The radio industry has faced challenges over the last few years due to rising competition from other media platforms and changes in the listeners’ behavior. Despite that, however, radio remains a popular medium for many people. According to a most recent comprehensive study, 47% of all Europeans in 2016 listened to the radio on an almost daily basis.
In the USA, in 2021, 88% of Americans listened to terrestrial (AM/FM) radio weekly. The statistics also show that more Americans listened to the radio (293 million) than used Facebook every week (180 million). Surprising, right?
These numbers showcase that radio continues to be a relevant platform, not only for listeners but also for artists and their music careers. Are you currently striving to increase your audience reach? Do you want to learn more about how to get your song played on the radio? This article will give you all the information and tips that you need!
Two fundamental types of radio airplay
The act of getting songs played on the radio is often referred to as ‘radio airplay,’ ‘radio plays,’ or simply ‘spins.’ When thinking of the term ‘radio,’ most people will likely think of commercial radio. However, there is also the non-commercial type of radio, which might serve as a better starting point for artists trying to get airplay for the first time.
Commercial radio stations, the most common (and prestigious) type of radio comprising the traditional AM/FM stations, are primarily based on the practice of selling radio advertisements for profit. They are, therefore, accountable for the vast majority of total radio listening.
What usually applies is that the higher the listening, the more advertisers the station has; the more advertisers, the more it can charge for the advertising. Overall, the type and length of the advertising depends on the radio station — some might be relatively concise, while others may turn into long, aggressive advertisement blocks.
Having your song air-played on a commercial radio station might be career-changing for an artist. That’s why getting your music on there might be a real challenge, especially if you’re an indie artist at the beginning of their music journey. However, this doesn’t necessarily imply that you shouldn’t strive to submit your song to such radio stations.
Instead, it means you should consider a variety of factors before you try, such as the size of your current fan base, the career timing (are you an established artist or rather a beginner?), the (amount of) rejections that might come with it, and the time and energy you might need to invest in it.
Unlike commercial stations, non-commercial radio does not run advertisements at all. In fact, in the USA specifically, non-commercial stations are legally prohibited from airing any advertisements.
As you can imagine, the audience listening to stations with non-commercial frequency is much smaller compared to commercial stations. And so is their prestige. In this case, we’re talking about smaller independent stations, university radios, or web-first online radio stations.
Although less prominent and influential, non-commercial radio stations are much easier to get onto, which you may undoubtedly appreciate when starting out as an independent artist. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for mainstream radio producers to use more renowned non-commercial stations as a hunting ground for uncovering yet-undiscovered talents.
How to get your song on the radio
1. Understand the radio-friendly song format.
When we mention the ‘song format,’ we don’t necessarily mean the audio compression format typically used for broadcasting. Although this is relevant, too — it’s the MP3 format.
Instead, what we have in mind is the music genre preferred by the radio station(s) you’re targeting, such as pop, hip-hop, or classical music, and all other elements that come with it. These include the song length, style of music, content, tempo, and more. Overall, it’s about having a song considered ‘radio-friendly,’ as this will increase your chances of getting air-played.
Notably, the song length has always been up for much discussion, regardless of genre. Although there are no hard and fast rules regarding how long your song should be, radio-friendly tracks are typically around 3-3.5 minutes. A song might be considered too long if it lasts more than four and a half minutes.
Naturally, there are exceptions — look at November Rain by Guns’n’Roses or, more recently, All Too Well (10 Minute Version) by Taylor Swift. Nevertheless, as an independent artist, especially if you haven’t yet established your career, you should stick to the 3.5-minute limit.
There are also other elements that make a song radio-friendly — a catchy and memorable melody, unique bridge, high-quality production, clear vocals, no explicit language, and more. However, the importance of individual elements may vary depending on the genre, style, and target radio stations.
2. Identify the right radio stations.
Something that we've already touched upon is identifying suitable radio stations for submitting your song. This, firstly, concerns the ‘expertise’ of the given stations, meaning the music and content they focus on. The other vital elements are the radio stations' size and commercial aspect.
Commercial radio airplay is incredibly competitive, and it’s, therefore, essential to consider your current chances of getting your music played on such radio stations. You may think being rejected or outright ignored is the worst thing that could happen. The worst thing that will happen when you submit your song to the wrong station is that you will ultimately waste your time.
There’s no shame in starting small and getting featured on less-renowned, non-commercial radio stations. That’s also a success that deserves to be celebrated!
Below, you can check out some non-commercial radio stations both in the USA and Europe that are worth trying:
KEXP-FM (Seattle, Washington)
‘The Current’ KCMP (Northfield, Minnesota)
WXPN (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
KUTX (Leander, Texas)
KDFC (San Francisco, California) — primarily for classical music
3. Register your song.
There’s a vital step to take before you submit your song to any radio station: register it with a relevant Performance Rights Organisation (further PRO). We have already covered the topic of PROs and Collective Management Organizations (CMOs) in many articles and guides. If you’d like to get a thorough insight into what PROs are and how they function, we’d recommend reading our pieces on music licensing and how to make a music cover.
In short, PROs are primarily concerned with intermediary activities between the copyright holders and potential customers who would like to use copyrighted material in public, for example, in shopping locations and dining places, but also on TV, radio, or online. Most importantly, PROs are responsible for collecting royalties, meaning that by registering your work with one, you will ensure compensation for your work and copyright protection.
Different PROs will be relevant to you based on your location. In the US, the main PROs are ASCAP, SESAC, and BMI. In Canada, it’s SOCAN; in the UK, they are PRS and PPL; in France, it’s SACEM; and in Germany, it’s GEMA.
4. Make a staggering press kit.
You can think of a press kit as a presentation tool to introduce yourself as an artist. Naturally, it’s not a presentation in the usual sense (it’s no PowerPoint or Google Slide). Still, it comprises materials that showcase and promote your artist's brand and work to radio stations, as well as journalists, artist managers, and other industry professionals.
Such a collection should include:
A bio highlighting your music background, career steps and achievements,
A cover letter making an introduction to your song, its genre, style, and potential influences,
Links to your 1-3 best-performing songs,
Social media links,
A press release announcing the release of your song,
High-resolution photos and
A digital file of the song you’d like to have air-played (most preferably a link to your streaming or download platforms)
A good press release is not only about its content, though. It’s also about its visuality and appearance, structure, accessibility (how easy it is to access, read, and understand), and uniqueness (how engaging, compelling, and memorable it is). Simply said, your press kit needs to stand out and grab the attention of the radio programmers — which might be easier said than done.
If you’re looking for a tool to help create a memorable press kit (or a release or an artist page), we at iMusician have you covered! With our Artist Hub products, you can take the promotion of your release to the next level with Release Pages and enhance your professional online presence in just minutes with Artist Pages.
Both our Release Pages and Artist Pages have a variety of tabs, including the press tab, which you can use to showcase your releases and link your streaming platforms, promote your tour, include a press release and photos, and more!
The Press Section feature in our Artist Pages
Ready to take your music promotion to the next level?
5. Know how to submit your songs.
Having a compelling press kit is just the beginning of sending your music to radio stations. Now you have to actually submit it. The submission part requires a handful of research. First, you must determine whether the radio station you’re targeting has a specific submission process — i.e., an application tab on their website.
If it doesn’t, you will need to figure out the names and contact details of those who are responsible for selecting the songs that get air-played. These are usually the radio DJs, music directors, or programming directors. Such information is typically traceable on the station’s website.
Some websites may also indicate the best method to contact relevant decision-makers. If, however, you don’t come across this information, feel free to do some digging on the internet. Music communities, such as our iMusician Community Forum, may help, too. This way, you may also learn the best time to make your submissions.
Making a good first impression when submitting your music is key — many radio programmers receive dozens, if not hundreds, of music submissions daily. Therefore, you should strive to be polite, professional, charming, and concise (no one is keen on reading long paragraphs in their emails or DMs).
Introduce yourself and your song and strive to give them an apparent, compelling reason why they should listen and air-play your music. At the end, make sure to include your press kit and thank them for their time. Should you not hear back from them in a reasonable amount of time (up to two weeks), feel free to follow up with a reminder — your message might have gotten lost or simply overlooked.
Conclusion: do I need to hire a radio plugger?
A question that many musicians wonder about is whether or not they need a radio plugger. The primary responsibility of a radio plugger is to promote your music by getting it played on the radio. Frequently, they serve as mediators between you, the musician, and radio stations.
A radio plugger will help you choose your radio-friendly song(s), select suitable radio stations, and help you get your music air-played there through established relationships with DJs, radio tastemakers, and other decision-makers. Providing a long list of contacts is also where their value ultimately rests — they know the important people you don’t.
However, when searching for a radio plugger, you need to be prepared for one thing — they will, most likely, cost quite a bit of money. In fact, the cheapest radio plugger may start at 500$, ranging up to 1,500$ per single. This simply means that not everyone can afford it, and that’s okay.
A radio plugger is really only beneficial if you’re established in your career and have some great music released but are not succeeding at having them air-played. If you’re somewhat at the beginning of your journey, other, more important things will deserve your money, time, and attention. If you don’t have the music, skills, and experience yet, there’s not much a radio plugger and their radio promotion can do for you.
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