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Musician Tips Tips & Suggestions Part 5: RADIO PLAY

Reproduced from the Overplay Advice Page:
'How can our band get local or national radio play? Do we have to wait for a competition or do we just contact them and send them our demo?

Try to be very specific about exactly what it is you want to happen right here and now. The more specific your goal, the easier it is to set about achieving it. If you've got a home demo and would be glad to get a one-off play on Radio Humberside, focus your efforts accordingly. If you've got a killer recording up your sleeve that's genuinely ready for the Radio One playlist, then find out if people at Radio 1 agree. A list of all UK radio stations can be found at

Having figured specifically which radio stations you're aiming at, now you need to find out which programmes might play your kind of music and which ones definitely won't. Don't waste your time and money: for instance it would be daft to send your speed metal album to the country music show. Say your target is Radio 2 - the biggest station in the country. In that case go to the website and use the BBC's online "Listen Again" feature to listen to extracts any show on the network where you honestly believe you might have a chance.

06:00  Sarah Kennedy
07:30  Richard Allinson
09:30  Ken Bruce
12:00  Jeremy Vine
14:00  Steve Wright In The Afternoon
17:05  Stuart Maconie
19:00  Alan Freeman: Their Greatest Bits
20:00  The Organist Entertains
20:30  The Language Of Kylie
21:30  Filthy Jazz
22:00  Sounds Of The 70s With Steve Harley
22:30  Mark Radcliffe
00:00  Janice Long
03:00  Alex Lester

As you listen, flick between each of the records they're playing and the CD you're planning to send them. Be honest - will it fit in with the kind of sounds they're currently playing or stick out like a sore thumb? While they're working, most professional record producers will play their latest mix side by side with current hits - just to make sure they're in touch with the times.

On a major station like Radio 2 (or Radio 1) your record really will to be outstanding to pass this test. After all, if they're going to make room for you on air, they'll have to drop somebody else they're currently playing. But hey - brand new bands are making outstanding records and breaking through all the time - why shouldn't you become one of them? The hard thing is being selfcritical enough to exercise savage quality control on your own work to make sure what you're offering readlly is genuinely outstanding before trying for a station as big as Radio 2. You can evaluate the competition at any time on Radio 2's current playlist here.

If you've made a recording that honestly and truly stands up to this lot then off you go. Call the switchboard for Radio 2 and find out the name of the producer of the show you have in mind, and of all the other people who work on the programme. Then call back, ask for one of the assistants by name, and have a quick chat to ask if you can send them your upcoming "new release" for consideration, and what address to send it to.

Meantime invent a spurious release date (this should be on a Monday 6-8 weeks ahead) and devise a bogus record label of your own. Burn your record onto a plain silver disk and get the information printed onto it in ordinary black Arial type with a CD printer. A transarent plastic envelope is best, with a laserprinted insert on plain white paper. A small info sticker on the back with release date and brief biurb completes the picture. Now send the result to your new friends at Radio 2.

There's absolutely no point bothering with fancy artwork, longwinded biogs, glossy photos, full colour electronic press kits or photocopied reviews & press cuttings. Gorgeous gatefold artwork and shiny expensive packaging count for nothing. Whether a DJ plays your record or not all this bumph will go straight in the bin. Nobody will thank you for sending loads of clutter along with your disc, and here's why:

If your track is suitable for airplay it will get played. If it isn't, it won't. But it's best not to simply scrawl on a cheap CD-R with felt tip marker pen. Clear neat simple packaging gives your CD the best chance of being listened to: click here for how to make radio promo discs that look like the ones professional pluggers send out.

Follow up with a phone call to see if they got it. Someone from the programme team WILL listen to it, if only for the first 30 seconds, and if you get them on the end of a phone they will tell you straight whether or not it's the kind of thing they'd play. Radio people are human and won't bite - if they like your record they'll do their best to help you. Make friends with just one programme on the network and you'll have a 100% better chance of it getting considered for the station playlist. And if you don't stand a chance in hell they'll be kind enough to gently let you know, so that you can save your efforts and go back to the drawing board.

Remember though that by aiming at Radio 2 you've set yourself a hugely ambition target. Maybe only half a dozen indie artists a year (or even less) ever make it onto the Radio 2 playlist. So if that looks like a bit of tall order at this stage in your career, consider going for something less ambitious.

Try to match the genre of music you are making with the stations that play your kind of music. As mentioned above, there's no point trying for Classic FM if you play Death Metal. So if for instance you happen to play Country Music then a bit of research might bring you to stumble on Radio Clyde's 3C Digital service (which specialises in that genre) at In which case (again) check out their website and see which programme looks most hopeful for your song:

0000 3C Nightmix (Nonstop cool country all night long)
0600 Digital Daybreak with Pat Geary
1000 3C Power Hour. Non-stop cool country hits
1100 3C Middays with Dave Johanssen
1400 3C Power Hour. Non-stop cool country hits
1500 Digital Drivetime with Derek Shirlaw
1900 Nashville Nights (The cutting edge of country)
2200 3C Late Nights with John MacCalman

Actually take the trouble to listen to the stations (online if neccessary) study, investigate and research. If they never play new UK artists, don't waste your effort. If it turns out John MacCalman has a regular demo slot at 11.30pm once a week, then he's you man. Send him and email, follow up with a CD, then find out when he's in the station offices and give him - or his producer - a call via the switchboard.

There are dozens, in fact hundreds of radio stations on that list at so there's plenty of scope. The task is simply to go through and work out which are the ones might realistically play for the music you are currently making.

But it's possible you're making a kind of music that almost nobody is playing on the radio anywhere in the country. This is not (neccessarily) any kind of reflection on the quality of your music. There are a good number of bands and artists, who pursue perfectly viable careers through web sales, concerts, DVDs and records sold at gigs - without ever getting on the radio at all. Think jazz, folk, roots, blues, bluegrass - and older artists who have fallen out of fashion but still have a loyal fanbase. For many years, that was me. And if that's the case for you too, hey - get used to it.

But if you're still determined that "local or national radio play" is what you're after, there's no point sending CDs out blind without doing this kind of research . I host a show for a relatively small radio station called BBC 6 Music - but even here, literally hundreds of CDs pour into our offices every week from people hoping for radio play.

What's annoying is that 90% of the records that arrive aren't remotely suitable for our station, let alone for my show - and sent by people who've clearly never ever listened to us. Every one of these ends up in in the recycling bin, however good they are. We simply don't play boy bands or lush US radio-style Big Ballads by Whitney Houston soundalikes. Other stations do, so forgive me for repeating this vital advice one more time: do your homework and target your efforts carefully.

Of course record companies can afford to pay someone else to do this for them. Radio promotion companies (pluggers) have a list of stations (which they update constantly) showing who produces each programme, who presents it, the style of music - and whether the get any free choice or have to stick rigidly to the central playlist. Some of this information is available from Music Week magazine.

Pluggers will also will tell a record company straight if they don't have a hope in hell of getting a particular record onto the airwaves, and for a fee they will do the same for you as well. Check out the Music Week directory for contact details for the likes of Absolute, Anglo, Chappel Davies, Sharp End Promotions, Cool Badge, Ish Media, Dorothy Howe, Overground Promotions etc etc

If you haven't the resources to employ a plugger, and most of us haven't, then you'll need to subscribe to Music Week magazine yourself and/or acquire the Music Week Directory to help you narrow down the targeting of your campaign to specific stations, and weed out those that don't feature any music shows at all

This principle holds true right across your career: the more specific you can be about EXACTLY what you want to happen, the better chance you have of achieving it - radio play, record deals, major tours, hit records, press coverage, whatever.

But take a solemn word of warning from your Uncle Tom, who has been there. Selling records in meaningful quantities is a backbreaking, souldestroying, seven day a week grind. It requires the obsessiveness of a trainspotter, strength of a juggernaut and skin of a rhino. It means shrugging off disappointment again and again, using the anger to fuel your onward efforts.

It isn't easy. But it is completely achievable if you honestly and truly want it enough. Yes, we know you're talented. There are thousands of people out there with enough musical ability to be successful - but talent isn't enough. In the end what really counts is attitude. If you want success enough to shrug off endless rebuffs and rejection, if you're determined to become famous however long it takes - then trust me. Sooner or later, somehow or other, you will.


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