Radio isn’t dead. No matter what people say, getting on the charts has huge implications for your career. As an indie artist, college radio should absolutely be a part of your marketing plan.
College radio stations are dedicated to playing new music and they spin music commercial stations simply can’t, due to their need for advertising dollars. The results of a successful college radio campaign makes your project more attractive on many, many levels.
When a live promoter sees that a band is getting lots of spins on the local college radio station, the awareness for your music grows, and the accolades that come from charting will impress management, labels and music supervisors. This can also help you decide where to tour.
I know a band that has had great success on U.K. radio without ever having toured there. So they went over and had a very successful tour, which never would have happened if it weren’t for radio play. You too can experience this type of success – all it takes is money and/or time!
So here’s what you need to do to harness the power of radio.
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Hire Radio Trackers To Get Your Songs On College Radio Stations
There are people you can hire to work the radio angle for you. They are called radio trackers, and they do a great job. If you’re interested in outsourcing the work, as many do, check out Planetary Group, Team Clermont for the United States, and Frontside Group in Canada. There are also many smaller companies that may be more suited to an indie artist’s needs.
Radio work is often outsourced simply because it is a lot of work. But if you’re prepared to do it, I’m prepared to tell you how!
Get Your Music Played On College Radio By Going The DIY Route
If your goal is to get airplay on college radio, it is 100% possible self-initiate a campaign. You just have to be smart about it!
I’m going to take you through the physical steps you will need to take when you’re tracking your release, and then give you some helpful tips on how to prioritize your work.
Find Contact Info For The Stations You'll Be Sending Your Music To
It seems obvious enough, but this is actually a pretty big job. You have to:
- Maintain a list of all CMJ reporting stations (I’ll explain more on this in a moment).
- Find the station address, current music director, and phone number.
- Make sure you have the right music director for your genre.
Thankfully this info can generally be found on the station’s website. If you’re having trouble, try using resources like Radio-Locator.com, or Indie on the Move.
Your Next Steps
Once you’ve figured out who the director is, you’ll want to follow these steps:
- Nail down a release date, or “add date”. This is the day you're trying to get your record added to the station. These days are always Tuesdays, every week of the year except during Christmas holidays. Make sure to include your add date on your physical mail-out.
- Put together physical mail-outs. This should be a nice little package with a one-sheet and a physical CD. You need to send this out two weeks before the add date. Include a little note about which songs you want them to listen to and play, with a some short details or a story about the song.
- Once you’ve sent out your promotional packages, you can follow up. Some indie artists say this is a waste of time, but when you’re first getting started, I don’t think it’s a bad idea. This is generally done over the phone. Some stations have a specific time to call and pitch your music, so make note of that.
How The Charts Work – And Why It Matters
As far as college radio is concerned, the CMJ charts are the place to shoot for. Here’s how it works:
A college station's programming is made up of one-hour segments. These are usually programmed by students or volunteers, who then present their playlists to the music director.
Then, the director compiles a Top 30 chart for that station.
The Top 30 for that station is then sent to CMJ who averages out all of the Top 30 charts for that week, which then makes up the Top 200 for that week. Not every station is a CMJ reporting station, which is important. Basically, when you are tracking, target the CMJ reporting stations over others, as they will get you on the charts.
The best way to find a list of the CMJ reporting stations is to get a copy of the CMJ magazine, as they have a list of every station that reports.
Things work the same in Canada, but you’re shooting for the Earshot Charts. They provide a list of all the reporting stations in Canada.
The Benefit Of Radio Trackers
Let me just say that I know many bands personally who have done just fine tracking college radio on their own. With that in mind, it’s not easy, and if you have the money, hiring a radio tracker is a better idea. This is especially true in the States, where college radio is big business.
The music directors are mostly students and volunteers and they receive loads of music every single week. Hiring a radio tracker that already has a connection with the directors can help your music cut through the noise.
Make Connections With Directors
I have talked before about the importance of inviting industry people out to shows, and you should be including music directors in this list. They are people who are passionate about music, and it can’t hurt to make a personal connection. You may have submitted your music to their radio stations already, but this will help take the relationship to the next level.
Many college stations will also air interviews, live performances, etc. Take advantage of this, and if you’re working with a publicist, have them target the same stations you’re trying to get added to for interviews.
Back when commercial radio was programmed by individual DJs, huge bands like Aerosmith would give local DJs free tickets, and schmooze with them in order to make the charts. Now, commercial radio is a whole different game, but college remains the same. So schmooze away! A personal connection and great music will go a long way towards making the charts.
In summary, airplay on college radio can be immensely beneficial for an independent act.
If you want to, you can go the DIY route and oversee your own radio campaign. It's a lot of work, but it is 100% possible. You will need to find the right contact information, mail out your music, and follow up with music directors to get spun.
Send your music to CMJ reporting stations so that you have the opportunity to chart, and hire a radio tracker if you find that tracking yourself is too laborious a task.