Airplay 101 - Getting Your Own In-House Promoter Staff
New for 2015: All serious entertainment companies have their own in-house staff: record labels have their own promoters; book publishers have their own publicists; agencies have their own agents, etc. Most of you people reading this, however, are individuals posing as labels and have no staff, and thus need to hire out for everything. Well of course you can hire out, which is how everyone starts, but at some point and under certain conditions, it will make more sense to hire your very own first staff member. And unless you already have so many sales (income) coming in that you cannot get product out the door fast enough, then your first staff should be: a promoter! Don't make the mistake of thinking you need to hire a "better" music producer or a "more solid" studio engineer; these people won't make a single additional sale for you. A promoter will. And there has never been a "real" label that had no promoters.
For an artist/label, and for the purpose of this article, the main purpose of your new staff member will be to get in one-to-one communication with radio stations that have at least 300 current listeners and can provide enough regular rotation to generate music or ticket sales. This means your person must be good on the phone, but of course email is also needed. So the bare minimum you will need for this person to work is an office, a phone, and at least 20 hours a week. The one exception to a phone would be if you are promoting only to college or specialty or online radio, which you can do with email only; however you will not get enough listens to sell any music or tickets, and you can probably do the emailing yourself (a few hundred per week). So we'll assume you need listens (at least 1,000,000 listens per week, concentrated in ten or twenty towns), and therefore you need a phone and a phone person.
The biggest cost is going to be hourly pay. In the larger cities, a person decent on the phone but with no promotion experience is about $15/hr, and in the small town are about $12/hr. They will be mixing the job in with their other jobs in order to get a full income, so you need to be flexible in your hours and days, but 20 hours a week over a 3 to 5 day week should be enough to promote to a small radio panel of 50 to 100 stations. Yes you could hire experienced radio promoters that worked as indies, or at labels, but for them to stay it's going to be at least $25/hr for someone with a year or two of experience, and $35 to $45/hr for 5+ years experience.
Monday and Tuesday are probably mandatory, followed by Thursday. Morning hours are critical: the stations need to be called as early as 8am their time; if you are East Coast, this is easy, but if you are West Coast, prepare to be on the phones at 5am.
Most of the promoter's time is going to be spent dialing the phone and waiting on hold, so you almost always need a second person to do the setup work: dialing and holding. This "dialing and holding" job is actually a full time career at major labels! When the station person gets on the line, the assistant gives the call to the promoter. This keeps the promoter in continuous conversations, and is the most effective use of their time. An assistant for this position is much easier to find, since they do not need a great phone voice or people skills like the promoter does; just lots of patients. This person is good for minimum wage, up to $10/hr. Without this assistant to help the promoter, you are probably going to be shocked at how much time your $15/hr person spends just staring at the phone waiting for someone to talk to.
Next up is your office. Larger cities and smaller towns are about the same: A small 100 square foot office is $200 to $500/mo, and is plenty of room for 4 people to work. Don't expect things to work out well if you try to have the promoter(s) work out of your house or apartment; you can try it for a few months, but the staff will probably be short lived unless there is an office to go to. It just feels to weird to them. This is certainly not a job that can be done at a coffee shop, or at an open shared-workspace office; phone promoters need to be LOUD and FUNNY to make the best impression with radio people. Remember that radio people are audio-only, and make their living by how things sound.
Now the good news: The phone system nowadays can just be a voip (internet phone), which compared to ten years ago is dirt cheap. Or of course, a cell. The phone system MUST be able to catch all incoming calls, so that NO station person gets a recording. If a station person calls an unknown indie act/label (you), they expect a human to talk to and usually will not give you another chance, especially when their next call is probably to a promoter at a major. If the promoter cannot get the incoming call, the assistant must get it.
Once you get your office and promoter (and hopefully an assistant) going, there will be about a 6 month warm up time for them to get the hang of things, and this is with you showing them what to do. Another great thing is that the promoter(s) will always be asking you for more hours, so if your sales kick in and you need more help, they are right there ready to go. If however you add on the work of calling venues, or stores, or press, you might consider getting a different person because the type of calls (and databases and knowledge) are so different that your radio promoter can get easily confused. Plus it's a good backup plan too, to have a different person for those jobs, because if your radio promoter quits then you still have part of your operation running.
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