"If anyone has the perception of simply putting a CD in an envelope and sending it to a radio station will automatically get airplay, then they're probably misguided," says Jerry Lembo, an independent radio promoter. "Music directors usually have a designated day and time when they take calls and/or visits from promotional reps. It may be a Wednesday between 1-4 PM. It's not like you can walk in at any given time of the week."
During a music director (MD) or program director's (PD) "visiting hours," the record promoter presents a song and dance of why the station should play the song. "What you want to do is bring in information about the artist, if there is any activity surrounding the song. Maybe the artist is playing locally, or appearing on television. Maybe the song is being used in a soundtrack or has been reviewed in a notable publication," continues Lembo. "Whatever you have to enhance the big picture of a song, this is your opportunity to present the facts."
On the R&B and Urban Radio side, there are other ways to get put on. Go through the side door via radio call-in freestyle shows and mix show DJs. "If you're on a mix tape and you make something people wanna hear, and people vibe to it, the radio stations are forced to hear what you're doing," says New York Power 105.1's Doctor Dre. "50 Cent put out tons and tons of mix CDs. He was on so many different tapes that people decided that he was the next big thing."
Payola is the means of getting a station to play your record through bribes and gifts to the MDs and PDs. Back in the day, labels were rumored to use these tactics. "In the past, the only way I could get to a program director was at The Jack the Rapper Music Conference," says rap Godfather Luke Campbell. "I'd get a suite, because I ain't Sony or Interscope, and I'd have to be creative. So I'd get the dancers from the club, put them in the room, and I'd play the same record over and over. I took the army mentality, like what they'd do in Vietnam. I'd just play a certain record over and over and run the enemy crazy!" However, the current slump in the music industry has forced people to play by the rules. "Kids have so many other ways now to get music. They can burn it, download it, or get it from a friend with a CD burner, and it's affected the business. So we can't do the big dinners and parties, and other things that are considered raunchy anymore, becau! se it doesn't make sense financially."
Prepare. Compile list of college and mainstream stations that play your type of music. www.radio-locator.com lists stations all over the world, including web radio. Billboard and CMJ (College Music Journal) are excellent research guides. "If you listen to the frequencies in any given market, you can tell which stations are more aggressive about music, says Jerry Lembo.
"You have stations that will lead musically, and you have stations that follow. Depending on the station, you may have to build a large regional or national story before they even consider adding your record."
Who Dat? Learn the key players at each station, as well as their visiting hours and preferences. If you're approaching a college station, find out which DJs play your particular style of music. Says Geo Bivins, VP of Radio Promo at Capitol Records CK, "These days, radio promo is about going to the office, playing the record, and really working the whole station in order to get them to feel your record."
Create Your Story. Nobody wants to sleep on the next big thing. Radio people want to know what other honest hype, if any, is going on with your record. "Maybe the artist is playing locally, or appearing on television. Maybe the song is being used on a soundtrack, or reviewed by a notable publication" continues Lembo. "Whatever you have that might enhance the big picture, this is your opportunity to present the facts to the music director.
Back to School. Don't sleep on college radio for the most on-air opportunities. Interviews and performances on college stations can help you build exposure. "College breaks a lot more new artist than we do," says Doctor Dre. "There's less restrictions. I was at WDAU at Adelphi University from 1993-1998. I had so many people, like Public Enemy, that came through that became bigger artists."
Check Yourself.Radio promotion is a long term strategy. Work a few stations at a time, since you'll be begging them often. If at first you don't succeed, dust yourself off and try again. You may need to work your song for the long haul. "It's more often that you don't get the add," says Lembo. "You could visit stations for up to a year and even then not be successful. But it depends on how strongly you believe in the music."
Promotions. As the saying goes, never underestimate the power of a free t-shirt. Suggest giveaways to advertise local performances, and kiss up to your radio station ballers. "Promo-wise, everything works because it is a relationship business, " says Bivins. "But everything comes down to whether or not you have a great record."