Radio Airplay 101 - Music, CD and Case Requirements
Radio has the most stringent requirements for the CDs that you send them, the discs you put them on, and the cases you put them in. Let's go over them...
MUSIC SPECIFICS: Should you make albums or singles? The easy answer is relatively simple: If you are sending to college radio, send an album or EP. If you are sending to commercial radio, send a single. If the format is AAA or Americana (the only formats that are both comm and noncomm,) you can send either one, but preferably send the album.
As for the number of tracks on an album, try to keep it below twelve. And make the first track begin with some energy... don't begin with a song that has a long, slow, building-start (you can do that later on when you are promoting an accepted talent.) For a station that received 20 or 30 releases for review THAT DAY, an album from an unknown artist that starts slow is going to have a tough time being reviewed.
For singles, generally you should have four versions on the CD: The radio edit (clean lyrics); a full length (i.e., "album version"): an a capella version; and an instrumental version. The radio edit should be no longer than 3.5 minutes long. The a cappella and instrumental versions are sometimes used in station commercials, liners, and ID's. Others versions which may be useful are mix/dance versions and 12-inch cuts (genre permitting).
SPECIFICS ABOUT THE CD: First off, I should make a point that you NEVER send more than one release to a station. It's difficult enough getting one release from a new artist reviewed. You are only insulting the station by sending more than one release (i.e., sending a current release and a previous release too.)
CD recordables (or "burned" CDs) are the type that are blue-ish or greenish in color. They are printed on computers, and they are the type you get when you order small quantities like 10 or 100, or if you order from MP3.com. CDRs can be sent to college stations only. CDRs are too unreliable (and are an insult) to commercial stations.
Manufactured CDs are the mandatory type for commercial stations. These are the types of CDs that have a minimum run of 300 or 500, and are silver in color. They are reliable, and show that you have a serious project that you are not going to skimp on.
On the CD graphics, be sure to state artist, title, label, song lengths, the versions, contact info, and (if it is a single) that the song is "from an album", with a small picture of the album.
For commercial radio, do not use any CD oddities like mini's, special shapes, odd colors, built-in videos or anything else that is wildly different. Commercial stations only view these as "tricks" by new artists who want attention. Leave that stuff for established artists. For college radio, however, anything goes for any artist.
CASE TYPES: There is a simple answer to this... use standard (not slim line) plastic jewel boxes ONLY. Period! It is the worst peeve of stations when slim cardboard or vinyl cases are used... they don't fit the CD racks properly, and will just get thrown away. Cardboard and vinyl sleeves literally "slip through the cracks."
As for the wording on the case, make sure the artist, title(s), label, song lengths, and version descriptions are all on the OUTSIDE of the case (they can be inside, too). And very important... if you have a bar code (or you'll have a space for one), put it on the back of the case, in the corner, so that you can poke a hole through the plastic/barcode without harming the CD (you do this by using a soldering iron or drill). Note: If the CD is being sent ONLY to radio (and will not to be sold at retail,) then a barcode is not needed.
Finally, when mailing the CDs, use first-class postage. Third-class postage will cause great delays, and can jeopardize the project's timing.
Next topic: Commercial formats.
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