Music Blogs

16 reasons the radio isn't playing your song

  • By AndyVale
  • 17 February 2014

This is a modified and updated version of an article I recently wrote for eagle3, a radio station where I work a lot on local music. I've also added some points that are more relevant to the work I've done on BBC Radio 1 specialist shows, where I sift through a great number of submissions to pick out what to highlight for the DJs.

A few months back we looked at 16 tips to help you get played on the radio, it got a lot of positive feedback and we figured it would be worth expanding on. So this week we'll be looking at failure.

Failure is important. It's often the best teacher we could ask for, but a lot of people don't listen to it or make any real effort to understand it. If you've tried and failed to get your music on the radio and want to blame it on some industry-wide conspiracy rather than yourself then take your ire elsewhere. If some of these feel a bit raw, then good! There's no point in sugar-coating this or you'll waste your time doing the same thing in the future.

Most music sent to radio stations doesn't get played. To give you the best possible chance of getting your music onto the airwaves we've highlighted sixteen factors that regularly come into play when choosing not to play someone's music. Factors is an important distinction to make, most of these aren't the only reason you won't get played but they can all contribute. We're human, first impressions, gut feelings, and past experiences will all affect our decisions.

Here are some of the most common things that help a song not get played on the radio:

1. We didn't like it that much

This is the primary one. You can ace all the other factors, but if you don't pass this one then it counts for bupkus. Quality is subjective but we have to make a judgement call, if we don't enjoy listening to it then why would we assume our listeners would? Generally, whoever is putting together the playlist has a similar taste or understanding to their audience. If they can't see your music connecting with them then it's their job not to play you. There's no way of putting this nicely...

...better luck next time!

On the flip side, if your music absolutely smashes this area then we're often willing to overlook most of the other points.

2. It doesn't fit the station

A rock station will not play your 46 minute minimalist funk experimentation, even if George Clinton himself has blessed it. A dirty bass dance show will not play your commercial Cascada knock-off no matter how well it goes down in your local Yates. A "hit" radio station will not play a whole lot of your song if it isn't a hit. A bit of research on what the show or station is playing should let you know if you're wasting your time or not.

3. You called them the wrong name

Ouch. This one alone doesn't mean we definitely will not play you, but we're just as quick to have first impressions as any other Joe. If you get our name wrong, or even refer to us as a totally different station, then you have probably hurt our delicate feelings and that's not a good thing for you.

4. Your bio was really long and boring

Again, this one isn't a deal breaker but it will probably subconsciously affect our decision. If we get bored wafting through seven paragraphs of prose - or just skip over it entirely because life is short - then we're not off to an ideal start. We rarely need more than a paragraph.

5. You had no bio... or any other details

Sometimes it goes too far the other way and we're pretty much just sent a link or a file. Come on, at least look like you're trying! Most spam filters will pick these up.

6. Whatever you sent us didn't look impressive

This is super shallow, but there's no point lying to you. If we go to your page and half of it is broken, while the other half looks like a frustrated teenager's MySpace from 2005 then that's another way to make a bad impression. Stations often want to champion organised, active, and professional (at least in attitude) musicians, ones who can convince them they could be going somewhere. If it doesn't look like you're taking your music seriously, why should we? Why should we waste time and money on someone who couldn't be bothered to spend an evening making sure their website works?

7. The production/recording is poor

For any half-decent radio station audio quality is important. If it sounds like it was recorded underwater, or with a phone, then we're probably not interested. Getting your music recorded and mastered properly makes a huge difference.

8. You didn't specify who it was for

People often send CDs, tweets, or emails to a generic station address. Some even text the studio. There's a chance it will get passed along to the right person, but assume that it probably won't. Let's use a Soccerball analogy, randomly sending a letter or tweet to the station is like trying to nutmeg the keeper from 50 yards. Sending it directly to the right person is like being offered a half-volley from the edge of the box.

Some stations make it easy for you to send your music to the right people. At eagle3 we have this handy form, which gets sent to the person creating their weekly local showcase, the person booking their live sessions, and the person who creates the station's playlist. Some stations have slightly more broad upload options, such as BBC Introducing's one or Amazing Radio's AmazingTunes. If you're unsure, ring up the station and ask who would be best to contact.

9. You spammed the station on Twitter

I know I just mentioned Twitter, but it deserves its own category. I can't speak for everyone, but I have never EVER played someone because they tweeted me out of the blue. General consensus amongst people I've spoken to in the past is similar. It's just bush league, especially when I see that you're tweeting every other fella with 'radio' in their Twitter bio. A lot of newer acts still try their luck via this method. I say this with firm niceness, stop it. It's really annoying and nobody likes receiving tweets like this:

Clear the A-List! I've found a new hit...

10. We can't find any of your music

If I can't find where to hear your music within 15 seconds of clicking on a link you've provided then I'm probably going to get bored and do something else. Assume we have a short attention span.

11. You sent a giant unsolicited file

I usually try and listen to whatever is sent, but on a slow Internet day my patience is really tested by people who decide to chuck over a 100mb zip file rather than sending me a streaming link of one form or another. Sometimes I just delete the email.

Again, I can't speak for everyone, but general consensus from people I've spoken to is that they'd much rather stream your track before downloading it. Especially if they don't already know you or your work. It's very easy to set up private Soundcloud or YouTube links.

12. There's no plan for you

We want to back winners, something with a bit of buzz. We want to put the most oomph behind the acts who look like a push would benefit them. We're not that interested in something you released 18 months ago unless it was a level above exceptional. We want to be part of a current plan such as a tour, an album launch, or something similar. There's a clearly defined goal, and we know you'll be active.

If you want them to play your single from a year ago then it might get the odd spot-play, but it probably won't get much of a look in for the more beneficial spots.

13. You didn't answer your email

This year I have had at least seven occasions where I have contacted upcoming acts about airplay via their publicly listed email address but they haven't replied. What's worse is that a few of them were the ones who made the first contact! For some others there are emails sitting in their inbox offering them a very real chance of national radio play that they haven't responded to.

Check your music email at least once a week, and make sure your manager is doing so too.

14. Your song had a bunch of swear words in

Yes, people still do this. We can edit this if we want, but if you're sending us a song then you should be the one doing the donkey work of making a radio-friendly version.

15. You're not connected to the station locally

A comment on the previous article from an industry professional was "Don't send emails to a local station at the other end of the country stating you 'are a big fan of the station' and 'listen to it all the time'. You don't."

A lot of stations have a portion of their output for locally based artists, if you live in an area where this is available it's a great opportunity that you should be looking to take advantage of. At eagle3 our local area covers Surrey, SW London, and the general surrounding areas. Most of our local music content focusses upon artists who are from those areas, or currently reside there. But we still get acts from all over the country, and even the planet, who contact us (usually via our Local Showcase page) asking for airplay. It ain't gonna happen, 10 seconds of research would've told them that.

16. They haven't played it... yet

We don't play everything the week we get sent it. Sometimes we want to save it for a particular week, some weeks are a lot more feature/interview heavy, other times we just haven't got around to listening yet. Tracks can sit in our "to play at some point" folder for a while before getting played. Keep ya head up.

If you've tried to get your music on the radio and failed, don't beat yourself up over it. It's not necessarily the be-all and end-all that it once was. Gangnam Style was massive before any radio stations got a hold of it... I don't know if that makes you feel any better.

Let's finish on a positive note. For eagle3 I'm going to be writing a piece soon looking at why specific new songs got put on air. They'll be the local tracks that we put on, some of which make the playlist, so it should hopefully be useful to other upcoming acts to see what IS working. If there's enough interest, I'll do similar and tweak that article for Supajam too. Sound cool? 

Andy is a Supajam writer who has had music-based roles at numerous Commerical, BBC and Student radio stations over the last 6 years. He is also a music promoter in the South-East of the UK. He has a website where he interviews musicians with only one question, and he is currently typing in third-person. You can tweet abuse at him if you fancy letting off some steam.