How Do Songs Get On The Radio?

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I worked in a small radio station here in Victoria back in the 90’s.  The format was “oldies”, which, at the time, meant songs from the 50’s to the 70’s.  These days 80’s and even some 90’s songs are considered oldies.  Which makes me feel — REALLY oldie :-).

Members of my family have been in radio on the lower mainland in the Vancouver area for decades, in everything from talk to news to adult contemporary and pop formats.  As happens often enough these days, a radio station can change its colours many times over the years.  In a city where there is stiff competition, having a hot, new format with a popular playlist is what everyone is after.

Here in Canada, disc jockeys or “jocks” are obligated to provide a certain percentage of Canadian content.  This regulation was created years ago when our radio waves were pretty much overwhelmed with American music.  Not that this was a bad thing, but in a country with one tenth of the population of our neighbours, the opportunity for Canadian artists and bands to get radio airplay was pretty slim, so the regulation helped in the beginning.  Many radio jocks now argue that the rule is antiquated and that Canadian bands and artists are now big enough and good enough to fight for those positions without the rule.

For commercial stations these days, especially those owned by big conglomerates like Clear Channel, they don’t have much say in what goes on their playlists.  Most, if not all, of the songs you hear are from the “big five” record labels from well-established or hot new artists the labels are pushing.  And let’s face it, a lot of kids especially want to hear the artists they know and love.  But what many don’t realize is how “unlocal” their radio stations really are.   Sometimes there isn’t even a “live” jock, it’s all pre-recorded by one person somewhere and sent to all of the other stations that the company owns.  So trying to get your band or your song on a local radio station is harder than it ever was.

However, many local stations will have a show devoted to local bands and artists.  And college or university stations, which are not commercial, are free to play pretty much whatever they want, whenever they want.  In fact, many bands and artists these days often “break” on a college station and build on their audience that way.

As an artist these days you have a lot more access to information about your local commercial and college stations, and that’s where you need to begin.  Most of them have websites, and many of those list their shows, artists and other information about them that can come in handy.  If you research carefully, you will find the name of the programming director.  These are the people who decide what plays and what doesn’t.  As I said earlier, they may be restricted somewhat these days by people on high regarding the music they play, but if there is some kind of show featuring local artists, that’s your in.

Here are some tips you might consider:

  • Research is very important;  the most obvious point is to make sure their format fits your songs.  Don’t send your rock songs into a country station!
  • Write a good cover letter, not too long, introducing yourself and your music and package it nicely with your CD or demo
  • Be professional but you can be creative too in the package you send them, in order to get their attention
  • If you must, do a follow up phone call, but DON’T HARASS the program director or the station!  That’s a sure way to get black-listed
  • Do not give up, sometimes it’s all about patience and having your name heard a few times by the people who count

As I mentioned in the beginning, I worked at an oldies station back in the 90’s, but it never ceased to amaze me how many CDs ended up in the garbage because whoever was sending it had not paid any attention to the fact that we played Elvis, not Enya.  Even the big record labels sent CDs of recent releases!  Not very efficient or practical on their part…my guess is that they just sent these out to absolutely every station with no thought to whether or not the station would actually play it.

I’ve heard my songs on the radio a few times.  It’s a pretty exciting thing, and with a little patience and persistence I know you will experience the same thrill one day 🙂

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