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Radio Airplay 101 - Comparing Stations to Touring

Invariably, when people first go to a promoter, they want to start with lots of regular-rotation spins on the biggest stations in the country. While you can't blame them (especially if they are brand new to the business), we have to quickly try to steer them towards something they can realistically make happen.

Interestingly, these same people already understand touring, and the difficulties involved there. They know that they can't start their very first tour by booking the Hollywood Bowl or Shea Stadium. But why not? After all, if they live in LA, why couldn't they just perform at the Hollywood Bowl on a night that it's not already booked? Doesn't the Bowl want to support local talent? Then, after the Bowl, why wouldn't Shea stadium call you for a booking since you are now on a major stadium tour? Further, since you live in LA, why would the Hollywood Bowl make the MISTAKE of booking some other artist who does NOT live in LA?

The reason of course is that large stadiums have a lot of seats to fill, and it's a waste of the time for the stadium staff to deal with any artist that does have enough awareness to make use of the stadium's size.

Fortunately, most new artists understand they have to start in small clubs, or even smaller coffee shops. And they also understand that in order to start their first tour, they need to string together a series of these small gigs from city to city, giving no attention or energy at all to trying to book stadiums, since this would be a complete waste of time.

The same situation applies to radio, except instead of caring about how many people are sitting in seats (and about how many NEW people are sitting in seats because they heard that YOU would be playing,) stations care about how many people are tuning in, and more importantly, how many NEW people will be tuning in when they learn that YOUR song/album will be played.

Just because the station that you (and all your friends) listen to is a large commercial station in your hometown, it does not mean that this station has any reason to play your song/album. Large commercial stations have a certain size (awareness) requirement of the artists that they play. This is one of the reasons that they will play new songs from established artists (and brand new artists from major labels,) because these artists (via TV, stadium, and magazine exposure) will bring new listeners to the station. A new artist on his/her own label, however, will not.

So, what is the radio equivalent of a small-club tour? Answer: A small-market regular-rotation campaign, or a commercial specialty/mixshow campaign, or college radio campaign. These stations/shows do not live and die by the number of new listeners that they bring in every day, the way large-market regular-rotation stations do.

A small-market regular-rotation campaign is so useful that it even has its own set of airplay charts (commercial specialty/mixshow and college campaigns do too.) Matter of fact, you can make an entire career out of just these small airplay campaigns and small-club performances, just the way you can make a career out of running a restaurant in your local neighborhood without ever trying to compete with McDonalds. It's not a huge success, but it is a living.

Yes you can eventually start a marketing campaign to move up to medium-market stations, once the small-market stations are doing good. The difficulty and cost is roughly equivalent to booking and filling 1000-seat venues around the country. And even larger stations can follow next; the difficulty and cost at this level is probably similar to booking and filling 5000-seat venues around the country, and thus is beyond what new artists/labels can do on their first time out; several releases (and years of experience) are required.

Next topic:
Tour Distribution Using Radio

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