When it comes to submitting your music to radio, there are variables you can control and those you can’t.
What you can control is the number of mailouts you send, how you package up your materials, whether you follow up with station directors, programmers, or DJs, and how consistent you are in your career activities.
What you can’t control is whether the radio stations you send your music to choose to play it. If you do everything right, and they still don’t accept your submission, then there’s nothing more you can do. Unfortunately, there are no methods for assuring success.
But there are some dos and don’ts you should be aware of. Read on.
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Do Your Research
Research is key to getting radio airplay.
Some stations already play your genre or style of music. Others don’t.
It wouldn’t make much sense to submit punk music to a jazz station, right? That would be rude.
Radio stations expect you to have done your homework. See things from their perspective. If they get a submission that seems way out of leftfield, how are they going to feel? Frustrated? Angry? Annoyed? Maybe, if you’re lucky, they’ll find it funny and laugh it off.
Sending your music to the wrong place won’t do you much good. It won’t get played. And you’ll have wasted your time and money.
Research isn’t difficult. You can find plenty of up-to-date radio station directories, and even run some searches online. Don’t be lazy. Do your research.
And, while this is immensely time-consuming, if you’re willing to put in the work, it’s worth building a database of radio stations and constantly working that database until you see results.
Do Follow Submission Guidelines
Most radio stations do not have stringent guidelines when it comes to submitting your music. But not following them is a sure way to get rejected.
Check and double check what stations require from you when submitting your music.
Additionally, here are a few best practices to act on:
- Address the envelope to someone specific. Use the name of the program director or DJ, not just the name of the station.
- Take the shrink wrap off the CD. Create the least amount of friction possible between them opening the envelope and popping in the CD to listen to it.
- Include a one sheet. This is a single piece of paper containing: The name of your act, your contact information, a photo of the band and album artwork, your track list (with the “singles” bolded), and your bio, which should be updated to reflect your latest release.
Do Personalize & Customize
Always address your envelopes to an individual – not just to a radio station or company name.
Another personalization method that can work – though you will need to get creative with this – is to include a handwritten note to the person you’re sending the package to. This may not benefit you if you haven’t already established a relationship with them, or if you don’t find a way to pique their interest with your messaging.
As for customization, there are different approaches you can take. It depends on your music, your branding, and marketing strategy. For instance, you could have custom envelopes made up to reflect your brand colors and image. A unique envelope is obviously going to stand out among the standard orange and grey mailers. You could craft a story that goes along with your promotional material – something that compels program directors or DJs to take notice and listen.
If you aren’t sure how you could personalize or customize your mailouts, then I would suggest keeping things simple. Don’t do anything crazy, because you could end up blowing your budget. But if you’re feeling creative and you’ve figured out a way to stand out among the glut of submissions, do it.
Do Follow Up
Best practice is to follow up with radio stations two weeks after you’ve sent them your music.
Keep the conversation short and polite. Simply ask whether they’ve decided to include your music in their programming. If not, you can ask why, but do not press the issue.
Follow up is key to a successful radio campaign. You can follow up via email or phone – phone is more personal – but if you don’t do it, you could miss out on an opportunity. Stations will assume you don’t care that much about getting played.
After creating a connection with a radio station, you can continue to build a relationship with them, sending them periodic updates, and maybe offer to help with bumpers, interviews, and other content. But don’t be too forward. Just poke around a bit and see if there’s anything they’d like to collaborate on.
Further, building a relationship with radio people could end up helping you down the line. You never know who might be moving up in the world, and if they like you, you can rest assured they’re going to do what they can to help you after their promotion too.
Do Submit Your Best Works
Music is subjective. But there are some things that can set an artist apart, such as quality production, an impeccable brand, high-quality photography, and so on.
But the most important thing is your music. If your music sucks, nobody will play it.
Again, this is ultimately subjective, because everybody has their own preferences. Even program directors favor certain artists and tracks over others.
But be as objective as you possibly can about your music. Are your vocals pitchy? Are the drums out of time? Does the guitar sound like it’s been played by a skilled pro? Are your lyrics at least clever or unique in some way (if they aren’t poetic and full of metaphor)?
The only thing you can do is make the best music you possibly can right now, and that’s okay. It just means your first album might not get a lot of airplay. Keep growing. Keep getting better. Practice and improve. Gain live experience. Then resubmit with your best material.
This is a process. Success rarely comes overnight.
Do Create Connections
You have more information at your fingertips than ever before. But how much has that changed your quality of life?
Information isn’t everything. If you apply it, you’ll begin making progress. But even that sometimes isn’t enough.
That’s because most things in this world are done by people. Certainly, artificial intelligence and robotics is developing fast, but the leaders and gatekeepers of this world are overwhelmingly human.
This means you must build relationships. It’s easier to connect with people today than it’s ever been. You can probably find various stations and DJs on social media and connect with them personally.
Again, please be polite and don’t bombard them with questions. Maybe introduce yourself, say “hi”, retweet something they shared and build the relationship over time. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where they know you by name and you might be able to get your foot in the door.
Ultimately, very little harm can come from building relationships, even if it doesn’t lead to radio airplay. So, start building your industry rolodex! It could end up being one of the most important things you ever do for your career.
Don’t count on your mailouts to do all the work for you. Sometimes, sending your music to radio stations simply won’t be enough.
Some bands are “live bands”. This should not be viewed as an insult. It just means you have an incredible live show and your music is meant to be experienced that way.
But whether you’re a “live band” or not, it’s worth getting on the touring circuit. It’s quite likely you’ll see more opportunities come your way by getting on the bill at popular venues or festivals. You’ll build more connections too.
Another great reason to perform and tour is to support any airplay you’re already getting. If you know you’re being spun in certain towns, cities, or regions, you should probably start booking shows in those locals. It can reinforce your growing presence in those towns or cities.
Don’t Submit To Mainstream Commercial Radio Stations
As an independent artist, sending your music to mainstream radio is mostly a waste of time and money.
Top 40 radio is a business, and to be profitable, they must keep the advertising money coming in and listeners tuned in. That’s their top priority.
Please note: I am not saying that you can’t try sending a few packages out to stations on the FM dial. If you’ve got a bit of a budget, and you’ve got a few extra mailout packages sitting around collecting dust, why not?
But don’t expect anything from it. At best, they will play your music during off hours or during their “special programming”. This isn’t them giving you the thumbs up. It’s them saying your music doesn’t fit their format, and it’s possible it never will.
Don’t Neglect The Smaller Stations
I’ve already pointed out that getting your music on commercial radio can be an uphill battle. You can try submitting if you want to, but most of the time it won’t lead anywhere.
Sending to college, community, and internet radio is usually the best place to start, as it is easier to get your music played on these types of stations.
You’ll still need to do your research and find the right stations to build relationships with, but your success rate will generally be much higher with smaller stations that aren’t owned by large media conglomerates, especially when you’re just getting started.
Every time a station plays your music, you can add it to your resume. And airplay can lead to more sales, streams, and gigging opportunities. I’m not saying that you’ll suddenly receive an avalanche of requests, but it can add up over time.
It’s easy to get into the habit of doing things only when you need to. But oftentimes this doesn’t help you build momentum. If you stay consistent with recording new material and submitting to stations, you can set yourself up for future success.
Don’t Be Fooled
There are many great services out there that will help you get your music out to radio stations. This is a good thing, because it can be a lot of work to orchestrate an entire radio mailout campaign yourself.
Unfortunately, there are also individuals and companies that prey on small-time musicians looking for exposure. They will charge a hefty fee for their services and not deliver on their promises.
So, if you happen to be looking at using different services to get your music on the radio, be cautious. Do not agree to any deals that leave you wondering whether there’s anything in it for you.
Don’t Give Up
As I said earlier, this is a process. You won’t get airplay overnight.
Even if your music is accepted, it may not start appearing in playlists for a while.
And there’s a good chance your music won’t be played on most of the stations you send it out to. You must anticipate that your conversion rate will never be 100%, and may not even be 10% at times.
So, what? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The only thing you lose is a bit of your time and money when a station rejects your music.
Certainly, sending out 200 mailout packages isn’t cheap. But when you break it down per station, you’re not spending an arm and a leg to get your music into their hands.
Keep trying. Make another album. Resubmit. Things could go differently next time.
Different methods work for different artists. There isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to radio promotion.
It may require a lot of hard work to get your music played with any regularity. But if you’re doing the right things in your career, it will increase your chances of being played on more radio stations.
Professionalism is important – build your website and keep your social networks updated. Industry people usually do check to see how active a band is.