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Radio Airplay 101 - Commercial Ratings

Commercial Radio Ratings

When working a record to commercial regular-rotation radio, one thing and one thing only will help your career move forward: Helping the stations get ratings. Stations are not in the music business... they are in the ratings business... they get paid to have higher ratings. Whether they play a great song or a crappy song, if their ratings stay the same, then they will make the same money and nothing more. So song quality is not the issue to them. Here's what is the issue: GETTING MORE LISTENERS. Here's how to do it for them:

GIGS: While commercial stations do all they can to build station awareness in their city (using vans, billboards, bus-sides, benches, t-shirts, etc.), the station that impacts the most people will get the most listeners, and thus will win. So stations will accept help wherever they can get it. Their preference of which records to play in regular rotation will greatly be based on which artist is performing in their city, and how many people attend those performances, because if these people want to hear the artist's music after the show, they HAVE to tune in to the station that plays it. For a new indie act, ten people at a gig is irrelevant; a hundred is decent for a small market; three hundred is decent for a medium market; five hundred is jammin' for any market. There are many reasons to do gigs, but if you are going to do them to impress radio, you need LOTS of people. The notion of small "cozy" gigs does not fly with radio.

DISTRIBUTION (OR, SALES): Next up on the difficulty ladder is on-the-shelf (not "in-the-system") distribution in the cities where you are seeking commercial regular rotation. A major peeve of commercial stations is that the listeners complain when they hear a song that they can't find in the stores. After your product is on the shelf, the next thing a station will want to know is how many units have moved... and by moved I mean Sound Scanned. This is a level or two above the mom-and-pop store situation, and is thus more difficult. To impress a typical commercial station, you would need to be scanning 200 or 300 units per week in THAT station's market alone. Sales like this means that listeners are diggin' an artist, and the listeners are just waiting to tune in to the first station that plays the tune. Note: For new artists, we recommend forgetting stores entirely, and focusing instead on tour distribution.

PRESS: Finally, and probably most difficult for most indie bands, is extensive press IN THE CITIES where the stations are. Except for trade press, if your press does not impact a station's listeners, then the stations do not care. However, if you can show the stations that you were covered in the local (regular or alternative) city paper, or the arts paper, or a regional arts magazine, or (of course) a national music magazine, then you are well on your way, since a lot of a station's listenership will have seen it. Even local cable and TV applies. Trade press, on the other hand, impacts only stations, labels, management, bookers, retail, and other critical people in the music chain. Even though it does not hit the public, however, trade press is still extremely important.

A problem arises when brand new under-funded bands try to get commercial regular rotation airplay: They cannot afford to do all the above things at once. So they have to choose what to attempt, and the proper choice (for most situations) should be: Gigs. Gigs are something that the average band can handle; bands can still invite the press, and bands can still sell CDs there (i.e., tour distribution.)

If any of this seems un-doable, then it is time to look at non-commercial radio, and/or, commercial specialty/mixshow radio, since these can be worked without any gigs, retail or press whatsoever.

Next topic: Commercial Airplay Myths

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