Is radio play important for indie music success?For decades, radio ruled the music world.

If an artist—or, more likely, a label—wanted to sell lots of records, they needed their music to be in wide rotation across the country. And that meant spending many many thousands of dollars hiring national radio promoters who knew the secret radio handshake.

Fast-forward umteen years and the standard model for getting your music played on commercial radio isn’t all that different. What HAS changed is our listening habits. We have more options now. There’s still terrestrial radio, of course (including commercial, community, and college stations), plus satellite radio services, genre-specific online programs, podcasts, customizable streaming radio platforms like Pandora and iTunes Radio, and more.

Have these changes in the radio landscape altered how people in the industry feel about the importance of radio? I asked seven friends of CD Baby for their opinions.

The experts weigh in: is radio play important when it comes to an artist’s success?

Definitely. Radio is still a primary tool for breaking music to the mainstream audience. It is less important than it used to be though, particularly for niche artists, who can thrive solely on online success. However, the biggest acts, even those in electronic music, push cross-over records to the radio in order to reach the charts. As chart notations are the true drivers of record sales and performance fees.

– Budi Voogt

Yes of course.  Radio is a massive sales driver.  Massive.

– Christen Greene of Onto Entertainment (Management for Lumineers, Hey Marseilles, Phox, Andrea Gibson)

“Does radio still matter?” Well, Pandora sure does. I’d argue Pandora is much more important than terrestrial radio. There’s virtually 0 chance of any non label artist breaking through on terrestrial radio. And 98% of all major label artists don’t make enough on their first release to recoup the advance. Meaning, 98% of all major label artists fail. With that logic, only about 2% of all major label artists are getting serious radio play. But all of them are promised radio play from their label.

There’s no denying that terrestrial radio can push a buzzing artist into a superstar one, but radio should not be a part of any indie or DIY artist’s plan. Radio is the final piece. Radio stations are no longer leaders in the industry. They are followers. Unless, as an indie, you can march into KROQ with “Somebody That I Used To Know” YouTube numbers, there’s no chance.

Put your efforts into Satellite, Pandora and the occasional local show on your hometown stations. Local NPR music stations (like KCRW in Los Angeles or The Current in Minneapolis) are typically good about featuring local buzzing bands – and they are local taste makers. Will definitely help with your local ground game and filling up your release show.

YouTube matters. Pandora matters. SoundCloud matters. Spotify matters. Twitter matters. Facebook matters. Playing live matters. Touring matters. Your email list matters. Radio? Not so much.

– Ari Herstand

Yes.It’s a rapidly changing landscape, but radio is still how a lot of people find music. Radio now includes all the various forms of internet and satellite radio, YouTube and podcasts, and that’s a very good thing for artists like me.

My music never really fit into traditional commercial radio. Even back in the days before internet radio, radio play in the US was always a challenge. Today, it still is, but there are a lot more ways to get heard now than there ever were, and I take that as a good thing.

So yes, traditional radio matters, but it’s not the only game in town any more. That’s a good thing.

– Mary Gauthier

“Does radio play matter anymore?” – I think it does. I think the majority of people still listen to radio.  That said, it’s easier for an indie artist to break into mainstream and “compete” with bigger label artists because there are so many formats their music can be heard.

– Kari Kimmel

There is no doubt that radio still plays a HUGE hand in music discovery, and digital radio (Pandora, iTunes Radio, etc.) is an increasingly important piece of this puzzle. Terrestrial radio, on the other hand, can certainly be useful IF you plan on performing in the markets that your music is being spun. There are simply too many steps between your music being heard on the radio to a listener actually connecting with you as a fan for you to see a real return on the investment of a radio campaign. You need to nurture that process by performing in that area to create additional touch points between you, your music and new fans.

– Jon Ostrow

I think radio play still matters, depending on your goals. If your goal it to get a Grammy or get mainstream recognition, I think that Macklemore and other contemporary artists prove that radio distribution still matters. Also, DJs play a very important role in building relationships in the industry and getting your music known and in the hands of industry executives. They still listen to the radio and it plays an important role in their decisions. If you’re more interested in going the independent route I think that Internet streaming and subscription services as well as live shows will be the best way to get the word out about your music.

– Jo-Ná Williams


What do you think? Is radio still important for your career? Do you ever listen to terrestrial radio anymore? If not, what do you listen to? Let us know in the comments section below.

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[Radio image from Shutterstock.]