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Radio Airplay 101 - CMJ magazine

New for 2017: Since CMJ (also known as the College Music Journal) had some rough times during the summer of 2016 (college radio used those charts for 35 years), it might seem that the college music world is ending, but actually I think it is just opening up. It's similar to how artists think that nobody listens to commercial radio anymore (because artists themselves don't), but in reality commercial radio has more listeners than at any time in history according to Nielsen, who bought the Arbitron commercial radio ratings recently for $1 Billion USD. In other words, the usefulness of college radio is different that what you might think.

The situation with CMJ of course is not because colleges closed, or because college radio stations closed, or because broadcasting is dying, or because people don't want true "indie" music anymore. The same number of music fans exists, and these fans listen to (and go see) the same number of artists each week; it might just be a re-distribution of where fans will listen and will go, that might change a bit. Yes there are other college radio charts, but I think now is the time to make the jump from a chart mindset to more of a interpersonal contact mindset.

Personal contacts? Yes, the ones between you (the artist) and the radio programmers/music lovers. With all the current focus on online listening, artists in the last few years have completely forgotten about the need to make individual personal contacts with music business people in other locations. It may take a few more years, but artists will soon grow tired of seeing their name on some online chart of online listens; with enough posts or payments, anyone can chart anywhere online (google "buy youtube views" or "buy soundcloud plays" or “buy facebook comments”; ironically you can't pay for placement on CMJ charts or any AM/FM commercial radio stations). Soon artists will hopefully realize that online listening charts don't do anything to help with making personal contacts. Even CMJ, whose charts are made up of reports from real programming people in separate cities, had somewhat of a "dazzle" effect on artists that caused action to stop there, whereas the action (people contacts) should have just been starting. We should all get off the college chart bus, and get onto the pavement where the real action is.

This certainly does not mean to stop promoting. Instead, it means to start promoting more, to the individuals around the country/world that can help you. These individual college radio programmers can help you with great (real) comments about your song(s); they can connect you with acts coming to their town; they can recommend labels to you for you to submit music; they can tell you about indie films that might be looking for music; and most importantly, they can recommend what venues/places to contact in their own areas for you to perform at, and maybe even tell you who to ask for there, and maybe maybe, make an introduction for you to that person. After all, who would know the music venues/places in a particular town better than a music lover who lives there and goes to those places several times a week? These people just happen to be music programmers at their college radio stations.

Those new to music business may not know it, but in the pre-web days, all music business activities were done by one person communicating with another person. Yes there were charts of commercial radio stations, but nothing was accomplished until one person communicated with another. It still works this way today. Nobody will pay you (anything substantial) to perform, or pay you to put your music into a film, or pay you for any other music related activity by just your charting on an online chart of online listens (plays). Not enough people see the charts even if they are real (most are paid/fake), and it takes almost no listens to make it happen regardless (that's why those charts don't show the horribly low number of listens each song is getting). See our example Top Listens chart from 2012 at to see how many listens are required to actually make things happen.

But college radio is not about listens; it’s about personal contact with programmers in each city. Not all college station people were reporters to CMJ anyway; those that weren’t did not get as many contacts by labels and related folks. So you now have more reason to make those contacts. And you should. Go for individual playlists, instead of charting. Make friends with the people who are there. Have ongoing emails with them over the course of their college careers, and find out what they like.

College radio never gave a song many listens; there were not enough listeners, and not enough plays each week. So use college radio for what it's still best at: Connecting with music programmers in particular towns and cities that love what you are doing and would like to help you now and in the years to come.

Next topic: Specialty/Mixshow radio.

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