Airplay 101 - Radio, Distro, Tour, Press... What
When releasing a new song/album, what marketing area is more effective to start with? The answer depends on what your strengths and genre are, but in general, radio can help get the other areas going, and thus it is a good place to begin.
The nice thing about radio is that it is fast. By fast, I mean that your campaign can be underway in about four weeks, including setting up and going for adds. Compare this to traditional printed press, which takes from a month to six months to get coverage in scattered places across the country. And compare it to booking, which can take two months before the first paid gigs occurs (and even then, it takes over a year to tour the country.) And finally there is distribution, which if not contracted yet, will take several months to a year just to set up, provided you have the ability to do so in the first place. And being paid is another story (which is why we recommend tour distribution.)
Radio starts quick (nationally), and ends in about 3 months for non-commerical radio, or 6 months for commercial. So the radio can be off-and-running while you are still setting up other areas. Best of all, the radio can be used to help get the other areas going in the first place. Radio referrals to press, gigs, and retail can get you in the door at these places, when otherwise they might not take your call. Of course, the best scenario is to have all areas happening simultaneously. But few indie labels can do this, and besides, labels/artists of all sizes need to make use of the value of radio besides just airplay.
There are two techniques you can use to get your radio started, and keep it going, when your other areas kick in. The first is the standard approach to commercial radio (whether regular rotation or specialty/mixshow), where you promote one single at a time. You don't try to sell the single, you just use it for a radio release, meanwhile using the full album for retail, gigs and press. With this technique you can spread four singles (from one album) over a full year, and even continue into the next year with another four songs from the same album. All the while, your recording/manufacturing/handling costs for the album stay small since you only have to deal with the one retail release. And you are selling it for the full album price, too.
The second technique is for non-commercial radio, where you primarily promote full albums. Since most non-comm's don't like to be told which song on the album to play, you push an EP of 4 or 5 songs from the album. This way, the stations still get a choice of material, but you have not used up all your album. A 12 song album can use three 4-song EP's over the course of a full year before you have to get new material. And again, you are not trying to sell the EP's... they are for radio only. The whole time you are selling your full album only, for full price.
The biggest opponent to the several-radio-releases technique is the artist, who often get tired of working with the same material for a year or two... especially when they think their newer material better represents them. The answer to this situation is to remember that your later releases will always do better at radio than your first, because nobody knows who you are at the start. Thus you should go through the "awareness-building" stage using your older material, so that when you go back through later (and people are listening closer), you'll then be using your newer and better stuff.
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