Rock-and-Roll Survival Guide
You've already put your tunes on Facebook, Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, etc.—congratulations! You can use a computer. But guess what: People still listen to the radio. Millions of people. In fact, last year, marketing research company Arbitron released a study that showed radio's audience was back on the rise. Last month, 90.3 KEXP held its annual spring membership drive and listeners donated nearly half a million dollars to keep the beloved station on the air. People still like, and trust, the radio.
Thanks to the internet, not getting your songs played on the radio certainly won't break you, but getting played can still help make you. So should you want to hear your music played over the airwaves and reenact that charming scene from That Thing You Do, here's some advice from Andrew Harms, music director at 107.7 the End, Kevin Cole, senior program director at KEXP, and me, host of Locals Only on the End.
Before you send anything, know who you're sending it to.
If you're a metal band, don't send your music to the hiphop show. If you're a funk band, don't send your music to a heavy metal radio station (also, don't be a funk band). It sounds like obvious advice, right? Nope. I've been hosting Locals Only, the Pacific Northwest music show, for years, and I often receive press packages from bands out of New York and California with clueless letters promising "the Locals Only audience will love us!" Not only is it a waste of time and money, but you look stupid.
Do a little research and find out if the stations in your area have local music shows and start there. If your favorite radio station has specialty shows, as many do, find out which hosts play which genres and reach out to them instead of just blindly sending a package to the programming or music director. "KEXP DJs have the freedom and responsibility for programming their own shows, to curate the music mix," says Cole. "In addition to programming their shows, they're on a quest to discover new music and suggest new releases to be added to the library."
Radio stations can still help you even if they don't play your music on the air.
Radio stations often do more than just play music. For example, they're constantly sponsoring shows around town, and both KEXP and the End often pull from the local scene when looking for bands to open for well-known touring acts. That could be you! They also have a strong online presence, with websites, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.
"The blog and website are ways for me to talk about or showcase a killer band that may never get on air at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday," says Harms. So be open to alternative means of exposure.
Don't send the radio stations (or any media outlet, really) a huge press kit full of unnecessary bullshit.
When faced with sorting the stack of CDs on his desk, Harms says he looks for bands that give "good, solid information."
"A lot of times, bands think that's an elaborate bio. I appreciate that there's a story there, but when push comes to shove, it doesn't matter. We want solid information about the real things your band has done. What shows have you played? Who have you worked with? Something that helps me, for better or worse, are those little stickers on the front of CDs that say 'If you're a fan of Sunny Day Real Estate, then you might like our band!' The worst is when people send you five paragraphs of overly descriptive nonsense. 'It's a neo jazz pop fusion that's never been done before that's inspired just as much by classical music as it is by the 1978 Seattle Sonics.' None of that stuff makes sense to anybody! Keep it short and sweet."
Most importantly, don't suck.
If some bands put as much effort into making great music as they do promoting themselves, we wouldn't have to throw away so many unnecessarily extravagant press packages that involve 8-by-10-inch glossies (in 2012, people!?), wrong size T-shirts, multiple copies of the same CD, and/or diapers (true story).
"The most important factor in getting your music on the air is to concentrate on creating the best music possible," says Cole, ensuring that if you do that, "it will get heard."