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Radio Airplay 101 - Small Market Commercial Regular Rotation

There are too many commercial stations in the U.S. (even within a single format) for the typical new indie label to deal with at one time. So, for the purposes of marketing music on radio (via airplay), you have to divide up the markets (cities) into different groups that can be approached one at a time... each with different levels of difficulty. Note: This information applies to regular rotation only, NOT to specialty, mixshow, or college.

Markets are divided into "major", "medium", and "small", according to how many people live in each market. Major markets are #1 (New York) to #30 (San Antonio); Medium markets are #31 (San Jose) to #100 (Johnson City, TN); Small markets are #101 (Lakeland, FL) and smaller. See the complete list of markets here:

There are also "non-rated" markets, which are the smallest towns in the country. Most regular-rotation airplay campaigns for new artists and new labels should start with the small and non-rated markets first, since these markets are easier, faster, and lower cost than the bigger markets (not to mention the fact that many larger stations will not respond until they see action in the small markets first.)

There are several other advantages to small and non-rated markets. First, there are many more of them. This means that you have hundreds of choices of places to perform on the road, and, there are thousands of small newspapers in these markets to review you.

Second, the music and media people in these small markets are more likely to work with you. Why? Because of less competition from major labels, major PR firms, and major booking agencies. In small markets, (1) stations are more likely to play indie music, even if you have no distribution, gigs or press in their town, (2) the stores you try to get your CD into will be more willing to work with you, and (3) the newspapers and TV (or cable) will be more willing to interview you.

The first negative you or someone else might come up with regarding "small markets" is, "they don't sell records". Let me start my reply by saying, again, that if you don't have a salesperson calling stores to get the stores to place orders, then you will sell zero records no matter what radio or markets you choose to promote to. And note that this applies to sales in stores, not sales at gigs. (That's why we recommend tour-distribution instead.)

The "small markets don't sell records" mindset comes from major labels who actually have a choice of where to market their records to in the first place. It's kind of like Sears saying, "We only put our stores in malls, since only malls have enough people for us to make any money." True, but then Sears is starting off with a five million dollar store. YOUR very first retail clothing store (that you worked all your life to save up for) is not going to be a five million dollar store in a mall. After all, the lease space in the mall alone would be a million dollars a year. YOUR first store is going to have to be much lower scale, maybe in a strip shopping center, and it's still going to cost you several hundred thousand dollars to open. Point is, you have to put the store in a place with less people (compared to a mall) because it's the only way you stand a chance to get started. And, you might just do very well there.

It's true that a major label, who's priority artists are getting one-half to three million dollar radio campaigns, think that starting off in small markets is a waste of time, since their level of push (like Sears) puts them right into regular rotation in the medium and major markets. Good for them. And good for Sears.

Small market regular rotation radio works with almost any format, especially country and AC. Even pop can be worked in small markets. The idea is just to get your record started, so that you can tour, get press, get distro, or attract investor attention in these markets. After you do well here, you'll finally have the option (provided you have the additional marketing dollars) to start a medium market regular rotation campaign.

Next topic: Medium Market Commercial Regular Rotation

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