Broadcast & Satellite

Indie Artists Share How They Got Radio Airplay, What It Meant For Their Careers

Earbits-logoRandy Goss is a musician and Business Development Manager at Earbits.

When a band first forms, the passion is high. Ready to take the world by storm, they have discussed their plan a million times in the practice room: write good music, play some great shows, get on the radio, and get famous! The truth is, this happens very rarely, and if you aren't getting help from a label or promotion team, you have even less of a chance of breaking into a major FM radio market.

We recently conducted a survey, questioning 135 Earbits artists, and they had quite a few different approaches to getting their music played on the the radio. Some were successful, some were not. Compiled for your reading pleasure are some of the most entertaining and informative "Tales of Toil and Triumph" – the successes and failures of bands getting their music on the radio.

Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds

TRIUMPH: Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds – They are in the midst of a successful AAA radio campaign, with some help from their label. "…sometimes it's the good fortune of having a radio dj see a live show, or getting on a festival that is being promoted by a radio station. Sending out packages blindly never really made much inroads for us. We were fortunate enough to have good support from our record label, who hired a firm to go out to radio stations for us."

TOIL: Swarmius – While they get sporadic airplay on KPBS San Diego, they have yet to gain major radio exposure nationwide. "When we released our 2nd CD on iTunes, "SWARMIUS II — also normal" we were approached by quite a few outfits that prey on bands by purporting to get your music on FM and college radio for hefty fees.. some have elaborate marketing schedules — some are semi-legit – all expect the band to take all the risk and guarantee nothing in return…"

TOIL: Daniel Whittington – Daniel has gained local airplay in Austin, but has, so far, been unable to crack the major markets. "…we spent a lot of time pushing packages and promotional info to stations in CA. We even hired a radio consultant at one point that tried to help put together a promotion for us. It never gained any legs. In this round I've focused more on networking directly with the people running the shows in Austin that I want to be involved with. It's resulted in a few long interviews and some small radio play, but nothing significant. Part of it is that, even in Austin, most of the local based radio stations are now owned by much larger groups whose focus is primarily on gaining more listeners… Luckily there are still killer DJ's and radio shows that are going out of their way to find and foster locals. But in a scene like Austin, there's shortage of kickass local artists. Breaking through that pack is still a serious proposition."

TRIUMPH: K. Sparks – In rotation on New York's Hot 97. "I provided my latest CD (Diagnosis: Success) to someone that gave it to Peter Rosenberg at Hot 97, and as a result of that he showed support and continues to play my music. As far as why it worked, it all boils down to two things, relationships and having good music. You need the relationships in order to open the door, and after that you need good music to stay in the door. I don't think any artist can do one without the other."

TOIL: Ukulele Jim – So far, he has only been played on internet radio. "I've tried submitting my music to a few college stations, but the problem with being independent and having no representation is that it's hard to get my foot in the door. Many stations ignore unsolicited submissions or don't have an easy submission process."

TRIUMPH: FREEX – They have been played on roughly 50 stations, ranging from internet to mainstream FM. "Blood, sweet, & tears and a LOT of hard work are the only way to make anything happen with music nowadays. We built up a spreadsheet database of college radio stations that we built through internet research and put in hours & hours & hours calling & cultivating our database."

TOIL: FireBug – Their experience with a promoter didn't pan out they way they thought it would. "We tried the college radio 'push' w a promoter that convinced us it was the way to go. Of course most bands and artists know that to compete w major label/ major indie label artists have a very high wall to climb… We've been pretty fortunate to have endured the many hurdles, which included hiring a radio promoter, in retrospect we would not have chosen that route although we did well charting in many college markets but always remained just below the radar."

TRIUMPH: Ken Berman – Ken has received FM radio airplay in both the United States and France. "If I was familiar with the radio station or any of the disc jockeys, I would send my material out and include a personal note about what programs I listened to on the station, and what I liked about those programs. This seemed to generate the best response, especially when I did my research and knew what I was talking about! When I sent my promo materials out cold to stations, my success rate was much lower…"

TOIL: Wooster – Their attempts to Woo(ster) Live 105 went unrewarded. "We've tried a bit to break into the greater Bay Area radio "scene" – we've especially tried (and failed) to get noticed by Live 105. We've sent our CD, emailed, taken surveys, tried contests – nothing… We got on KMUD just by checking out the station online, noting which shows looked like they would play/like our music and then cold calling the station to pitch ourselves…"

TRIUMPH: Fly Radio – They prove that thinking out of the box can sometimes lead to success! "When we were in high school we drove to Sacramento, sat outside KWOD 106.5, called in on the request line and told them we wanted to give them our CD and we were outside and amazingly enough they thought it was pretty rock and roll that we did that that they brought us in played two songs and interviewed us."

So, before you rush out and pay that promoter three months salary to make you famous, take some advice from these established artists. Start locally, and gain fans! Don't be afraid of doing the leg-work yourself – you'd be surprised at the doors a little research and persistence can open. And, when all else fails, play a live set outside the station. Hey, it worked for Kurtis Parks and the Anthem.

If you would like to be considered for Earbits Radio, submit music here.

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  1. Triumph:Payola.
    I found hiring a college radio promoter to be beneficial to an overall promo campaign, but only supplementary to all the other pieces that need to be in place (ads, interviews, PR, reviews, P&P, end-caps….etc).

  2. the college radio wouldn’t be any more “supplementary” than the PR or the other things you mentioned. it all works together.

  3. Not a bad article, though the comments by Swarmius are inaccurate and immature. Sounds like a band that couldn’t get their stuff together to hire the right person and then decided to blame them for it. College radio is by far the cheapest format to promote a new release to, fyi. And btw, you DO take all the risk because it’s your record! If you want someone to take that risk with you then you need to be on a record label. That’s music biz 101.
    The advice to start locally and expand is so-so. One problem is that some bands are playing music that is going to be far more popular outside of their region in the first place. It can be difficult to get an Americana artist traction on radio in the Northeast, for instance, but if you promote the record in the midwest and the south it’s a different story. Also, if you’re interested in charting you need to promote to all of the stations at once. My two cents.

  4. I’m curious what is the effect of, let’s say, charting in the top 5 on CMJ in rock or hip hop on sales, website visits, facebook likes or any other metrics. Anyone has experience?

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