Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Getting your music played on college radio

So you made a record and you want college stations to play your music.  Here are some pointers. I'm no expert, but I've been in college radio for several years now as a DJ (catch me on Friday Nite Truck Stop on CKCU y'all) and I've got some pointers that, while not universally true for every station or DJ, is a good place to start.

I'm not going to tell you how to find radio stations, that's what Google is for. There are resources and lists, just go look it up.

On to the pointers...

1. Contact individual DJs one at a time, letting them know that you've sent them a CD and asking them to consider your stuff for airplay. You may not hear back, but don't construe that as ignoring you, the DJs have a lot of emails of this type to sift through and might not have a chance to reply. If you can't send multiple CDs for whatever reason, alert the DJ to the presence of your CD in their library, and offer to email them mp3s or their own copy if they really want one. You're probably safe to follow up once, about 2 weeks after your first email (asking if they've received it, had a chance to listen to it). This will remind them if they've been meaning to listen but haven't yet. After this you should probably stop bugging them with unsolicited emails, it'll start to get annoying.

2. Two weeks after you sent the CD, contact the music director during their tracking hours (they usually set aside a time of the week to field these calls, it's typically available on the website). When you call, you ask if they'd had a chance to enter your album into the library. If they have, ask them what kind of airplay it's getting. This step doesn't get you airplay, but lets you follow up and know the status of your recording. If it hasn't entered the library yet, call back every week until either it's in the library or whether they've decided not to include it. Either way, you'll know its fate.

Things to think about when submitting your album:
-Your chances of getting a burned CDR of demos into the charts are pretty slim, even if the music is top notch some people will assume it's amateur and not even give it a listen. It might not even get entered into the library, they usually only put official releases in there... if you just want transient airplay then submit the demo to DJs and let them know when they can expect a full-length album. Sometimes you can even just email mp3s if it's easier for everyone. But for getting on the charts, send in the real deal.

-Include a one-sheet (on 1 piece of paper, duh). Make your one-sheet as easy to read as possible, as your album is one of hundreds that the music director has to go through in one sitting. Include the following information:
  1. Brief bio + picture. Include something important sounding, like "Featuring former members of Hobo Knife Fight and Vagenda (as if people should know who these bands are) or "Juno-nominees blah blah blah". Don't lie though. Also include 1 or 2 quotes from someone in the media who's reviewed your album or live show. Highlight these separately from the main body of the bio.
  2. Description of the type of music (some music directors appreciate this as they now don't have to think about creative ways to say "yet another indie band"). Don't get too flowery here. Be succinct and clear. Nothing bothers me more than reading a description like "'s like nothing you've ever heard before" or "genre-bending sensibilities". No, just write Punk/Hip-hop/etc so they know what pile to throw it in.
  3. RIYL ("recommended if you like") - compare yourself to established indie artists that might catch the interest of DJs. This is another way for them to gauge what kind of music they're going to play. I know it's not rock and roll to compare yourself to others music, but you kinda just have to, really. Write it out like this: "RIYL Englebert Humerdinck, Celine Dion, Whitesnake."
  4. Track listing, including song durations. Highlight in bold which 3 or 4 songs are recommended for airplay. This gives a DJ a quick idea of what you think are the best songs on the album. Without that information, a DJ will usually play the first song on the album, because most indie bands will put their best one first, for that whole attention-grabbing thing (more on that below)
  5. If there's foul language or obscene material on some of your songs, you may want to consider indicating which songs are clean for airplay (especially if you're looking for airplay on US stations, where sometimes cussing is actually illegal)
  6. Consider doing two versions of your one-sheet (printed on either side of the same piece of paper): a short version (for the music director to quickly peruse) and a long version (for DJs that like your stuff and want to mention something about you or your album after they play your song). I haven't seen many people do this but I did on my last album (example here). I also included descriptions of the song feel and content, in order for anyone to quickly figure out what song they should play on the air. Admittedly the whole is very gimmicky but that was the point: I wanted my one-sheet to stand out from the rest
-It's a good idea to include a sticker on the front of the album that has a very abbreviated version of the one-sheet. Something like "Butthero's debut album, From The Devil's Armpit, is a triumphant display of accordian prowess and expertly played spoons. RIYL Stompin' Tom, Ernest Tubb. Tracks for airplay: 1,2,5"

-If you have some small merch, throw it in with the CD. Buttons, sticker, patches, that sort of thing. DJs like free goodies.

-This is something to consider before tracking your album: make sure the first 3 songs are among your strongest (you should probably ask your engineer or producer for input on this - they won't be biased). Music directors and DJs have to go through mountains of music, and generally need a quick sample of quality to determine yay or nay on whether to even listen to the rest of the album. If your first song is 2 minutes of experimental noise and static or a weird ballad leading into a strong second song, there's a good chance it'll get dismissed. Once you're mildly famous and people know your name, then you can experiment with album structure. But when you're unknown, just put the really good stuff up front.

-Another thing, for your mail-out:  If you're mailing CDs across the country, get bubble envelopes from the dollar store. They're generally lighter and obviously cheaper than the ones from Staples or Canada Post. When you mail them, try your damndest to keep the weight under 100 grams. That's the dividing line between cheap and expensive rates at Canada post. I've actually gone to the trouble of trimming the excess envelope (there's usually a couple of extra inches because they start off as rectangular) in order to more snugly fit the CD. This really helped keep it under 100 grams.

Incidentally, for another take on this exact same thing, by someone who took more time to write their post, click here

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