Airplay 101 - Payola (part 5 of 5), What You Can
A lot of what small indies can do is covered by the previous fifty Airplay 101 articles. These articles are, after all, designed to show you how you can push your own record to radio, using your own phone calls, for a minimal cost. At a higher level, however, the articles also show you how to work with a radio promoter(s) who will do it for you.
Specifically, however, regarding paying money to stations, here is what small indies can do. Keep in mind that this is high-level stuff for small indies, and it is not cheap; it should be used only after ALL your other basic promotion, booking, and PR has been taking care of. This means that, only after you have set up the budget for standard PR for 6 months ($6000 to $20,000), along with standard radio promo for 3 months ($3000 to $20,000), and, you also have a full-time person who handles booking (in-house or agent,) you then can consider some of the options below. Retail promotion and marketing is not mentioned here, because it is just not a feasible area for a new label/artist who is putting out their very first release with no experience; your sales should instead be at your gigs only (i.e., tour distribution.)
BUYING ADS: Do this before you do a show in each station's market. You are probably trying to get to the late-night crowd, so ask the stations for a one-week flight with a frequency of 4 or 5 in 7p-mid or overnights. This will run you about $300 per station in small markets, and $1000 to $5000 per station for medium markets. You would do well to leave major markets alone.
GIVE-AWAYS: If you have cheap access to merchandise or trips, then give them to the station for use as on-air give-aways, in return for "tagging" the artist's name as the provider of the items. Talk to the PD about this, not the salespeople. Good merch would be DVD's, TV's, computers, etc., and they should be available in quantity (at least five) for each station.
MARKETING PIECES: If you are in any way capable of helping a station get it's name out to the public, you can trade this for free commercials or other things. Can you print 10,000 of their bumper stickers for them (per station)? Can you print 10,000 flyers of one of their upcoming events, and distribute the flyers to 200 places around town (per station)? Can you put up street signage at 100 places around town (per station) if the stations provide you with the signs? Can you get 500 to 1000 new people to sign up to the station's email list? Can you promote the station's site so that it shows up in the top 5 of whatever search they tell you to do? Can you call 500 people on the phone and invite them to come out to the station's next remote? Whatever you are good at, or whatever you have the time to do, talk to the PD and see about a trade. Don't plan on putting your artist-info on any of the printed marketing pieces, however.
STREET PROMOTIONS: If you are good at organizing people who are spread out around the country, then set up an organized campaign, and convince people to contact each station's promotion director in order to volunteer to help with street promotions in their local towns. You'll probably have to run paid ads in the local papers to get the volunteers, and, you'll need to keep in contact with them in order to keep them motivated.
VEHICLES: If you can get good deals on used vans, trucks or SUV's, then you can get one for each station, (again) in trade for commercials or some other promotion. If you can arrange for the vehicles to come pre-wrapped with the station's logo, all the better. Don't expect to be able to put your artist info on it, however. Vehicles are good because as long as they are running, the stations will remember who provided them.
Conclusion: Paying stations is not a tool for a small indie to get airplay. The alternate options presented above are for individuals who have the money, who have already hired PR, radio, and booking personnel, and who are looking to build consumer awareness in smaller markets so they can ink a reasonable distribution deal and book more and bigger gigs.
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