Getting your songs played on the radio is one of those little mysteries within the music business that I think has many artists somewhat perplexed. "Why do they play all that shit on the radio?? My tunes are way better than what I hear day in and day out!" I've been guilty of saying those exact words in the past, but now I realize that getting upset about the way things are won't get me any further toward achieving my goals.
The key to unlocking these mysteries is simply a matter of educating yourself on exactly how these things work from the inside out. Ignoring the realities and hoping and praying that one day a music director at a major radio station will realize how incredibly brilliant your songs are probably won't yeild the desired results. So, to help us understand a little bit about how things work in the real world, I've brought in one of my best friends and studio partners, Murray Daigle.
Murray and I have been working together since 1989 and during that time we've written a shitload of songs, recorded and released many albums and toured internationally. Murray has been responsible for developing many acts that went on to sign major deals including Not By Choice, Cauterize, and Outmatched. Most recently his focus has shifted to mainstream pop music and he's written and/or produced several songs with his writing team at VicPark Productions (www.myspace.com/vicparkproductions) for artists such as Aleesia, Adriana Lombardo, and Neverest, achieving a great deal of success at radio.
1. Firstly, to help artists understand where they fit into the equation with their music, briefly describe the end goal that a commercial radio station is in business to accomplish.
Radio stations are in business for one reason… to sell advertising for profit. How they accomplish this is by constructing a “sound” & “brand” that relates to and attracts a specific demographic audience. The true value of a radio station lies in its listeners. The bigger and more loyal the audience is, the higher the ratings and therefore, the more the station can charge its advertisers. What you need to understand is that quality of music on the radio is solely judged by whether or not the audience will enjoy it enough to leave the station on and keep coming back. Most discussions I have with artists/bands that want radio play aren’t aware or willing to address these realities… they just want their music to play, regardless of whether it fits with the radio station’s format or agenda. If you want to be on the radio, sound like the radio. And no, that doesn’t mean you can’t be creative or have your own sound. In fact, I would say you have to be more creative and work waaaaaaay harder to come up with great music that fits within these boundaries. There are exceptions to every rule of course; however, failure is usually a result of people who plan on being the exception.
2. Getting your songs played on radio is not something you just decide out of the blue to do one day, so what steps should an artist take before they even consider trying?
The trick to every element of an artist’s music career is consistency. To even be considered for major market radio play you need all your ducks in a row. Having a great song that fits the format you are after is superfluous…. What you need beyond that is a great website and social media presence and hopefully a great touring schedule. Yes, I said web & touring. The first thing a music director does when faced with a good song by a new artist is go “check them out”--website, facebook, tour schedule, media, Google search (yeah, they know that trick too). If your band looks like a group of high school kids with no real interest from anyone then why would they play you? How are you going to draw the all-important demographic to their station? They are selling the dream and vibe to their fans just like you are trying to do. Once your ducks are in a row with your BEST promo effort and look possible it’s time to get a Radio Tracker on board. They are experts that can help you build a radio strategy. So many things affect a single release including timing, station selection, which markets to approach and how to link radio to your other PR efforts and touring. The earlier you get a tracker onboard, the better. I even use these guys to consult during the writing and mixing of tracks!
3. What are some of the main formats on commercial radio and are there any differences regarding the procedure for getting playlisted?
In relation to stations playing new pop & rock music there is Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR), Adult Contemporary (AC), Hot Adult Contemporary (Hot AC), Rock Radio (divided into “hard rock” and “alterantive”) and Country Radio. Other music sub-genres are all the same chart. There are also other formats including mixed format, community, college, oldies, urban, jazz, classical and talk, which essentially are non-issues for most new contemporary artists because they either don’t play new music or they are rated so low that it doesn’t matter to advancing ones commercial music career. Yeah, I said it, college and urban radio are a non-issue in this country as far as I am concerned. That doesn’t mean that urban music isn’t HUGE in Canada, just that most of the bigger artists in the this genre play on the CHR stations.
One thing to understand is that basically CHR & Hot AC make up what is considered “pop radio”. These stations have another sub-divide referred to as ‘HIT RADIO’… basically that is a station within these formats that will ONLY play the top 50 songs on the chart. It was explained to me early in my career by one music director (MD) this way, “We don’t make hits, we just play them”. Unfortunately for indie artists, these are generally the biggest stations in any given market.
Basically, your tools and approach are the same for all formats. “Sound like the radio“, have great media, web and PR to back you up. Hire a radio tracker that is experienced in YOUR genre and format.
4. What’s the proper way to pitch and submit a song to radio if you’re an indie artist trying to break in?
I always recommend aligning yourself with a professional radio tracker, and the earlier in the process the better. Let them help you get a strategy and pick an appropriate song.
5. How long did it take you to get your first song on radio and what steps did you take to achieve this?
As a producer & mixer, I have had numerous tracks on the radio over the past 10 or 12 years, the best reaching mid 50’s on the Billboard US Rock Chart. (The US market is still the biggest, most important music market in the world, and the Billboard Charts are the biggest indicator of commercial radio success). This was the result of the record company’s efforts and I really didn’t play a role in the radio promotion end of things. As a songwriter, the first song I had that made hit status was about 2 years ago. I was heavily involved with the artist in hiring a radio tracker and carefully picking a strong single. We even touched up mixes and added a few things to the track to make it more palatable at CHR. I had already been a full time professional producer and studio owner for 16 years, with numerous major label credits under my belt and literally hundreds of independent projects. I was no stranger to the music industry and had worked with dozens of extremely talented writers in a producing capacity when I decided to shift my focus to writing pop music--and it still took me about 2 years of full-time writing to get my first track to that status! It isn’t easy, but this is a song-driven industry. A “HIT” forgives all other shortcomings; that can’t be said for any other asset of a band's or artist’s career and efforts.