|Radio Airplay 101 - How To Use College Radio:
New for 2014: College radio has always perplexed musicians. Decades ago, it seemed super cool. And it certainly was! Nowadays, it still seems super cool. And it certainly is! But, things have changed. For some reason, you can THINK you are doing super great at college radio, yet your "results" seem to be zero. Well, as long as you know what has changed, and how it actually works, you can use college radio for the right purpose.
An important thing to understand about college radio, and also community radio which we will group together with college, is that the people picking the music are unpaid. This means they are doing it for the love of music. This also means that you are not going to tell them what to do, or what they should like; instead, they are going to tell you what they are going to do, and what they like. This is actually a plus for you; you can use them for opinions to help steer your career.
Being music fans just like you, they don't like to hear the same thing over and over. So they only play songs once, or a few times, at most. This is a minus for you; listeners will never got repeated listens, much less the large number of listens you need to sell tickets or songs.
Being local to their city, the DJ's or hosts at these stations really know what's going on musically there. They tend to be younger and spend lots of time going to gigs themselves, and maybe even perform at some. They don't get the attention that commercial station people get, so these kids really like to help out artists when they can. This is a huge plus for you.
Being non-commercial, these stations are not allowed to promote themselves to listeners (and they certainly have no budget to do so) outside of what they say on the air, and maybe some stickers. So although they get more listens per play than online streaming (which only gets one listen per play), the number of listens per play will still be very very low. This is a minus for you; you can see the Nielsen station ratings HERE of who is getting large numbers of listens in each city.
Being in college, they are trying to get jobs. This means they are trying to get in touch with labels, managers, PR firms, established acts, music attorneys, and of course, commercial radio stations. This is a plus for you; if they really like your material, they'll bring you right along with them into their new job and recommend you highly.
Also, being in college, and especially being at college radio stations, they are taken more seriously by the people on campus who decide what acts should play on campus, and which acts will be paid by campus funds. This is a plus for you; colleges have a lot of money to pay for acts because colleges don't have to make a profit.
So hopefully you see a pattern: You have to do more than just send your material to them; you have to communicate with them, and STAY in communication with them, and do a lot of asking of their opinions, and do NO telling of how great your stuff is to them.
How about the best time to promote to them? Well, most people think that fall is, with the next best time being spring. And if you want the most people on campus, then fall and spring would indeed be good times. But other times can work just as well.
For example, if you want to avoid competition with major labels, you'd want to do your promotion at any time other than fall or spring; the two weeks right before and after new years are the best for this. If you want to want to maximize summer gigs that are the result of college radio referrals, you'd want to do the college referrals in fall, so the gigs could be finalized by the following spring. If you want the most time and attention from the college kids, then you'd want to do it during summer, and only to the stations who stay on for summer operation, because they will be slower and have less to deal with then.
An advanced form of this timing is when you start in fall, and continue through the holidays into winter/spring, so that you not only get the time of lowest competition from the majors (holiday time), but you also get both semesters/quarters instead of just one, which usually means new people doing new shows.
The main point to know about college/community radio however, is that you can't use it to get any real number of listens. The number of listeners is too small, and the number of spins is too little, to have any direct effect on sales or tickets. Years ago where were many more people listening to college radio, but they have all moved to commercial radio, and to online. So while commercial regular rotation radio has reached an all-time high number of listeners and listens per play (which is why Nielsen bought the radio ratings for $1 Billon), college radio has dropped to a very low number. The number of listens per play from most college stations is just a few, although it's still more than online (which is just one listen per play). Nevertheless, having connections with music lovers on college campuses around the country is still a very good thing to have, and can be had for a relatively low amount of cost or effort compared to commercial radio.
So like everything else in and out of the music business, knowing how to use your tools, at what cost, will determine how far you will get.
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