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Radio Airplay 101 - Where To Expect CD Sales (From Radio)

The concept of using radio for CD sales (for entry-level artists) can be broken down into specific phases. Here are the levels of difficulty involved for each...

EASY: Selling your CD at gigs (i.e., tour distribution.) If you used radio referrals to get some gigs, or even if you got the gigs otherwise, you are going to do pretty well selling full-price CDs at your gigs... probably 5 to 15 copies per night. If a station referred you to the gig, then the station may promote it for free (if it is a non-commercial station), or give some on-air mentions (if it is commercial,) thus increasing the attendance and CD sales. Just be sure to keep your CDs where people HAVE to walk by them. Also, as an advanced technique, have someone walk through the crowd asking each person if they would like to buy one (this technique alone can double your sales.)

NOT SO EASY: Selling CDs from your site. If you are thinking that a simple radio campaign is going to cause hundred of CDs sales per week to occur at your site, it's not going to happen. The size (and cost) of a radio campaign that CAN do this is beyond what most indie bands can handle. You are better off selling at gigs that stations refer you to.

NOT EASY AT ALL: Getting paid from consignment sales in stores. Getting the CD consigned is hard enough, but getting paid is very tough. If you use radio referrals to get consignment in mom-and-pop stores, you will probably get into several stores, but since you are (probably) only spinning on smaller stations, you will (once again) make more money by just selling at your gigs. You should not bother with consignment in a particular market unless you are getting 20+ spins on a good size commercial station in that market. Setting up the consignment is quick, so it's easiest to get the spins first, and then consign only where needed.

DIFFICULT: Getting pre-paid orders from stores. This is not distribution... it's simply getting a check when you deliver your CDs to a store. You will need to be getting some very good spins on a commercial station before this will happen, and even then, you will need to approach each of the mom-and-pop stations individually.

VERY DIFFICULT: Getting regular distribution, much less, getting any money from sales through regular distribution. Note: Regular distribution is NOT the web or Orchard. Unless you have several releases, and unless you are doing some good sized radio (AND you have a retail promoter), then forget about regular distribution for your first few releases. It won't sell anything at all.

Overall, the CD sales for different levels of indie releases are:

1. Artists releasing their very first release will sell mostly from live gigs, and the bigger gigs will be gotten from referrals from radio (even college radio).

2. Artists with several releases, decent radio, and a strong local or regional string of gigs, will still sell most from the gigs, but can also start selling a few on the site or through consignment.

3. Small indie labels that have three or four simultaneous artists (each with several releases), decent radio, great touring, and some press, can start looking into a regular distribution deal. If the radio is only non-commercial or small-market commercial, then most of the CD sales will STILL be at gigs. But if regular rotation on medium-market commercial stations is used, and you are using a retail promoter, then sales in stores will probably start outpacing gig sales.

4. Medium indie labels with 5 to 15 simultaneous artists (who are all doing great touring), and who are doing at least strong non-commercial (or decent commercial) radio, and who are using a retail promoter, will certainly sell most through the stores.


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