio plugger
Yes, a good plugger can be expensive but if you are serious about getting your music played on the radio, they are really your only option to getting seen above all the other submissions that are received every day. Your music might be amazing, but you need the right channels to make people aware of your music. The role of a plugger is pretty simple. They have good relationships with radio stations and their choice of artists on their rosters are taken seriously by network producers and DJs. Any new releases sent over by them are often given more consideration over an outsider doing it independently.
Some pluggers also have influence in playlist meetings, which usually take place once a week at the larger national networks. The playlist committee, made up of members of staff across the organisation and independents will decide which tracks will go on the A/B/C playlists on a station for that week. The A list is rotated (played) the most on station output, this is usually made up of highly established artists. Whereas the C list has the least rotation, but sometimes they will give a promising new track a punt to see how it goes down with their listeners. Getting onto the C list of a national is a pretty big achievement as a new artist, but with the assistance of a good plugger and a suitable track, it is not unachievable. It would be however quite a grand feat it you tried to get your track onto the playlist yourself.
There are a lot of pluggers out there, but make sure that you do your homework on them before you part with any cash. See who they have on their roster and find out what airplay they have had. Make sure that you work with a plugger who is an expert in your genre and believes in your music. Most good pluggers won’t work with an artist if they are not a good fit on their roster or if they’re not into your music. A bad plugger will take your money regardless and not get you any results. A good resource for finding a plugger is by subscribing to the Music Week Directory:
school of electronic music covers “getting your music played on the radio” and a lot more on its Music Business Course
Part Two …