The Truth About Commercial Radio


Most aspiring artists don’t fully understand the dynamics of Commercial radio and they often wonder why there aren’t more songs from independent artists played on their favorite radio station.

It’s imperative that you understand that the primary mission of Commercial Radio is to sell “commercials” and not to break new artists. It’s goal is to build an audience and draw attention to those 30 second Ad slots.

Additionally, the DJs on the commercial radio level have no say at all as to what songs go into rotation. They spin songs according to a given playlist set by the station’s Music Director or Program Director.

Commercial radio stations derive their primary income from advertising and sponsorships. So they need to prove to potential advertisers and sponsors that the station has a large listenership. Accordingly, the station will play music that it feels will both draw and hold the largest audience.

Hence, if you are trying to get airplay or rotation on a commercial radio station, then you should concentrate your pitch on angles that point out your public popularity– the size of your mailing list, the number of people who come to your shows, the number of shows you play in the target market per month, the response from local press, noteworthy career developments, etc.

If you have the budget, you can duplicate the marketing practices of larger labels to get your songs in rotation.

In order to get started, you will need to enlist the services of a well connected and competent radio promoter who has relationships with key Program Directors on the commercial radio level. Before enlisting a Radio Promoter, it’s very important that you check his/her references.

Obtaining a radio “add” means getting a song added to a station’s playlist. Once a song is in the top percentage of a playlist, it will reach the radio charts. Obtaining a position on the charts indicates that your record is achieving excellent exposure. A strong chart position can be used as leverage to obtain a good review in the press, secure a good tour, convince other radio stations to follow suit and add your record, etc

There are several categories of rotations at the commercial radio level: Heavy: song is in the top third of the playlist

Medium: song is in the middle of the playlist

Light: song is at the bottom of the playlist

Review: the MD and DJs have not yet decided whether to add the song

Recurrent: song is played every now and then, usually at the DJ’s discretion

Dropped: song has been removed from rotation

Equally important, It is wise to do market research on your song first before investing thousands of dollars in to a national radio campaign.

Additionally, please note that “Commercial Radio promotion” should be the second phase for an artist to implement. Develop the song virally and create a word of mouth buzz first. Work it on the street level (grass roots marketing) and make sure a campaign is under way to get the song spun in the clubs as well.

Focus your efforts on the college or specialty/mix-show radio format first and then expand to a commercial radio campaign.

A company called BDS (Broadcast Data Services) and a company called Mediabase compile commercial radio charts from a national sample of airplay. The best way to keep tabs on these commercial charts is by regularly checking out Billboard , a weekly music-industry trade magazine.

Make sure your song is registered with Mediabase or BDS before implementing a radio campaign. And make sure it’s available for sale online. Also make sure that you are registered with one of the performance rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI or SESAC to collect royalties from airplay and performances.

Once your song is on the radio then a second campaign must be implemented to get your fans to call the radio hotlines to request the song.

Make sure the song has “Hit” potential and it fits the commercial radio format and can compete with songs already in rotation.

Make sure the song has emotion or feeling and a great melody. Keep the hooks simple but impactful. And the production should be top notch.

The desired end result of your radio and club campaign should be digital sales of the single, paid performances, etc. (Monetize Your Movement!)

Lastly if you’re going to spend thousands of dollars for a radio campaign, don’t do it to try to impress a major label. Implement a radio campaign to expand awareness for you song, your indie label and your brand.


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