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Music Blogs

16 tips to help get your music played on the radio

  • By AndyVale
  • 7 November 2013

*This was selected as one of Supajam's best bits of 2013, either by being the most read, specially chosen by our staff, or nominated by our readers. Click here to see more of our highlights from 2013.*

This is an update of a blog that I wrote for MusicBud.co.uk two years ago. Since then I've taken on more radio work, including a weekly local music show, recording live sessions for a commercial station, and being part of the music team for a late-night BBC Radio 1 show.

Despite the impervious rise of social/new media in the last decade, radio is still an incredibly powerful tool for an artist to use. According to the latest RAJAR figures, 90% of the UK tune into the radio every week. Experienced music industry professional Mark Mulligan stated recently that on a global scale radio "remains the number one music discovery source – still far ahead of YouTube". Listenership across newer formats (such as DAB, Internet and mobile) has also been rising, and it's still an important medium for any artist that is serious about getting their music heard by a wider audience.

But many artists do not know how to get their music onto radio without a major label funding it all for them. So here are a few tips that should be able to help out even those with modest resources.

Work in radio? Had your music played? Add your tips in the comment section below.

I'm aiming this mostly at new/upcoming acts, because I work with them the most. If you happen to be Muse and you've stumbled across this blog looking for help then there won't be much here for you.

Some of this may seem simple but every day there are a lot of people getting this stuff wrong, don't be one of them:

1. Make sure your recording is of a decent quality

Let's start with a basic one. No decent radio station is going to play something you recorded on your phone. It makes them, and you, sound totally bush league. Major artists often spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on recording, mastering and production to make their songs sound as crisp, contemporary, and speaker splitting as possible. You don’t need to spend anywhere near that much to get on air, but decent studio/mastering time is well worth the money. If you're smart, you can often get nearby music tech or sound recording students to do it for free as part of their course. 

2. Send your music to the right shows and stations

All successful radio stations have a target audience that they constantly aim for, if you're probably not what that audience is interested in then you're wasting everyone's time. Also, some station's output varies on the time of day. Some have a more mainstream playlist during the day but diversify at night or at weekends, maybe you would fit in here? A lot of stations also have specific slots for local/new artists that you may be able to get involved with. Look on their website, call them up, do some research.

3. Know who to send your music to

The reason a lot of music that gets sent to stations doesn't get played - or even heard - is because it hasn't been sent to the right person. Radio stations are not short of music to listen to, so if yours has been sent to a generic station email/address then it will probably get deleted or thrown out. If you can't be bothered to find out who to send it to then why should they take the time to listen to it? Who you need to send it to varies depending on the show or station, it's often a Head of Music or the show's Producer. On larger stations it is rarely the presenter that picks the music. If in doubt, call up reception and just ask.

4. Get people's names right

People shouldn't need telling this, but they do. It sounds silly, but I know for a fact I am not the only person in radio to play CD Frisbee after having my name spelt wrong.

5. Make a bit of effort with what you're sending

Personally, I usually prefer a digital recording rather than more CDs to add to assorted piles around my house and work spaces. Although I like them if they're pretty. But plenty do still accept CDs, and this blog gives you far more detailed help than I could.

However if you're also sending an email (and you definitely should) then give a little bit of thought to what you're writing. All you need is a brief but polite intro about what you'd like, an interesting paragraph about the band (no more, please... no more) and a final sentence asking for feedback if possible and thanking them for their time. Have a rough draft to use, but always try and personalize it slightly for the station. Tell them how you enjoy their local music feature, how you went to a gig they recommended, or even how it would make your Mother so proud to hear you on the station as she has been a listener ever since she moved to the area. Did I mention getting the name right?

6. Have a reason for sending your music

It can really help if the station playing your song is part of some bigger plan, they feel involved then. Do you have a big gig in the station's area coming up? Been snapped up for a good festival? Perhaps you have a single that they could give the first airplay to? These are all good hooks for them, they give the play a bit of context. It's not just "here's some band that sound okay". It makes it look like you're offering the station (and their listeners) the chance to be part of something exciting.

7. Be active when you do get played

Whenever I'm doing my shows I tag some of the acts I'm playing in a tweet. This gives the artist the opportunity to Retweet the post, reply to it, and tell all of their fans that I'm playing them. You want my listeners to be your fans, I want your fans to be my listeners. It's a symbiotic relationship that both parties can benefit from. If a radio station sees a load of people texting/tweeting/Facebooking them when they play you then they are more likely to play you again. So if you know you're getting some airplay then make sure your fans get involved!

8. DO NOT SPAM EVERYONE IN RADIO ON TWITTER!

Why some people think this works is beyond me. But I can guarantee you that right now there are a bunch of musicians copy-pasting a bland "hey, check out my music" tweet to every DJ/Blogger/Presenter/Website they can think of. I do not know a single person who has played someone's song on the radio as a result of this. It's rude, it's lazy, it's annoying, and it's very easy to see you doing it on your page. It's not something anyone wants to be associated with.

9. Have at least one song that works well acoustically

A lot of stations occasionally offer artists the chance to do live sessions. Unfortunately, they don't always have tons of equipment and may have to improvise a little. You may well have to work with just two microphones hunched up in a little studio touching knees with the DJ. If you have a song or two that can be performed effectively with just a guitar or two then this will help you a great deal should these opportunities come along. However, if it definitely isn't going to work then don't be shy about trying to get them to just play a CD of yours instead.

10. Get on BBC Introducing

I honestly don't know why any artist wouldn't put their music onto here. It's free, it's simple, and the possible benefits are huge. They've set up an excellent system that means a good enough song will get passed along all the way up to the top of the BBC Radio network. I've known people who have uploaded stuff onto here that has led to them getting major national airplay, good festival slots, record deals and even a hot wife! On a smaller scale, some airplay on a BBC Local station could give you good exposure in the area plus a good quote to put on your promotional material.

The first time I published this piece I had three people tell me that they received sessions and/or airplay on their local BBC Introducing shows after giving this a go. If you're good, it does work!

11. Try keep in contact with people

This is a constantly changing industry, use that to your advantage. If a student radio DJ was keen on you then try keep in contact with them. Then when they've moved up to a bigger station they may be able to put in a good word for you. Keep sweet with all of your contacts, you never know who you might need a kidney off...

12. Reach out beyond the major brands

When it comes to big radio stations, even getting spot plays late at night can be very tricky for an upcoming artists and making the daytime playlist can be nigh-on impossible until you're more established. But to help build up a buzz and spread your name there are hundreds of Community, Student, Internet and Hospital radio stations that you could be getting airplay on. They often have much looser boundaries on what they can play and many of their presenters don't have to work within the stricter boundaries of a larger station.

A single play on one of these smaller stations is not going to give you massive exposure, but if you're on a lot of little radars then you can build up a larger fanbase from that. It's also worth remembering that a lot of people in Community Radio came from bigger stations and still have contacts there, while plenty of people in student radio will be working in bigger stations in a few years time. Here are some lists of most of the Community, Hospital and Student radio stations in the UK. There are loads, so pick out ones from areas you want to target and go for them first.

13. Don't be an idiot

Radio station hasn't played your song or answered your emails? Perhaps they pronounced your deliberately weird band name slightly wrong. Simply make your dissatisfaction as loud, frequent, and public as possible. This will make people sit up and take notice of you. You'll be the act on everyone's lips, your music will become hot property and everyone will be desperate to work with you.

Oh wait, no it won't. You'll look like a total muppet whose professionalism is inversely proportional to their substantially large petty bitterness. Quietly move on.

14. Consider a Plugging Agency

If all of this looks a bit hard then you could always hire a plugging agency to do a lot of this work for you. In a way this whole article is here for you so that you can bypass these agencies, but I cannot deny that they can do a good job. They can cost a lot of money, but it may be worth it if you really think that what you've got is good enough to take the world by storm. The pluggers do this for a living and should know precisely who to send your music to. They will hopefully chase it up for you and get feedback as well.

After a while a lot of our pluggers knew which presenters would play certain types of music on my stations. They had got onto first name terms and built a connection that you might not have time to make if you're doing it all yourself. It's not a luxury that everyone can afford, but if you're really serious and you've saved up some cash then a good plugging agency could be worth every penny.

15. Sign Up to PRS

I'm still shocked at how many upcoming artists who moan about struggling for cash haven't taken the time to sort this out yet. Not all, but a lot of radio play means you can get a cheeky little bit of money in your back pocket. More detailed information can be found here, but in short it helps you get paid for getting played.

Lastly, and most importantly

16. Have Good Songs!

You're on your own there ;-)

*UPDATE* 17. BONUS ROUND Have a stream link

Had to add this one in, was doing some radio work this morning and found myself groaning every time someone had sent me a track that I had to download in order to hear. Why couldn't they set up a streaming link (private if necessary) for me to immediately listen to with one click, without clogging my hard drive?

Your first hurdle is getting your music into people's ears, so making this as easy as possible for the receiver is in your best interests. They're far more likely to quickly check out a Soundcloud/YouTube/whatever link than to download your unsolicited 65mb electronic press kit, that also needs unzipping. This doesn't just apply to radio, so it's good advice to generally take on board. 

I can't promise that any of these tips will definitely get you radio play, but it will definitely improve your chances. If you've had your music played on the radio or you are in radio and have other tips to offer then please leave a comment below. I'm sure I've left something out.

Best of luck!

Got any tips you want to add or anecdotes you want to tell? Pop them in the comments box below.

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.

 

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