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Radio Airplay 101 - Why Clear Channel is Irrelevant to Indies

After endless concerns in the indie community about radio consolidation and Clear Channel, I'm here to tell you that it should be of no concern to you. What we mean by this is that Clear Channel only owns large stations, and large stations have always been impossible for small indie acts. Repeat: Large stations, whether owned by Clear Channel in the last couple of years, or owned by someone else now or 30 years ago, are impossible for small indies to get spins on. (We don't work for Clear Channel, by the way.)

Regular rotation on large stations (Clear Channel or otherwise) in major or medium markets is not available now... nor has it ever been... (for over 30 years) to small indie releases and artists any more than McDonalds is available to you to market your indie toys on their counters. Remember McDonalds' 10-year marketing agreement with Disney? McDonalds is only allowed to sell Disney toys now. But before this agreement happened, do you think you had ANY chance at all of getting your indie toy into McDonalds? That situation is the equivalent of you trying to get your indie release into regular rotation on medium and major stations. Consolidation or no consolidation, Clear Channel or not, trying to get a product with entry-level marketing onto the largest media outlets in the world is a terribly-misplanned idea. (This applies, of course, to new acts/labels releasing their first or second record on their own.)

So why all the hoopla? Because news outlets know that you'll read it. And when you read it, they get paid. News outlets (like the LA Times and Salon) need to print things that you are worried about, so you will log on and/or purchase copies, or else they will close down. Since the worse fear of all musicians is not having their music heard, if the publications tell you how the biggest radio stations are not going to play you, they know you will pay attention and read.

But just because you are just now learning how difficult the large stations are, does NOT mean that it used to be any easier! Fact is, if you were trying to release your own record (even on AM radio) in the 60's and 70's, you would have been going directly up against Capitol, RCA, ABC, Atlantic, CBS, and the other major labels of the time. So even then (with no Clear Channel), you would have had to start off with the smaller stations, just like you have to today. And also back then (20 years before the McDonalds-Disney agreement,) you would NEVER have been able to get McDonalds to carry/market your indie toy; but you can bet that the toy-industry publications back then did their best to paint a depressing picture for the small toy manufacturers, despite the fact that the best way for an indie toy maker to market it's toys (both then and now) is to work with the mom and pop toy stores throughout the country.

What does this mean for your airplay? The same thing we've been trying to get across for years: Start with small market commercial stations (or college stations in any market,) and use the results to book more and bigger gigs, all the while selling your CDs and merch for full price at those gigs (i.e., tour distribution.) You'll never have to deal with getting distribution (or getting paid from distribution), much less have to worry that you won't be getting any regular rotation on a Clear Channel station. If you absolutely won't rest until you get some Clear Channel spins, however, then consider commercial specialty/mix shows... These shows are available on Clear Channel stations from New York on down, and with good music and a good push, you can get a spin or two for a few weeks.

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