Last week, I wrote about where I see the state of our scene’s music. Today I’m going to cover one of the biggest components of our scene: Radio Promotion. So what’s the state of our radio promotional system? Well, I think it’s important to look at how the music scene as a whole has changed first. A lot of the frustration when it comes to radio play can be accredited to the evolution of the music scene in general, rather than Texas specifically, but there is certainly a scene-specific perspective you can take on it.
So is radio promotion still worth the money in our scene?
I think it definitely can be; but not in all scenarios. I think it’s much more complicated than “I need to get some exposure for my music, therefore I need to push a single to radio”. With less radio listeners from the younger generation, the value of getting your song on the radio has unfortunately diminished, but make no mistake, there can still be a lot of value in it; but only if it meets the right conditions.
Here’s the truth: not every song currently being pushed as a single, should be, not every radio promoter is a good one, not every band’s target demographic listens to the radio, not every band has a sound that’s good for radio, and not every band has the ability to sustain and capitalize on the momentum radio play brings them. If a band doesn’t have all of those pieces in place, then they probably have a high risk of not seeing much of an ROI. So if you’re considering going the radio route, make sure you can answer yes to all of these 5 questions:
1) Is your radio promoter a good one?
Just like with every other scene, there are some good ones, and there are some shitty ones. There are some who go out and really work their artists, setup great station tours, get the music in front of the right people, go beyond just sending emails, and help the artists grow in multiple ways… and then there are some who really don’t have any business taking people’s money for what they’re providing in exchange. So it’s up to you to do your homework. The majority of promoters cost $3,000-$5,000, so before spending a significant amount of money, ask around, ask to talk to artists they’ve worked with, look at their track record, make sure it’s somebody who believes in your music, etc…Look and see how many of their clients return, and how they have progressed in stature since working with that promoter. Do you trust them? Are they honest and straight-forward with you (this a BIG one)? And don’t make your decision based solely on price. There are good promoters at every price range. If one promoter is more or less expensive than the other, then make sure the cost discrepancy is justified.
But here’s the bottom line, if you want to get your song to radio on a decent scale, then you’ll absolutely need a promoter. While there are claims of payola and collusion, and I’m sure some of that goes on, the main reason a promoter can get your song played and you can’t is because of the relationship they’ve built with PD’s; and that’s really what you’re paying for: the strength of their connections.
Most PD’s would much rather talk to a promoter than the artist. They know them, they can be honest with them, and they know they’re likely pitching a radio-ready song. Going to radio by yourself is VERY tough and likely not worth the time and effort, but so is a shitty promoter; so either go to radio with a good one or don’t go at all.
2) Is the song a radio single?
15 years ago, there were a lot more radio listeners, less bands fighting for airtime, and radio promotion was a little less expensive; so back then, you had a much better chance of getting your money’s worth, even if the song wasn’t a good radio single (or even that good of a song). Now, you have to be much more meticulous before sending songs to radio. I personally believe that a song has to be REALLY good for it to be worth it these days, and if it’s not, you’re probably not going to see much of a return on it. So before you put a considerable chunk of change behind it, really ask yourself if the song is good enough to standout amongst the hundred other radio singles, get people to go catch your show, check out the rest of your catalogue, or at least follow you on social media… If the answer is no, save the money for studio time, work on some new music, and try it again. Putting out a mediocre or crappy product will do you no good, (in fact it can do the opposite) no matter how much money you put behind it.
3) Does my target audience listen to the radio?
The next thing you should try to figure out is your target demographic. In other words, what are the characteristics of the majority of the listeners you are going after: age range, geographical location, likes/dislikes, consumption habits, etc…Then ask yourself, “does a large portion of this consumer profile listen to the radio?” There are some consumer profiles who are avid radio listeners, and some who are not.
I think traditional country and traditional Texas country probably have a much broader consumer profile, and are therefore more likely to get more bang for their buck at radio. For bands who don’t fit in to those two categories, I think you should approach it more cautiously. Just my opinion.
4) Does your band have a radio sound?
Not every band has a sound that’s built for radio, and not necessarily because of their talent, but just because it doesn’t quite fit with a lot of station’s playlists. A lot bands with a unique or different sound, might run in to trouble getting stations to take a “risk” on their music or convincing them it’ll be received well in their market. So just because your band has a few killer tunes, it doesn’t always mean it is going to translate well to radio. If you’re having trouble getting picked up by stations because of your style, perhaps a more-narrowed social media campaign might be more advantageous.
5) Does your band have the ability to sustain and maintain any momentum radio play brings them?
So let’s say you have a killer radio single, and it’s going to create some buzz for you, do have the ability/desire to capitalize on that buzz?? Do you have the ability to tour? Are you willing to play some shows far away for little money to help grow your fanbase in an area that’s spinning you? Do you have a band you can put together if needed? Do you have social media, website, iTunes/Spotify, etc.. up-and-running? Are you maintaining and updating it? If all of these pieces aren’t in place, then you’re likely to not get the full benefit of any of the buzz you’ve created with your single.
But aren’t there other perks of having a song pushed to radio besides just getting it played?
Having a song being pushed to radio, can certainly help legitimize you if you’re a newer band. A single out there in circulation and being heard on various stations, being on the charts, and an increase in social media posts from your fan base due to the fresh content, can help your band stand out from the masses. Plus your willingness to put a couple thousand dollars behind one of your songs demonstrates that your approaching your music as a business and not just a hobby.
Also, just by being on the charts alone can give you some solid exposure. A lot of people use the charts as a way of keeping track of what’s out there, and are liable to check out the songs that interest them on their own. A lot of content is derived from the charts (countdowns, articles, etc..) as well, and there are plenty of bars and venues who create their playlists from it.
So what’s the deal with the charts anyway?
There’s obviously a lot of contention and questions concerning the charts here in our scene, so I think it’s important to put it in to this perspective: The charts should be an afterthought to the real reason you’re paying for radio promotion: to cause fan base growth.
The charts measure how much a song is getting spun, and while there can be a case made for some correlation between that and fan base growth, there’s no evidence to support that songs higher up the charts are causing significantly more fan base growth than songs lower on the charts. A successful radio single isn’t measured by the charts, its measured by the increase of people at your shows and album sales (and streams). If you have a Top 10, but haven’t seen your fan base grow, then what have you really accomplished?
Rather than focusing on your chart position, I would focus on putting out a good quality song and then how much your song is getting spun, where it is getting spun, what stations are spinning it and at what time of day. If a good chart position comes along with all of that, then great, but if doesn’t, yet your fan base is growing at a rate proportionate to the amount of money you’ve spent on radio promotion, then isn’t that all that matters?
People don’t come to your shows, or spread the word about you, because of your chart position, they do it because they like your music. Have you ever heard someone tell their friend “you have to check this song out because it’s #32 on the charts”?
I’m not saying that you should completely ignore your chart position because if it doesn’t correlate with your song’s progression of popularity then something fishy is going on, but you do need to shift from thinking about it as your goal, to thinking about it as a possible by-product of your goal.
Plus you should remember that not all spins are equal. A mid-day spin on The Ranch is worth a hundred times more than a spin in BFE at 3AM. So while they chart does track the quantity of spins, it unfortunately it does not track the quality of the spins. So honestly, I just don’t think the charts are worth stressing over. Sure there are some flaws worth shedding light on, and you have to sift through the BS a little bit, but at the end of the day it’s not the chart that’s making or breaking artists; at least not anymore.
What about paper spins and how much of a problem are they?
First, lets define what a paper spin is. A paper spin is when a reporting station writes down a spin for a song, without actually playing it; therefore they were only spun on paper, and not in actuality. The problem is, there’s really no way to detect what’s an actual spin and what’s a paper spin when that station reports and most paper spins come by way of monetary incentive in one way or the other. So here’s why it causes contention:
Song A – #30 – 800 spins (600 actual spins + 200 paper spins)
Song B – #40 – 601 spins (601 actual spins + 0 paper spins)
Song B is actually getting spun more, but is 10 spots lower than song A.
Sure it undermines the credibility of the chart, but in the end I don’t think it really matters. As I explained earlier, chart position isn’t what you should focus on; literally the only thing that matters is that your fan base is growing because of your radio play at a rate proportionate to the money you’ve spent. That comes from people hearing you, and that comes from an actual radio spin. Remember, people come to your shows because they like your music, not because of your song’s chart position; so your goal is to maximize the amount of people who can hear your stuff, which once again comes from an actual spin. Spending money to push your song up the chart a few more places, without it actually being played provides almost zero return. If you can push it to #1, possibly there’s a return, but it’s really hard to say how much; in almost every other scenario it’s an utter waste of money. People are no more likely to like your song if it’s #35 than if it’s #31.
There may be some merit to the idea of a song being more likely to be picked up by other stations the better that it’s doing on the chart, but a lot of those stations are also pretty good at seeing through the BS. So if it’s not happening legitimately, then it really doesn’t do you much good.
How much value does a #1 have?
Don’t get me wrong having a #1 is still a BIG deal! The majority of artists sending songs to radio, will never have one (or even come close); but ranking acts by the amount of #1’s they have, is probably not the best metric to use when trying to figure out their popularity these days. There are plenty of artists who have never had a #1 who are drawing more than artists who have had multiple ones. Soooo….I think the argument is pretty straight-forward here. A #1 can signify that you’ve sent a great song to radio, and you’ve likely got some good things going on in your career, but translating it to a whole lot more than that can be a challenge.
How much does radio play impact booking?
It certainly doesn’t have as much impact as artists think, but you’d be naive in thinking that it doesn’t have any impact at all. Talent buyers look at all the pieces, and radio play is a piece. Having radio play in the area of the venue means that some of their potential customers have probably heard the artist’s music, which is a decent selling point. And up until 10 years ago, there really wasn’t any quantifiable data available other than the radio charts, so it is certainly understandable why radio play used to be so impactful on booking. Then the social media explosion of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram came along, and all of sudden talent buyers had something else to use. Unfortunately, social media seems to be less and less reliable with each passing year as the main tool for booking decisions (but that’s for another article), but the good news is, there is something even better now: Spotify.
Spotify tells you the actual amount of times a song has been listened to, the artists’ monthly listeners, followers, their Top 5 markets, and more. In my opinion, this is clearly the best metric for making booking decisions, and determining an artist’s popularity, but it’s a little more nuanced than just looking at streams (also for another article).
So while the radio charts may have had a big impact on booking at one time, I don’t think they have near as much influence as social media metrics and soon to be Spotify metrics do now. So since social media and Spotify provide talent buyers with a much more accurate picture, isn’t it actually better now?
But let’s also make sure we put in to perspective how ludicrous the idea is that successful talent buyers would at any point in time, book artists based only on radio play. Talent buyers care about one thing: getting people in the door. If you can put 500+ people in a certain venue, but the talent buyer won’t book you because you don’t have radio play then A) that’s not a venue you want to play at anyway and B) that talent buyer and/or venue won’t last very long.
So is our radio promotional system broken?
I wouldn’t say it’s broken because I see it provide great results to artist on a regular basis, but it can certainly be hard to navigate. There’s not a lot of info out there that guides artists through all of the pitfalls, traps and shady promoters; hence creating a consistent flow of unsuspecting artists keeping them all afloat. It’s easy to see why some of the system has gotten a bad wrap (and rightfully so) but there’s also enough legitimate productively coming from it to warrant not throwing the baby out with the bath water!
Can you be successful without the radio?
With each passing moment the answer is increasingly yes. Like I’ve stated previously, there can still be a lot of value in radio play, but given that other pieces are in place (also for another article), you can possibly be successful going a different route if you want/need to. The opportunity for artists to do almost everything themselves, has never been greater, and it looks that trend will only continue.
So should you go the radio route?
If you are able to answer yes to the 5 questions I mentioned above, then by all-means, go for it! Then once you send a song to radio, try to keep track of your fan base growth, and have a system in place for determining if its worth it. If it is, then repeat the process, if it’s not, explore your other options, but don’t keep throwing money at something that isn’t providing you an equal return.