Beginner's Guide to Getting Your Music on the Radio
By Tim Rosini and Nancy Woo
Okay, so you're in a band. You're in a really good band. You play some really rocking (or funky, or heartfelt) music, you've been together a little while, played a few shows, done a few recordings, and now you're ready to start letting the world hear what you've got. You've even picked a cool name and created some great cover art, and you're probably different, unique, fun, weird or just downright all-around good, whatever style you may be.
So what do you do now?
On top of playing more shows, promoting your website or otherwise honing your musicianship, you might try to get some airplay on any of your favorite radio stations. For some bands, being played on mainstream radio is the epitome of selling out, but Top 40 stations aren't the only ones out there, not in the least. Most cities have some great college or member-supported independent radio stations that just love to play fresh, new up-and-coming tunes, perhaps even by the likes of you.
Independent radio stations like these are run by people looking for the new, the different, the thoughtful and the undiscovered. But before you get too excited, there are a few things you should know before spamming every college radio station you can find. Just like with other corners of the music industry, there are certain ways of doing things that may be better than others. But don't take our word for it - we spoke to someone who knows the radio business inside and out.
Online Rock had the chance to pick the brain of Tyler Wardell, Program Director for one of the country's best and most eclectic independent college radio stations, UC Santa Cruz's KZSC-FM. Sharing advice gathered from years of experience as a disc jockey, he lets you in on things you may not have considered, like how bad cover art or long-winded introductions can turn a DJ off, or how making a personal introduction can actually mean a lot.
So if you're considering sending your music out to various radio stations with the hopes of getting airplay, read on for some great tips by a disc jockey who sees submissions from up-and-coming bands all the time.
1: How do you as a radio DJ find new bands? Or how do you go about finding undiscovered bands to play on the radio?
I go to local shows. I talk to musicians. I buy their music or ask them to donate a tape/CD/LP/laserdisc/7" to the station. Many DJs at the station learn about artists on blogs. I should do that more. Years back I regularly read Pitchfork and Tiny Mix Tapes. Now that I'm Program Director, though, my inbox is inundated by artists on all points along the "undiscovered"<----->"getting laid and paid" spectrum who want me to listen to their music and play it on the radio. The best e-mails are short, informative about the music and artist (but short!), and have a couple .mp3 URLs or .mp3's attached directly to the e-mail. EPKs (electronic press kit) are pretty useless; most of the time they are irritatingly designed, or they take forever for my browser to load. If I like an artist, I ask them to send us physical copies of CDs, because at KZSC we don't do anything with digital-only submissions.
2: What do you look for in bands when choosing something new to play on the radio?
I'm looking for a sound that 1) would not be played on the commercial end of the dial and 2) is a worthwhile addition to our library (i.e. does not sound like artist A, only artist A does it better). We take into consideration that independent artists don't have access to high quality recording equipment. Production quality rarely factors in to our passing on an album. The albums we keep and play are ones that creep us out, make us dance, remind us of long drives, or tap into that rage we feel every time we check the clock at work and it still isn't 5 o'clock yet. As a lover of experimental music, my personal inclinations are towards artists who use instruments in unfamiliar ways and build songs as if they were tree forts. Thoughtful, tasteful album art is crucial! Bad album art distracts us from taking the artist seriously. What is bad album art? Poorly lit family photos with dogs, glamour shots from the mall, and low-res scans of banal watercolor landscapes.
3: Do you have any tips for new or undiscovered bands just starting out who hope to gain some type of radio play?
Communicate efficiently. Don't overload DJs and stations with information. All we need is a few sentences of band bio, and a few killer verbs and adjectives describing the music. Our station doesn't care about airplay at other stations. We value an artist's sincerity and intent.
There are ways to make it really easy for DJs to get your stuff on the air. At KZSC, the submissions that are fast-tracked to airplay have these common traits: physical media (as noted in my response to 1); any FCC violations listed (7 deadly words); they come in a standard 1/4" thick jewel case (this is particular to our library. I realize it's an added cost for a band, but every CD that gets sent in a sleeve has to be built up into a jewel case before it will ever get played).
4: Any personal experience or helpful comments for bands starting out? Or what to do when they have music and want to start the process of getting discovered?
If a station passes on your music, practice more, record more, play shows, and keep submitting to that station!
Play shows, and invite DJs to your shows. Record interviews with them! If you can swing it put them on the guest list. Radio DJs spend a lot of money on shows and music as it is, and often a cover charge will prevent me from attending a show that I'm 'iffy' about.
Target your submissions. Most college stations post their playlists online. Our shows are organized on our website by genre (http://kzsc.org/schedule/) and you can find archived playlists going way back. Find the shows you want to be on and contact those DJs directly. You may have to go through a music director, but establishing a personal connection with the DJ goes a long way towards getting airplay. One direct e-mail to a DJ is so much more effective than sending a blast to 100 music directors.
Thank you Tyler Wardell for sharing such brilliant advice with us. We hope it will help bands looking to take their music to the next step; when in doubt, just play. Do what you love and came together as a band. Keep creating and sending your music out there for people to listen to. It's not about image, as so many artists and corporations have made it seem. It's about the music, and good music will always get listened to.
Above is the schedule for KZSC, so if you want good programs and great music, check them out. Good luck to all bands out there grinding their way through the business and getting their creativity recognized.