4 Steps to Getting Your Single Played on the Radio

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Remember when terrestrial radio was the holy grail of artist placement? When a spin on the right station could get you in front of an entirely new set of fans, bring your music to the attention of industry heavyweights, and open up a new world of opportunities? I have good news for you — it still can.

With Spotify being all that it is and providing what it does in terms of algorithmic artist exposure, it’s only natural that so many artists are vying for a select few coveted playlist spots. So it can be easy to forget that there’s still an entire world of radio stations out there, with DJs just waiting to discover and share their favorite new artists, and endless time slots to fill.

From college radio to local indie stations, there are tons of options for the growth-minded artist to appear nationally on the radio. If you’re new to this and want to learn more, read on.

1. First, be prepared with your marketing materials.

This should probably be “step zero,” but in my experience working with artists (of all levels) it’s too often overlooked to ignore. Before you do anything else, you want to make sure that you’re prepared with up-to-date materials so that, first, station managers don’t promote incorrect information, and second, you look that much more professional. Those may include:

  • An updated bio and artist photos
  • An updated website and social channels
  • A promotional copy of your album or single (CDs are usually preferred, but if sending digital, make sure you’ve got a downloadable press copy and a private “listening copy” to stream)
  • A one-sheet with information about your recent release
  • An updated electronic press kit
  • Anything else your chosen stations might require

For your own sanity, I’d also suggest putting together a spreadsheet to keep track of the outreach you’ve done and will be doing (who you contacted and when, what kind of response you received, any other notes), as well as a spreadsheet that includes stations in other cities or countries. That way when you’re preparing for your next tour, you’ll be able to turn to your list and expand your reach, perhaps getting back in touch with those stations to do an interview or just to let them know you’re coming through town and ask them to help spread the word.

2. Find your fit.

You’ll hear this a lot with music marketing. Rather than sending to every station in every city on the planet, it serves you better to be more targeted in your approach. In other words, don’t just copy and paste the same email to 500 people (or worse, CC them all!) and hope that lands you a placement. And when it comes to mailing out promo packages, you probably don’t have the budget for that anyway.

Instead, take the time to really learn what you can about the radio stations on your list, as well as the specific hosts you have in mind, and pitch them on a personal level. Here are some common things to look out for:

  • Do they play independent artists?
  • Do they play your genre or similar artists? Can you detect any favorites?
  • Regarding staff, who are the people in-house that make these decisions? The hosts themselves or station management?
  • Do they sponsor events, conduct on-air interviews or record live sets?
  • Last, perhaps most importantly: Have they played your band before?!

You’re going to have to do some research, and the more you know about the host’s personal preferences and recent plays, the more prepared you’ll be. Yet another reason to keep all of this information in a custom spreadsheet!

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3. Make a personal connection.

We’re always advocating for artists to exercise those networking skills and build relationships with those around them at every opportunity. When it comes to getting your music on local radio, this continues to ring true.

For short-term relationships like sending promos to a radio station in another city, this can be as simple as reaching out ahead of time to make a personal connection with the curators there, asking a couple questions in advance of sending them your music, or showing your enthusiasm for their programming decisions and operational ethos.

For potentially longer-term relationships like with a radio station in your city,  you may want to go the extra mile. Visit the station, share a post about them on your socials, attend an event and make an annual donation to the station. These are just some ideas as to how you can make your personal and artistic presence felt and begin to create what will hopefully become a mutually-beneficial media partnership.

No matter what, though, try to always put a personal touch on your communications so you stand out from the crowd.

4. Give ’em what they want.

As mentioned earlier, if a station requires a certain form of communication or a certain set of materials, you’ll obviously want to follow suit. Ignoring their needs is not the right way to make a first impression.

If that level of specificity is not stated, it’s on you to make sure that everything you want them to see and hear is in there. For digital, make it all downloadable and easy to find in the same zip file, and limit the heaviness of any attachments (or send none at all if possible). My advice is also to not send too much stuff. You don’t want them having to take extra time out of their day to accommodate a new artist, so keep it simple and straightforward.

On that note, though, if you’re sending something physical, consider adding a little something extra, as Flypaper author D. Grant Smith describes in this article — a pin, a sticker, and a personal note that refreshes their memory as to who you are and how you’re connected. These things can actually go a long way when tastefully done.

Good luck out there on the airwaves!

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