So, as an artist, you know that you are the best thing since Arctic Monkeys, Bright Eyes, Adele, what have you. Trick is: you need the world to know that, too. Cue radio. In all its myriad of nuanced genres and formats, the world is your oyster.
Understanding Radio Formats
Understanding the vast landscape of options at your fingertips may mean a quick brush up on the formats out there, both commercial (you know, the ones that play commercials) and non-commercial (publicly funded by supporters and underwriters, NPR style, often college-based).
Within commercial and non-commercial radio, there are the formats themselves. There’s Hot AC (considered as ‘Adult Top 40’) vs. AC (Adult Contemporary). There’s AAA (Adult Album Alternative, otherwise known as ‘Triple A’, think of it like grown up Alternative), Classic Rock (think Zeppelin and Black Sabbath) vs. Classic Hits (think Billy Joel and Elton John), and so on.
Think of your most favorite track, your likely single, and imagine what two songs you could hear seamlessly from other artists playing before and after that single. Then, imagine which local radio station you know plays those songs. There’s your first clue as to which format makes the most sense to pursue out of the gate.
Say you’ve landed at AAA because your opus sounds perfect between Bright Eyes and Death Cab. Now you know to blanket deliver to AAA stations both commercial and non-commercial. Remember, don’t count out Specialty Show opportunities, whereby radio stations showcase a particular type of music, or spotlight new music on the horizon outside the regularly rotated library of music. This will require extra research as part of searching for the names and phone numbers of Music Directors and Assistant Music Directors across the land.
Dialing and Smiling: Research, Relationships, and Respecting the Call-Times
Once you know who you’d like to target, you’ll want to follow up regularly with the programming decision makers. Music Directors work in concert with their Program Directors, making recommendations to them during weekly music meetings after hearing the countless records they receive each week. Music Directors often have scheduled “music call-times” set aside weekly to speak with those promoting new records.
And remember, in making your pitch, whether you’re selling widgets, or the next “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” it comes down to relationships. So, you’ll want to follow the golden rule of course—do unto others…—right down to the nitty gritty of being polite to the receptionist. Caitlin covering phones might just end up being Caitlin with call-times down the road.
Relationship building will also rely on reminding yourself to think like the buyer. Consider what they’re up against. And more often than not, what Music Directors are up against has to do with time and space. Not the whole continuum thing, but time to take calls, and space to fit in music. Ultimately, pitching radio is a math problem. Every station has a certain number of “library/catalog” songs in rotation, and a certain number of new songs, or “currents” with which your content will be competing.
Programming by Numbers
A typical AAA current library, for example, might encompass 22 songs distributed over heavy, medium, and light rotation, with the heaviest being heard on average 5-6 times daily. Now, for that song to really resonate and connect with listeners long-term, it will need to be heard hundreds of times, which at 35 spins a week means some time before that song might eventually graduate into the recurrent and ultimately gold category in the main library. And not every tadpole graduates upstream. But when one does, it creates a slot and opportunity for the next swimmer.
To ensure your content is in contention for the race, you’ll want to convey all the relevant points to your new pal, the Music Director. Such as: already getting airplay on other stations? Name the call letters. Currently touring and opening for another artist on their playlist? Grand. 150,000 YouTube subscribers? Dandy.
While pitching your content, remember to be mindful of the specific “stationality” of the particular call letters to which you’re reaching out. It’s worth for example, checking up on their current playlist before calling to get a sense of the balance of sounds currently airing. This is an important factor in which records are considered when a station might be particularly ballad heavy at a given time, or have 25% unknown artists in their medium rotation, for example. Be aware of the many plates programmers are spinning.
Make sure to also pay attention to local sales and streams. Many stations pride themselves on super-serving their hometown’s particular tastes, and sales and spins are a part of reflecting that. Along the way, you’ll be likely to bond about music in general. Programmers are of course music fans at heart, and any bonding along the way over such topics is all part of the relationship building during this marathon (not sprint!).
Now for the follow up email: like most folks, radio programmers are of course inundated by emails, so make the subject line your friend, and incorporate your gratitude, artist title, song title and bullet points where possible: “Thx for the chat re: The Bells “Rascal” now on KTJP!”
Ensure the body of the email includes bolded bullet points regarding airplay—already on-board stations’ call letters, tour dates, stream stats, Insta followers, links-a-plenty, what have you.
Following Up Using Social Media
Using social media to follow up can be an effective means of reaching out. Tag call letters on your posts without going overboard, encouraging your audience to follow the stations or to tune in surrounding live performances, etc.
Add A Personal Touch
A thank you postcard never leaves a bad impression.
Trust The Process
Remember, that first spin on that first station can lead to more spins, more call letters, and even “crossing over” into another format. Be persistent in your pursuit.