Radio Airplay 101: Commercial Airplay Myths
When talking to people who are launching their first couple of projects, invariably the same misunderstood points come up concerning commercial regular-rotation airplay. Here they are:
DJs PLAY THE RECORDS: This only applies to non-commercial radio, and specialty/mixshow radio. The majority of people in the U.S., however, listen to commercial regular-rotation radio, and on these stations, the DJs have no say at all in what is going to be played (unless, in the case of a smaller station, the DJ is also the PD). So, the biggest pitfall to avoid is asking a DJ at a commercial station "Can I give you my CD for possible rotation?". The DJ is not allowed to say "No", and he/she is probably not going to explain that only the PD can approve regular rotation. The DJ is just going to say "OK".
GOOD SONGS SPREAD TO OTHER STATIONS: Good songs (or for that matter, good programs) do not mystically spread to other stations. Every single song you hear (or every syndicated program you hear) on commercial regular-rotation radio is on that station because of layers of promotion and marketing. The song you hear was the one that made it... it beat out the other 300 songs that were going for adds that week. What you don't hear are the endless phone calls, faxes, trade ads, personal meetings, consultant recommendations, call-out research, and other things which went into getting the station to add the record. All you heard was the record itself. And station owners make it a requirement that DJs make it sound like they picked the music themselves.
COLLEGE OR SPECIALTY/MIXSHOW WILL EXPAND TO COMMERCIAL: Just because you do well on non-commercial or specialty/mixshow radio, it does not mean anything will happen on commercial regular-rotation radio. Matter of fact, nothing at all will happen at commercial unless a separate, higher-level campaign is put into place to take the record into regular rotation. The pitfall here is that a listener will hear something on college, and then a month later hear it on commercial, and conclude that the college caused the commercial to happen. The listener did not know that both campaigns were in place simultaneously, and the college simply went for adds a month earlier.
YOU HAVE TO BE SIGNED: Untrue. Being singed is only a signal to the stations that the basic marketing practices are going to be done right. If you have the budget, you can duplicate the marketing practices of larger labels, provided you know how. The band Creed set a good example of putting their $5 million marketing dollars into the right place.
REQUEST CALLS WILL HELP: Not really. They won't hurt, but your time is better spent doing other things, like inviting people to your gigs. Stations know which calls are real, and which are bands and their friends. Stations have consultants and seminars which cover only this one topic.
I CAN'T GET AIRPLAY WITHOUT DISTRIBUTION: Depends on the size of radio that you are going after. Smaller commercial regular-rotation stations in smaller markets won't make this too much of a sticking point, especially if you have a powerful radio campaign going, or if you are doing great gigs in their city, or if you have great college or specialty/mixshow results. But the larger stations... which you can't work anyway until you do the smaller ones... won't touch a project that has no distribution.
I CAN'T GET AIRPLAY WITHOUT GIGS: Again, depends on the size of radio that you are going after. Not being able to gig is a serious handicap at any station, but you can overcome it in smaller markets with intense radio promo, press, sales, and non-comm results.
NON-MONITORED STATIONS ARE OF NO USE: Non-monitored stations are of no use only on the Billboard, R&R, and the seven Album Network mag charts. But FMQB, CMJ, and all specialty/mixshow charts are compiled manually; since you need to start off on these smaller charts first, this works out just fine.