Whenever an independent artist asks me about going to radio, my typical response is “DON’T DO IT” while wildly shaking my head and cringing.
Them: But my album is so radio friendly!
Me: stares blankly
Them: My song is a hit! DJs just need to hear it and then they’ll play it! I’m like if Beyonce and Jay-Z had a baby!
Me: They did have a baby. 3 of them. None of whom have made hits (yet).
Them: I literally hate you.
Me: Show me where your vault of money is that you don’t care about and then we’ll talk radio
Do I have your attention? Great.
Radio is certainly still the king maker for big artists with all of the resources (and right genre). Plenty of people still listen to terrestrial radio in their cars and are happily fed the same songs over and over.
So why am I warning against it? There are a few reasons:
The statistics are changing. The 18-34 market has been on a downward trend with radio and those are the people that matter. Why? They buy merch, music, and show tickets.
IT’S FREAKING EXPENSIVE. A “cheap” campaign hitting a niche format (like, Americana or Rock) can be $5,000-$8,000+ without mailing costs (that you will likely have to do yourself). Trying to go at pop radio?? Good luck. You’ll need at least $150,000. Yeah, I’m serious.
It’s INCREDIBLY competitive. Without getting into the whole debate over this, you need to know that only a few companies own the majority of the radio stations in this country. Guess who they are best friends with? Yep, major labels. There is virtually NO room on playlists for new acts -- especially new acts without major backing.
Radio doesn’t like to take risks anymore. There was a really beautiful time for radio when it facilitated amazing music discovery. That doesn’t happen anymore. With stations shutting down every day, they can’t afford to risk playing songs that won’t hold their audience.
Scams. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it 1,000 times until you believe me. There are SO many shady people in this business that take advantage of independent artists. Just watch out for anyone who seems a little salesy and initiates contact with you out of the blue.
Limited tangible results. So, a good scenario is that a couple of stations play you once a week for 5 weeks. What does that do for you? Very likely it won’t sell more tickets and it’ll gain you very few fans. While every fan counts, I don’t think every fan is worth $500+ (remember our talk about ROI??)
All that said - if you do have the money in your promo budget, there are a handful of indie promoters who can do a good job. However, they are in high demand and if you don’t have all of your ducks in a row, there is absolutely zero reason to contact them. Your row of ducks should look like this: tour planned, album release date set, distribution set up, promo plans laid out, publicist on board.
In some situations, if you have a runaway hit on Spotify, it might be worth looking into radio. However, in that situation, you need to ask -- do I even need radio at this point? And the aforementioned ducks... are they in a row?
So you still want to do it? Ok, here we go.
If you don’t have the money to spend, but still feel like you need to give it a shot, then here are a few things you can do on your own:
Start local and think indie. While it’s still incredibly competitive to get added to an independently owned station (each state only has a few), most have a locals only specialty show that could be a fit. You need to be making some noise on your own in the community before asking though -- make sure you’ve been playing gigs and have great support from actual people that live there. It’ll make it world’s easier to get them on your side (FYI - this is what we’ve been doing with TRUETT and now he has great local radio support that we can try to build off of)
Give college radio a shot. College is tough - it’s run by busy students and they aren’t always at the station (or in school). Plus, the contacts change every year. However, if you have a summer release it’s not a bad idea to send it to them (in snail mail because... I have no idea, it’s really dumb, but that’s how radio works). Aim for the end of summer so they get it right when they get back to school. Fall gets rather busy if you wait much longer! Then as I’ve said before, FOLLOW UP! Do not assume that just because you mailed them a CD that they got it or played it. Call or email. Don’t worry, they are used to it.
Target very specifically. Have a tour coming up? Target the local indie station in each market a few months before you head out. Get them the CD, email them, etc. Same as with the local suggestion, you should really have some good buzz going on before you do this. It’s hard for anyone to get on board if nothing else is happening. Indie on the Move already did a lot of the research for you! Look through their massive list here.
This takes a TON of leg work and will eat up a bunch of your day(s). But it’s much, much cheaper and you will know that the work is being done. Plus, when a station gets back to you and says they will spin your tune you will feel like the champion of the world.
REASON TO IGNORE THIS ADVICE: You have a buttload of money