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Radio Airplay 101 - Commercial Airplay Myths

When talking to people who are launching their first couple of projects, invariably the same misunderstood points come up concerning commercial regular-rotation airplay. Here they are:

DJs PLAY THE RECORDS: DJs only do this on non-commercial radio, and specialty/mixshow radio. The majority of people in the U.S., however, listen to commercial regular-rotation radio, and on these stations, the DJs have no say at all in what is going to be played (unless, in the case of a smaller station, the DJ is also the PD). So, the biggest pitfall to avoid is asking a DJ at a commercial station "Can I give you my CD for possible rotation?". The DJ is not allowed to say "No", and he/she is probably not going to explain that only the PD can approve regular rotation. The DJ is just going to say "OK".

GOOD SONGS SPREAD TO OTHER STATIONS: Good songs (or for that matter, good programs) do not mysteriously spread to other stations. Every single song you hear (or every syndicated program you hear) on commercial regular-rotation radio is on that station because of layers of promotion and marketing. The song you heard was the one that made it... it beat out the other 300 songs that were going for adds that week. What you don't hear are the endless phone calls, faxes, trade ads, personal meetings, consultant recommendations, call-out research, and other things which went into getting the station to add the record. All you heard was the record itself. And station owners make it a requirement that the DJs make it sound like they picked the music themselves.

COLLEGE OR SPECIALTY/MIXSHOW WILL EXPAND TO COMMERCIAL: Just because you do well on non-commercial or specialty/mixshow radio, it does not mean anything will happen on commercial regular-rotation radio. Matter of fact, nothing at all will happen at commercial unless a separate, higher-level campaign is put into place to take the record into regular rotation. The pitfall here is that a listener will hear something on college, and then a month later hear it on commercial, and conclude that the college caused the commercial to happen. The listener did not know that both campaigns were in place simultaneously, and the college simply went for adds a month earlier.

YOU HAVE TO BE SIGNED: Untrue. Being signed is only a signal to the stations that the basic marketing practices are going to be done right. If you have the budget, you can duplicate the marketing practices of larger labels, provided you know how. The band Creed set a good example, by putting their $5 million marketing dollars into the right place.

REQUEST CALLS WILL HELP: Not really. They won't hurt, but your time is better spent doing other things, like inviting people to your gigs. Stations know which calls are real, and which are bands and their friends. Stations have consultants and seminars which cover only this one topic.

I SHOULDN'T TRY FOR AIRPLAY WITHOUT DISTRIBUTION: The reverse is actually the situation... you should get the airplay first, and use it to get your distribution. But even with airplay, we still recommend that new acts use tour-distribution only, and forget about stores.

I CAN'T GET AIRPLAY WITHOUT GIGS: Again, you should do the reverse... get the airplay first, and use it to get gigs. Not being able to gig is a serious handicap for any artist, but you can overcome it with intense radio promo, press, and other marketing.

NON-MONITORED STATIONS ARE OF NO USE: Non-monitored stations are of no use only on the Billboard and R&R charts. But FMQB, CMJ, and all specialty/mixshow charts found in magazines are compiled manually; since you need to start off on these smaller charts first, this works out just fine.


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