As a working musician I spent nearly 30 years trying to get my records played on the radio. Since then, 5 years of working at a radio station have taught me invaluable facts about airplay that that you too need to know.

Whether or not your record gets played depends on what it sounds like, not what it looks like. If a record doesn't sound right for a particular station, fancy packaging or big marketing budgets still won't get it on the playlist.

But if you HAVE made a great record that's perfect for radio, here's the first thing you need to know. Most record companies and pluggers (radio promotion companies) send out advance copies ('white labels') of new releases to radio stations 4 to 8 weeks ahead of the record's official release date.

These are usually CD-R's in a clear plastic wallet together with the title and tracklisting printed in black on a plain white square of paper. A couple of plain white stickers on the outside give key information. A single A4 information sheet of biog and release information is usually tucked inside, but won't affect whether the record gets played or not. The decision to play it is based (almost) entirely on what the disc itself sounds like.

Here's the second thing you need to know: radio programme teams have to listen to 50-70 new CDs a week while also broadcasting a show every day. Since only 5 records on average in that pile of 50 will be remotely suitable for airplay, they'll tend to listen to the professional-looking white label discs first.

Why? Because there's a higher chance of finding those 5 records among the stuff sent by record companies and record pluggers. These people are serious about what they do and won't waste other people's time or their own money. At radio we may not like the record, but we know at least it'll be of a certain minimum standard. And if we do like it, all the info we need will be readily to hand with release date and contact number clearly marked.

To recap. For airplay:

1) the music has to be right for the station
2) expensive fancy packaging makes no difference whatsoever
3) there MUST be a release date, ideally 4-8 weeks after the CD arrives
3) a professional-looking 'white label' is more likely to be listened to

OK, this is a simplified version of the facts. Record pluggers do a lot more than mail out white labels to radio station. Radio producers actively seek out records they've read or heard about. Release dates get shifted or set back. But nonetheless, the basic point still stands:

If you're sending CDs to radio stations, this page shows you how to create a professional-looking 'white label' package that will increase your chances of getting listened to. The examples here are from the 'Cool Badge' and 'Anglo' plugging companies but there of course are many, many others.

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the key information on a sticker on the front:
note name of promo company (invent your own)
RELEASE DATE (BIG) + contact number and email address/website
just to show I now practise what I preach !
the blurb on the back sticker tries to make as many connections with the reader's experience as possible (oh yeah, I've heard of that)
cheeky blurb to make the track sound really important: "a track which has become both an album and a live standout" - use this sort of thing very sparingly, effective if pitched exactly right, but radio producers have very keen bullshit detectors.
newish band in 2005, benefitting from their record deal with credible indie label moshi moshi records - they might never see a penny in royalties, but (1) we've heard of the label, so we know this disc won't be total pants (2) the label have been able to get them support slots with bands we HAVE heard of (British Sea Power) and (3) the moshi moshi deal has brought them to the attention of a bigger label - which may well rip them off worse, but will promote their forthcoming album even better.
I'd never heard of this band at the time, but this blurb was worded in such a way that it made me feel I ought to have done.
nice touch - personalising the cover - again, use sparingly, but nice. clear simple professional-looking layout, and a little logo at the bottom (even though I've never heard of the company and it might be made-up) make it look classy. These kinds of typefaces, relative weights and layouts are pretty typical. the only place where this one falls down is: no timings for the tracks, and no big clear release date on a sticker on the front.
the back of the go-betweens album promo - there's that release date that was missing from the front. Instead of blurb and hyperbole, the back simply gives us the facts and contact info rather than a load of hot air. Simple and effective
THIS is the way to do it. Clean lines, all the releavant information, name of the artist and track title up big, release date sticker on front, and a nice little b&w logo in the bottom RH corner.
back cover sticker for the Two Lone Swordsmen single

they don't have any rave reviews by national publications they can quote, they don't have any tour dates they can tell us about, or any famous members, guests or connections. (M.Craft isn't much more famous than they are). There's not even a web site for us to look at, or a number we can call for more info. But the layout is in the right typeface, about the right length, and at a casual glance this looks every bit as serious and professional as all the above examples - this CD will get heard, even if only for the first 30 seconds !

Black and white laser printed paper labels in plastic sleeves are fine, but the one thing that can sell you short is the disc. marker pen on a standard CD-R disk just looks naff and amateur.

serious releases (by even tiny record labels) print the record information in black on a plain-faced silver disc as above. Check out how to get this done, or invest in a printer and blank discs that will allow you to do it for yourself.

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