One of the most frustrating parts of trying to build a career is the ever elusive RADIO AIRPLAY that is so hard to get as an Indie artist. Logic dictates that if an artist is heard on the radio, it would mean they have true credibility or have the ability to get more rapidly known. But radio today is not the same as it was 5-10 years ago.
First of all, it's obvious that the more America and international countries depend on digital data communication, the more syndication of media (like music) can occur to individuals with devices that can receive that media and play it or view it. Much like what email did to fax machines, wifi and mobile data are doing to CD sales and radio stations. In fact, the past 5 years of radio in the USA alone has seen a major shift in how revenues are created for station owners.
Since I'm a marketing guy for a living, I have to understand how advertising works. In the simplest form, advertisers are what "pay" radio station budgets. Advertisers in any given community have a plethora of options to choose from to get their message out. Newspaper, billboard, direct mail, radio, TV, signage, and more importantly... the internet and social media. Now the average consumer in America has internet access via mobile phone/tablet or computer. The "music" consumer radio stations reach are highly likely to use internet on a regular basis as well. I'm not talking "talk radio", but stations that play music format as their primary broadcast. Obviously the era and genre of music changes from station to station, but most are reaching consumers who are technology capable with the web.
Now, the FCC has made it difficult to get a radio station license to broadcast over the open air outside our homes. However, the FCC has no jurisdiction over the internet based radio stations broadcasting music. In fact, internet based radio poses a real threat to "terrestrial" radio stations which can be found on your radio dial in a car. As such, these stations around the U.S. which have paid for their F.C.C. license and have to keep that license in good standing in order to keep it, they have to be able to generate good income to underwrite overhead for just owning a station.
Sorry if this is boring, but it will make sense soon if you're following along.
So let me give you an example from the past.
Radio Station XYZ in Yourtown, USA was locally owned and operated. The station owner had a programming director or station manager that would decide what music would be played on-air. That station manager / program director would ultimately have the authority to decide what songs would get played and therefore they were the "ONE" you wanted to have a nice relationship with. To some extent, that still holds true, but more on that later.
Record companies used to send demos to these station owners/managers/directors. They would build relationships with them and get their artists on the air. However, a nice feature of being locally owned meant that they could also decide to play Independent artist's music as well if they wanted. This is how many unsigned artists used to get radio play, and is how many artists today think it still works. In cases where a station is 'still' locally owned and not part of a group of stations owned by a big corporation, this may still be possible, but not likely.
The other factor that locally owned stations had going for them was that advertisers in their area had a hard time not finding success investing in radio commercials because (frankly) radio was the center of our daily world in the commute and at work and home. TV and radio were the cutting edge way of reaching a consumer. Factor in the internet, and suddenly consumer attention isn't fixed as much on local radio as it once was and suddenly the station's owner starts losing income because advertisers are spending their budgets on methods that may reach their intended audience more directly than radio (aka internet/social media).
So, with less money coming in, less staff. With less staff, less "LIVE DJ's" to work with. With less LIVE DJ's, the station programming director had to resort to pre-programming playlists of songs on a computer and hit "GO" and basically let the computer spit out music. At the same time, with less revenues, the station owners were less inclined to keep the station open and looked for someone to buy them out.
Enter the BIG CORPORATE TAKEOVER of local stations.
Now with large corporations buying out locally owned stations in a region or geographic area, there may be local programming that is overlapping a station of the same format 25 miles down the road. Saturation and overlap mean the advertising dollars are diluted so no ONE station can live off the splitting of the same advertisers among two format stations that play the same music. Big corporations consolidate stations and take over "play lists" they play from a CORPORATE level versus the old time local level programming director decision.
Add to this that the BIG 3 record companies in the world have their staff "buying" airtime with the corporate radio giants, and suddenly we have playlists that are saturated with what $$$ has been spent by the major record labels to "own" that air-time.
So what once was a local decision for songs being played is now a corporate decision because they are selling air-time to major record labels.
Now guess what advertisers are doing with this new model of radio?
They want to advertise on stations that play the music that is being sold on iTunes and shown on official music videos on Vevo. Frankly, corporate radio takes the lead from the Big 3 record companies because they know that the record companies are spending millions to promote their artists and those millions of marketing dollars are helping advertisers make the choice to buy commercials when they know the consumers are listening to the Billboard hits and latest release from their favorite recording artist.
So, yes, money dictates a lot of this.
It's all about the benjamins.
Back to you... the independent and rising artist.
How do you get on radio?
Well there's an interesting shift in how consumers are "consuming" music now thanks to the internet and upgrading of mobile data bandwidth (think 4G and 4GLTE) which is making it possible to have "radio" on your cell phone with services like Spotify and iTunes. In fact, iTunes radio, which launched earlier this year, is becoming a force along with Spotify as a chief competitor to local radio.
Satellite radio makes it's dent, but when we're talking the younger generation, XM and Sirius Radio may not have the edge they once had for more music and the ability to listen to what you prefer (I prefer the 60's and 70's station).
Let me share Spotify, for example.
For $10 month, I can have commercial free (no advertisers) radio playing on my phone or computer and only include songs I chose to include in my playlist. So, when I sit at my computer and type away at my keys, I'm listening to any of my many playlists I created of songs I "WANT" to hear, not songs I have to hear because some Corporate Radio Giant dictates that I hear the same song 46 times a day.
How great is that?
So local radio may still hold attention of consumers, but it's nearly impossible to get an unsigned artist regular airplay unless they open their checkbook in a BIG way.
For example, we hired a radio promotion company in Tennessee to promote a single Spencer released this past February. For a nifty $3500, the song was uploaded to a CLOUD based database of music that stations all over the USA and World can access. The file is in the proper format for computerized stations to quickly download to their server and insert into a playlist.
But wait, it's not just having the song available for program directors of these stations, it's also getting your song visible among the thousands that are plugged into that CLOUD every day. That's where I mentioned earlier that relationships with program directors or station managers can still be important. Well guess "WHO" those station managers and directors will tolerate calling them, emailing them, or mailing them "new" music? Yep, the radio promotion people you HIRE to solicit them. Enter the tidy fee mentioned above.
A radio promotion expert knows all the station managers in the genre they specialize in. So it's not even enough to just hire a promotions company to get your song to radio, you need to make sure they are well accepted by the genre / format of station you want your song played on. So it makes no sense to hire a RAP / HIP HOP radio promotions guy to try and get your COUNTRY song on radio. That guy just does not have the connections at those format stations.
So let's just take a quick guess how much it costs a major label to place ONE song on radio? The national average I last heard for a top 40 type artist is $250,000 minimum for ONE song.
Hate to be a kill-the-vibe kind of guy, but this is the reality independent artists face and the reason why many of them get excited when an online radio station chooses to play their music. That's great for bragging that your song is on "radio", but if it's online radio, it only means so much unless that station is syndicated through the web or even on Terrestrial radio.
I know this is a HUGE amount of information to digest, but in reality, the more you understand about the RADIO GAME, the easier it will be to navigate that particular area of your artist's career. There's a ton more to know and understand about it, but this should give you a foundation.