By, Wendy Day from Rap Coalition (www.WendyDay.com)
I have been consulting independent urban record labels and artists for many years now, and the most misunderstood aspect of this industry is radio. So few understand how radio really works, and an even smaller amount of indie labels and artists understand how to get their records played at radio. Because of the lack of information and knowledge, radio promotion remains an area where one can lose a large amount of money very quickly. And most do.
I have a friend who paid $25,000 to a radio promoter on the recommendation of a popular radio host at a local station in Detroit. My friend did not receive one spin anywhere in the country. He was eventually told the single did not research well and that it was not a radio single. It was too late in the life of the single to hire anyone else. Could he have been told that prior to spending the $25,000? Provided it was true, yes. My guess is that he was taken for a ride and that the radio promoter (whose name I never even heard before), and the guy who had referred the scam “promoter,” made a quick come up on $25,000 for no work. There are two other folks I know who hired a radio promoter in Atlanta who is known for jerking people, and one lost $25,000 and the other lost $15,000. That promoter now works for a major label, so he’s fine financially, but these two labels are out a large portion of their budget for no spins whatsoever. Now they are looking to break bones.
Just last month, I got a call from a guy in the South who has invested in a project, but is totally clueless about the music industry. He name dropped some people in the industry who are excellent at what they do at radio, but not for people like him. When I tried to explain how it all worked, my answer did not fit his vision of how he wanted it to work and he disappeared quickly off the phone. I imagine he will soon be parted from even more of his money by folks who pick up on what he wants to hear, and tell it to him. What is it about this industry that makes folks act like idiots? As I pull up the BDS to see what spins his artist is getting, I see he still hasn’t figured it out. Sadly, the artist has placed his career in this guy’s hands. Who really loses? The artist.
There are quite a few legitimate radio promotion people and companies out there in urban music. I do not understand how the other bullshit names keep coming up over and over again, attached to horrific stories of fools and their money soon parted. Don’t people check references? Are they so new to the industry that they lack any resources to call and ask for opinions? Perhaps there are just that many con-artists out there to make a quick buck, I don’t know.
Radio is a format that reaches hundreds of thousands of people, all day and night. Most markets have at least one urban radio station, and some key markets even have two or three competing stations for listeners and ad dollars. Please understand that radio exists to sell commercials. It doesn’t exist to contribute positively to the culture, it doesn’t exist to inform the community, and it doesn’t exist to break new and innovative music. In fact, it’s anything but. A grip of research has been done by all of these huge wealthy radio conglomerates, and the research shows that when a listener hears a song where they can’t happily sing along, they change the station to hear a song where they CAN sing along. When the listeners change the channel, they miss commercials, and the station’s ad price drops because the amount of listeners drops. Simple economics.
Think about it logically for a minute. Rihanna’s “Diamonds.” No one has enough money to have paid for this song to play as much as it is currently playing. The song is a hit record. Radio plays it because kids request it, it researches well, and ad sales will go up. Downloads and ring tones are occurring by the millions.
So how do you get your song played on the radio?
This isn’t an easy answer, because the truth is just that many will never get radio play. If an artist does not make music that fits the format of the radio station or if the song is not of competitive commercial quality, their music won’t get played on most radio stations. Without a real budget, they won’t get radio play. Without a “hit record” today, they won’t get radio play. There are just too many other folks with bigger budgets, deeper pockets, and better connections to fill the few slots available at radio today. It’s more competitive than ever. The main thing is stop looking at radio for what you WANT it to be, and see it for what it really is–learn the game before stepping on the playing field!
Back in the day, rap music wasn’t accepted on commercial radio formats, so no one worried about getting on the radio. Word of mouth was key for spreading rap music, and for a few hours a week, college radio played some. It was easier to get onto college radio back then, than commercial radio today. Somehow, artists felt they were missing something if they could not get added to radio. This increased need for radio play has gotten out of hand today. Now a radio station might have only 4 or 5 available slots to fill with new songs, but there are 50 new records vying for those few spots–with budgets, with well-connected radio promoters pushing them, and with established artists and well-known producers. How will you compete?
The best way to attract radio attention, is NOT to head up to the station to drop off a CD of your newest song. You need to blow it up in the clubs and at the street level first. Back the record up with other promotion and marketing efforts. Let the radio DJs come looking for you because your song gets so hot on the streets and in the clubs. If you have a truly hot record, it will end up at radio. That is the definition of a hit record. David Banner’s Like a Pimp, Webbie’s Girl Gimme That, Webbie’s Bad Chick, Magic’s I Drank, I Smoke, Shawty Lo’s Dey Kno, Rocko’s Ima Do Me, BloodRaw’s Louie, Gorilla Zoe’s Hood Figga, Shop Boyz’ Party Like A Rockstar, YC and Future’s Racks On Racks, etc, all started out as songs that hit the clubs and streets hard (mostly because there were no budgets available for radio play initially). But the songs started to grow legs on their own, and radio embraced them. You can’t buy that kind of authenticity (and many have tried). But there is no way around the fact that if the radio powers-that-be do not think your song fits their format, sound, or necessary quality, you will NOT be getting any radio play. Period.
So, when you hear the more commercial artists getting spins, and you want the same push for your music, you may have to go back and rethink your sound, your production, and/or your style so you fit the format. Also, it’s important to have a good reason why you are going after radio play. Many stations are interested in knowing that you have a complete plan for your project rather than just wanting to hear your song on the radio. Learn the correct language and use it to communicate your intentions. Are you planning on dropping a CD with legitimate independent distribution? If so, what is your release date? When are you going for adds at radio? Are you backing up your promotional efforts with a complete campaign? Or are you trying to secure radio spins to capture the attention of bigger record labels? [In my opinion, this is a half-assed way to try to get a deal. If it was this easy, anyone with money could secure a deal for a $50,000 radio budget. In my 21 years of experience, I have yet to see someone become successful from getting a deal solely from radio spins–in fact, I have seen many, many, many fail. Because of this, I do not normally shop deals based on radio play. If you look at the SoundScan chart for any given year, not one of the top thirty or forty rap artists got their deal from getting radio play, yet most did get good deals from selling CDs regionally.]
Is it possible for a regional artist or indie label to gain acceptance at radio? Yes. But it all depends on the song, the timing, and the reasons behind it. And most importantly, it depends on your connections and whether or not you have done the proper research on radio. Every city or town with an urban radio station has people who understand how it works. Find the LEGITIMATE people who can inform you. Do research on the internet. Ask people who have done this SUCCESSFULLY before you. It is my hope that this article serves as a good starting point.