Radio Promotion – Why You Won’t Get Commercial Airplay

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Radio promotion - radio playDo-it-yourself radio promotion tips for independent musicians

Here is my diatribe on Radio Promotion. Please take it with a grain of salt. Absorb some of the ideas, tailor it to your own needs, or outright reject it. In the end, you know what is best for you. But…

Without the support of a monied label, an extremely well known PR person, or a heavyweight radio promoter on your side I’m fairly certain that you’ll NEVER get sustained or meaningful commercial airplay.

Commercial radio is such a racket. It’s a closed system of secret handshakes, payola, and broken promises. Radio promo is a real trail of tears and dashed dreams. The playlists on commercial radio stations are mostly dictated from a central corporate headquarters and the songs are picked based on what record companies are “paying” the most in favors, vacations, junkets, money, cupcakes, drugs, and other various sordid somethings. (ClearChanel anyone?)

So how do you get your music played on radio?

An Indie Artist’s only hope is college radio, public radio, community radio, internet radio, or niche programs on commercial radio stations that are specifically focused on local/unsigned music. But luckily for you, me, and the world these venues are exactly where the interesting and important music of today is getting aired.

You could get a radio promoter to help in these areas. But it’s a ton of money, and in 99.9% of the cases you’d be a salmon swimming upstream only to find a big dam has been built while you were away. You could find much better ways to spend the money you were setting aside for radio. I’d recommend using that money to find a publicist or finance a tour instead.

I’m not trying to dampen your spirits at all, but if you’ve got your heart set on it, make sure you really get the goods on any radio promoter you do work with. They can be a scary bunch sometimes. Check their credentials, their previous successes in promoting indie artists, get some testimonials, and make sure you can check up on their work to make sure they’re giving it their all. And most importantly, make sure its affordable and that they really are enthused about your music. Otherwise, you’ll pay too much for someone doing too little.

Sorry for the big warning. We just want to make sure indie artists are utilizing their limited budgets and resources in the most effective ways possible (and radio promotion at the indie level is a very chancy bargain).

Here’s a few rules for doing radio promotion yourself (which I DO recommend):

1) Be prepared to send out 100-200 CDs with One-Sheets

2) Target college, community, and public stations, online radio, blogs, podcasts, and commercial specialty programs (like local or unsigned feature hours) that are appropriate for your genre and within a geographic area that you can realistically tour through at least 3 or 4 times a year. Don’t get carried away with Florida if you live in Oregon. Radio doesn’t stay faithful to you if you’re not continually playing in their area, and its a waste of time, energy, and discs if you don’t plan on maintaining the relationship.

3) Get the contact info for particular DJs or hosts on those stations depending on their specialty genres. You may have to send CDs to 3 or 4 different people at the same station (KEXP comes to mind!!!). Its not that they’re lazy. They all just have a constantly growing pile of discs to listen to and they probably won’t be passing discs back and forth, even when they’re jazzed about a certain album.

4) If you’re touring, get the marketing/booking contact at each station that has added your music to their playlist and ask about the possibility of an in-studio performance the day of your show.

5) Big one — make sure you’re ready and willing to do all this stuff in a short period of time. Your big chance to make any significant dent is when your CD is new (1-3 months old). All your ducks should be in a row. The stars should align for that magical period right before and right after your release where you’re able to put every last bit of energy into your music getting out to the world.

6) Have your CD in hand about 3 months before releasing it. This gives you ample time to prep the release party,… but more importantly it gives reviewers, critics, press, and radio program directors the chance to determine whether they’ll leave it in their pile of CDs that are going to the nearest used record store, or if they want to get behind it. 3 months is also a good lead time to start booking your tour to support the new album once it comes out.

7) After you send out your CDs to radio, check back in a couple weeks by phone or email to make sure they’ve got it, had a chance to listen, and ask if they’ll be adding it to their playlist. Don’t put up a fight if they say NO. Just politely ask “why” and say thanks if they tell you the reason. If they say yes, give them a quick thanks and casually ask what their preferred protocol is for you to check up on the actual reception your album is getting from their listeners. Feel free to check back every few weeks to see if its still in rotation. You might feel like you’re being a pest, but I’ve actually heard from college radio DJs that they appreciate when someone calls to remind them to play a certain song. Otherwise, they tend to feel like they get into a programming rut and just start playing the same old things.

8) Go! (and continue, and continue, and continue, in 3 month cycles of touring and resting… ad nauseum).

I hope this helps. Its by no means the only way to do radio promo, but it seems like a good place to start, at least. Check out the Indie Bible (, too. Its a great resource that has many of these contacts listed in nice orderly categories for your quick reference.

Please keep us posted on how its all going and let us know if we can help further.

Chris Robley



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  • thank you fro your knowledge i knew i have flavour every one tells me that but dont have the capital to get it dun.. now here the fac from the horses mouth. thank you

    saveon benn

  • Great stuff. I first ran into these problems when I sarted the indie label. You havve to research and research build your data base.Great advice cd baby.

    If you are interested in radio promo do it your self kits we have them go to my website offering all music industry promos serves.

    Abel Romero

    Patro'n Records

  • Great advice! Chris is right-on-the-money regarding radio promotion. This article should save indie artists money — at least those indie artists thinking of wasting their money on commercial radio. Thanks Chris!

  • Wallace

    Being in a band that just finished a 14 week push to nationwide radio, I find that all you say is completely true. We hired a well known company on the west coast to help us chase that rainbow. He did exactly as he said he would. He got us on some pretty big stations and got us decent spins. Originally, we were slated for an 8 week push. The entire 8 weeks we were told how well it was going. At the end of the 8 weeks, he asked for more money and said we were "almost there". He said if we paid for 2 more weeks and we werent exactly where we needed to be, he would front the following two weeks after that on his own bill. He ended up pushing for 4 more weeks on his own bill. We steadily got adds and increased spins and even made the Mediabase chart. One of his enticements to get us to pay for that extra 2 weeks was the promise of pitching us to labels and whatnot. He is in the middle of doing that as of right now.

    So, my only question now (for myself) is … *Now what?* Yeah, we're on the radio. Yeah a few of those stations are playing the song once every 45 minutes every day. But like most bands, we're dirt poor. We're supporting our families and working our day jobs so a full scale tour is kinda outta the question right now. We can't roll into those areas where the song has blown up and play a weekend. Too far for a weekend. So, the song will eventually burn out and people will forget.

    So, all that being said….I'll say again…I agree completely. I've experienced it first hand. I'm glad we did it and I honestly don't regret it. I'd just like to save other bands the trouble if they're in the same position as we are as far as families/day jobs/etc. Don't throw that money away so quickly. Yeah, you're music is probably good enough to make a little ripple in the big pond but if you don't have the time or means to jump in and follow the song with a show…you're just treading water.

    Hope some of that will help someone somewhere.

  • I have had pretty much the same experience here as Chris stated. I was lucky enough to get in with a local commercial station at one point and it really was helpful for promotion. My avenue was not a radio promoter though it was just tenacity and creativity, I think. I would pay for ads for large shows (anything where I might get 500 people in the door) and sometimes the venue would split the costs which got me in touch with the folks at the station.. granted it cost me a bit to do so, but hey advertising fee == tax write off. I would also work with venues for benefit gigs for anything I could and there were a few times the radio station would have me come in and play maybe one tune and talk about the benefit show, which was a nice 10 minutes or "air time" and I got to plug an upcoming show. So foot in the door cost a bit of money, but then they knew me and since I was also a customer they would actually read my emails, listen to my tracks, etc… With the venues on my side I was someone that was on the "scene" and all together it helped the station admit that I existed. In turn I often got play for the local show as Chris mentioned, and we had fans that would call in and request us and the DJ would actually play the tune as he really did have the disc. It took time and effort to get the fans so that the venues would even consider my ideas, but in the end I felt it all was worthwhile, hey I got to play shows and some people even came sometimes! Anyhow, that's some of my experience with this.

  • Hi Chris

    Great advice and right on the money …. I have definitely found that carrying out my own promo was much more worthwhile than using promoters who may or may not have the level of enthusiasm to carry out the work you're paying for.

    Having had airplay on radio both sides of the Atlantic I can honestly say there is no publiicity to beat free publicity.


  • A nice article, Chris – thank you.

    I am a working musician and have released three of my own cds internationally. For radio and press, I have done both the completely-DIY route as well as the expensive-radio-promoter-and-publicist route. That's what inspired me to start It is an affordable, time-saving option for independent artists. I work exclusively with the Americana, Folk, Country, Bluegrass, and Singer-Songwriter genres.

    ~Rachel Harrington

    Four stars: Mojo Q, Uncut, The London Sun, The Irish Times

  • Many thanks Chris for the Advise you offer here. You have indeed helped to put my idea of Radio Promotion in the Right place. Most of us Artist listen to the Radio but does not understand how the Power shifts within the System. I will take your Advise and concentrate on the Area of the Radio world that concentrates on the Indie Artist like Myself.

    I am at the moment thinking of launching my EP 'NEVER GIVE UP' and you have helped to set my mind at ease about how I should approach this venture.

    Thanks again Chris.I was seriously thinking of getting involved with Commercial radio. Now I will be very Cautious.

    Good luck with all you do.


  • Great Advice!


    Mr. Dante Chestnut Sr.

    Music Powers I-Media

  • Radio airplay in "Great" but as stated it,s Very hard to come by.$$$. Do your home work well. Be careful with your MONEY$$. Thank God for CDBABY.

  • Hi,

    I'm sure all you say about the misadventures of radio airplay is true. Back in the 80's and 90's the pressure to 'get signed' was the difference between professional respect and not be taken seriously at all. Either way, it never mattered to me as my priority was to simply produce music.

    When CD Baby came along at the end of the 1990's I joined because we were among a class of musicians who just wanted to write and perform our own songs as real independent musicians. The moderate national exposure that came with that idea was an insignificant afterfact. I appreciated that founder Derek Sivers wasn't afraid to take some shots at the major labels while promoting independent music as the cool thing to buy. I tossed my music into the pot as it were, and enjoyed the fact that someone out there sees it the way I do…that with radio airplay or not, national fame or not, big time contracts or not, I'm in this business to stay.

  • This is the most realistic info I have seen so far about radio promotion. I've been down this road a few times, and it turned out to be exactly the way it was described above. It can feel like an uphill battle at times.

  • Well,thankx so much for ur advice on the radio promo article.i've tried a lot of times trying to promote on radio some few times and realised that it requires a lot of money spending which might not be advisable for an independent label like oksoundz music factory.In africa where i opreate from,most of all the radio personalty demand for money before they even get to play your song.if u don't keep up to your payments for a while then they get to forget we push out more on the streets and ones your songs are accepted on the streets,automatically the radio then picks it up from there.thankx to cdbaby for this advice.its really gonna help me out here.

    sean kdogg(Nigeria)

  • I have to echo Ron and say: "Thank God for CDBaby"!

  • Awesome!

  • The article by Chris is 100% accurate. If you look back at the recent exposes´ that were in the full glare of the public eye (Eliot Spitzer versus the major labels/Payola) you will see all the things that Chris says proven beyond any doubt.

    But payola is nothing new – the major labels have been working this way (dishonestly) for many, many years. In fact, that dishonesty goes back as far as the days of Stephen Foster. If you do your research, you will find this out for yourselves & I have written so much about it already that there's no need for me to repeat it all here!

    The truth is that everyone wants your money & for some reason, the music business is seen as the place where the richest pickings can be had. The majors tied that up very early on via corporate lawyers when they demanded that songwriters give away, for free! – ownership of their material for LIFE of copyright.

    Because what is owned, can be sold. Therefore, owning a song outright & then licensing it to everyone else down the line is what record labels & publishers are all about. Last year, the major labels managed to extend life of copyright & pushed the new laws through Congress with the help of their very own representative body, the RIAA. If you think this new extension of life of copyright was fast-tracked through Congress & into the legislative books to help you the writer, then I have some timeshare apartments in Chernobyl that might interest you, or some prime real estate adjacent to the Iranian nuclear enrichment zones. Would either of those 'opportunities' be in your interest?

    What it means in effect is that owners of copyright mountains, like UNIVERSAL, can hold onto them for longer, milk them for longer & stay in the game way into the distant future. They own the major distributors, they own the radio stations, they own the TV people, they own the whole enchalada. It is called a monopoly. So how does the indie artiste win in such a situation? Answer: You can't. But there IS a way to deal with a monopoly & that is to have NOTHING to do with it. That means you stay away from the tentacles of the former music business & all of it's Hydra heads. How?

    There is another alternative music business that has raised itself up in defiance of the old ways. It is called the New Music Business & it's way of working has no comparisons with the old. They run down totally seperate tracks but which lead to the same place – the mass market. And honesty & fairness has won the day because the independent sector has taken the lion's share of the marketplace. The old labels are not making money & they are hanging on to what they've managed to steal so far in the form of copyright mountains & the sale & licensing of that between themselves & the media.

    And of course, they make money all over again by pushing people like SONY to invent new music platforms so that they can re-release all their back catalog on new platforms. Voila! But of course, (& not by any charitable intent) that also helps the artistes who get at least their 50% ongoing – it's like getting cover versions all over again!

    But be aware – when you want to sit in the big room, at the big table, with the big boys, they play with weighted dice & the stake you have to put on the table is nothing less than ALL your rights & all your own money. You can't compete with them, you have to play their game or walk away. Fortunately, you can. Thank the digital revolution, the internet & the the new music business. It means we can own our rights! The music business IS a rights business. Never forget this.

    Let us all pray that the former music business & it's Hydra head the RIAA never manage to legislate against internet radio because if they do, they will once again be in a position to monopolise what was never theirs in the first place – the mass market, which should always be consumer led & free of manipulation & censoring. Because that is what the majors have tried to be – the ultimate aural censor. Controlling what you hear & ultimately, what you $pend your dollar§ on.

    Remember: Never sign life of copyright deals & remember one word: And it is your right, not theirs! – LICENSING. – Andy Martin http://www.cdbaby/cd/andymartin

  • This is great advice. Our Christian/Gospel independent label has 5 artists. We've been around for 15 years and produced 16 CD's. Getting radio airplay is no easy task. We ran promotional campagins on stations, had DJ's be the MC at our concerts, and more. We did manage to get national airplay for our artists on some of the major networks, satelite, and the internet. It is doable, but it took forming the right relaionships, persistance, committment, and being able to keep pushing through rejection.

    We started by gathering key information on Stations, Music Formats,Program Directors, Music Directors, On-air personalities, Tracking days, and more. We also identfied the Geographical areas so we could target tours in the areas where our artists were receiving airplay. Our plan also included sending CD's to key retail outlets (particularly those that advertise on the station) to get store-play as well. Remember radio and retail work together. We also learned that your packaging when you send a CD to a station must be "professional", as the first impression is a lasting impression. Music Directors get tons of CD's so you need to do something to make him/her open yours. Call the MD in advance so they can be on the lookout for your CD.

    What really helped us manage all this info,lighten the task, and spend our time and money efficiently was a contact management system we had developed.

    It's called the Christian Radio Information System and is commercially available at Several well known christian artists and magazine publishers also used this system.

    If your music is not of this genre, you still need a good contact management system. The Indie Bible is a good start but you can be much more effective if you had an automated system that will let you keep your information current,quickly identify your target stations, generate reports and labels, email MP3's, and store tracking information received from the station personnel.

    Another good point you made is that "radio isn't faithful", at least not to the independent artist. You must stay active in order to stay in rotation, and you really must go beyond your local area if you want to be a "national" artist.

    You can get commercial airplay, but it takes work.

  • Matt

    Fantastic suggestions! All very true. However, don't rule out the tiny chance you could have at a commercial station based on "sentimental" or "special" or "unique" circumstances. The new pd grew up in your hometown, or his/her wife or husband did, you have a personal connection (the new dj used to mc shows at a festival you played at), you were able to "sell" your story of new strugglin' artist from the area. There are small and rare chances for you to creep into major market airplay, but you have to do your research, remember names. You never know who you've met and where they'll end up….always be cool to everyone!! However don't pay a promoter to work these unique chances…they are uniquely yours.

    Best Wishes,


  • Joe

    Just wondering… are (physical) CD's required to approach radio (even at college level), or would they accept digital files? I'm asking because the cost of shipping and physical CD costs (to throw to the wind) would be cut down greatly, and (2nd) the station would receive the music quicker.

    Just curious… please hit me back at (as I may not always be logged on here).


  • Josh

    WAY OFF!

    From an actual Program Director (me)… FIRST very few stations have corporate TELL THEM what to play. Yes, some stations are satellite based or have a lot of syndication, but the music that is programmed locally is actually programmed locally!

    Why are so many station playlists similar? Because rock, pop or whatever audiences aren't that different from city to city. And you play the latest hit from a big named act because your audience wants to hear that song. Labels put a lot of promotion into THAT SONG. Why play a different cut off the Lady Gaga album if she's going to be performing "Love Game" on Leno, SNL, Today Show, etc.

    SO why can't you get your little song on my station. Because I don't have room for EVERY song. On my pop station you have to sound just as good as the next record. People don't forgive your so-so production quality because you're an "Indie" band. IF you are local, you might get a little extra chance. But you better have a following already and be committed to supporting the record. If you're not local, I wonder why your home-town station isn't already playing it. That's how 3 Doors Down got started and eventually became a hit and got signed to a big label.

    Keep in mind. If I actually listened to everything that was sent to me on a weekly basis, I wouldn't have any time to do anything else. And if you send me a record, DON'T LIE and say it's on WXYZ when in reality it's not (or maybe the played it ONCE). And don't send me more than one track. I don't have time to listen to 13 songs and pick a single for you.

    When myspace was big, I had people email me their myspace and say "My Song FSAJFLSAF is a hit!" But if you looked at the number of plays, it said 235. Ha!

    There are strict rules about payola. We don't get trips, etc. Yes they can take us out to dinner to discuss business, but even those have $$$ limits. If you come to my office with Krispy Kreme's, there's a better chance I'll listen to your record. Doesn't mean I'll play it, but I might even give you some constructive criticism.

    It's not easy (especially top 40). College and Internet radio is easiest. Followed by Alt/Rock radio.

    Good luck!

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  • I have found trough 10+ years of promoting my own CDs that the best way to get it to the world is to start local. I developed a system that hard knocks tought me.

    Step 1.) Record CD, better to do less songs if short of cash of better Pro Quality CD.

    Step 2.) Contact the press (News Paper Editors and College Rags, Radio)

    Step 3.) Play live Benefit shows (Tax write off for benefits and they let you play in radio studio for interviews etc…

    Step 4.) Get CD Pkgs out to the West Coast (If you live on the west Coast)

    Step 5.Followup calls: Subscribe to Music Connection Magazine they have College radio and record label.

    5.) Get TV/Film issue from Music Connection Magazine and get CDs to them. Make sure you have rights to your music. Very good money in this if you stick with it and are fearless!!!

    Never Quit…

    Joey Vegas

    Peace Mafia Band

  • I was very pleasantly surprised to get your email . I had long ago given up on cd baby. I don't think I've ever sold anything through you guys and don't even remember how to access my account BUT , to get a blog full of good ideas was inspiring and motivating . I had no idea you did this kind of thing .

    I'm an old dude from New Zealand . 60 yrs old and still in the business . I live on a sail boat and have been playing clubs and festivals in Poland for the last six months . Check out my web site . I have a great life style and plenty of good stories to tell .

    I'm going to try some of your suggestions . Who knows , maybe I'll sell some c.d's through your site.

    That'll make us both happier.

    All the best


  • I believe this"

    "So many want to help, so few actually can".

    Keep that in mind when talking to someone.

    Another question I have, It seems that most everyone in this business wants to be paid, before they have done anything?

    Have many people here worked a job where you get paid, before you do any work?

  • I had to learn the hard way..Some DJ'S will lie to get the little money that you have..Some of them kn that a lot of New Artist are independent..Pray that God will lead you, Trust In The LORD With All Your Heart…

  • Aloha,

    We've been around for about five years now. Have we had an experience that runs contrary to the wisdom and comments above? Yes, I think so.

    In '05 two songs, Necta and Japanese Squeeze from Sashamon's cd One Day Maybe, went to NUMBER ONE in Hawai'i our home state. The two songs replaced one another at number one for weeks on the most popular fm radio station in Honolulu. The entire cd still gets radio play locally & nationally (internationally?).

    Our situation was that we had no resources and made no attempt at promoting the cd to radio stations. The cd was produced in our very small home studio with little cost beyond $5000 for studio computer stuff. The tracks were all produced and arranged by sasha playing all the instruments himself.

    We gave away our first hundred cd's (all we had) and told our friends to feel free to make copies and pass them around. We live on the island of Kaua'i. Within weeks we heard local boy trucks driving by pounding the sounds. wow

    Somehow a radio station on the Big Island of Hawai'i got the cd and started playing the Necta song and Japanese Squeeze. Bingo to number one both, pretty mind blowing actually.

    Recently, Sashamon performed at the West Beach Music Festival in Santa Barbara in front of 14,000 people. Our myspace site has had a million song plays.


    steve reiff aka pops

  • That was a great article written by Chris. Every word is true.

    Personally, I called Essex FM in Chelmsford,Essex England, and asked them to play my music. The greedy woman manager asked me for £1.800 fot 2 seconds. It wsa such a terrible shock, that I went to a car dealer and purchased a Beutiful Toyota Rav instead still in shock. For that much money, I at least had a lovely jeep, that I could touch and see and that took me places.

    Now let me tell you all, how the Icelandic government does it.

    They threw away Billions of Icelandic tax payers money and money borrowed from Americans and other countries to promote their relatives who have no talent but who do have the "downs syndrome" and are the biggest noisemakers in iceland. Iceland is a country of NEPOTISM, if you're related to the icelandic politicians or the icelandic prime minister, he or she will give you everything,including buy their favourite an "Island in Scotland".

    They put their favourite retards, with their crappy noise in the playlists with Payola(bribes). They bribed every country and the bbc, TV shows,MTV(Uk)every two years to get awards.They also bribed the American Grammy award makers to get their retards "Nominations". Today Iceland is bankrupt because of that. They robbed innocent people around the wrold of their "savings"to Bribe every magazine and media to get front covers, and called THAT promoting Iceland. Iceland is broke for promoting the duffer in the dark and many other similar duffers,who Cannot make any music on their own merits.

    They are however,"Experts"at racial harassment, abusing coloured artists

    like myself and that's what their little ku klux klan in Iceland is really good at in a country of 260.000 something people with bloated egos.

  • Mark

    Has anyone out there worked with Howard Rosen Promotions for their radio promotion. Wallace's story seems real familiar to mine. We are considering using HRP for our song.

    • paul

      HI mark please get in touch with me, I am very interested of knowing how did you go with howard rosen promotion because right now i have the same question as you 4 years email is hopping to hear of you soon

  • Regardless of the reasons for A&R in today's super competitive market, these are some things that our company has done to some success.

    TIMKAT turned to independent venues and started with people with a true interest in our sound and field (jazz/blues) to get the promotion we needed.

    We recognized, as Josh stated, that A&R and promotions people get a veritable *flood* of items that all say they are the next 'big hit' and we needed to be able to set our sounds apart from most.

    We insisted in sending only superbly-recorded and mastered materials, a professional and friendly press kit, and only sent to opportunities that we really felt we were an excellent fit for. We also expressly thanked those that helped us and continue to promote their stations and names on our site for continued traffic over to them (see our CDBaby site links as an example).

    The one common thread I do see throughout these posts is that the talent has to be excellent, recording quality amazing, and it also takes a long time to build trusting relationships with others that can move your music along.

    Blogging, like here on CD Baby, is huge for networking too. We joined The Jazz Network (, and found folks like Dr. Mike Matheny and the incredible network of channels, as well as folks on (I Love Jazz, Rhythm and Jazz, etc, and before long, selections from Tim's 'Easy Does It' ended up in the playlists in regular rotation.

    Are we a worldwide success and I can quit my day job to do this full-time? No, not yet (and I wish!) However, with the power of the Internet, histories cached in Internet searches, its global reach, and the excellence of the sounds that we produce, we are content that we can continue to reach fans and folks in the industry that truly love jazz and can grow from there. The untold story for so many bands that "make it" is that they were at it a good 10-15 years before you ever heard of them in the mainstream, and it took a lot of work, a lot of letters, a lot of sweat and elbow grease, and a lot of un/paid gigs in crappy places before they got there.


    Kathryn Shut /shoot/


    TIMKAT Entertainment, Inc.

    Denver, CO, USA

    CD BABY for Tim Ballard:
    The TIMKAT Store:

  • I think Chris is right about the big "behind the scenes" machine in the music business.

    About 4 years ago, we released a CD called "The Colour's Coming Back", an album of uplifting original songs for people living with cancer and their families and friends – most based on true stories. The album was the first of its kind in Canada and likely world-wide. We decided to keep the publishing rights because we wanted to donate a portion of the proceeds from album sales to cancer-related organizations rather than to stuff the pockets of big record label owners.

    Just prior to the release of the CD, we were told by the A & R rep of a local record label that we were dreaming in technicolor if expected that our album would get anywhere. He told us outright that you need high level promotion, not just a unique idea, to get anywhere in the music business. Being very idealistic, my co-writer and I (two middle-aged starry-eyed women)refused to believe him. However, to some extent he was right, but not 100%.

    When the album was released, we lucked out. We got a lot of coverage in both local newspapers and on TV because the media people were intrigued by the uniqueness of our CD. We even got features on the SOCAN website and in the Canadian Psychological Association's newspaper. Recently, we got permission to put one of our TV clips on YouTube. We discovered that one feature could lead to another and to another. Obviously, we are still trying to land more. The major problem that we are running into is that the features are one-shot deals. They're great when you get them, but in order for a CD to be successful, people have to hear the songs (or ads about the CD) over and over again.

    Unfortunately, we soon found out that commercial radio was a whole other ball game. When we approached a local easy listening radio playlist director, this was the response we received: "So, you ladies are the new Simon and Garfunkel of the 21st Century… Your songs are very good, but you have to understand the way the business works. We have ratings of all the songs that we play. We air the ones that our listeners expect to hear. If not, they change the channel and our sponsors complain that pay a lot of money for advertising and then their ads don't get heard. As you can see, our hands are tied."

    Despite the frustration of not getting airplay YET, we have not given up hope. We keep telling ourselves that The Beatles started in Liverpool!

    Sharon Zigman

  • a couple of years ago AIM negotiated a deal in which Clear Channel was going to air Indie artist in which CC agreed to but have yet to comply with their own agreement. In my humble opinion some antitrust issues are present along with possible monopolistic practices but the indie artist would have to unite or be sitting on a bank roll to ever accomplish anything from it.

  • Thats why you need to think outside of the box. Its actually easy to get radio play if you want it bad enough.

  • This is the reality of a capitalist society though, isn't it? Money can buy you just about everything, and this is why the vast majority of "famous" "artists" that become household names -came from rich, privileged, well-connected families-

    iLike wants $1 per click for individual song promotion, just one prime example. So for $1,000US you'll get 1,000 hits. Mind blowing, isn't it?

    Personally, I'd rather offer my art for free and pray that eventually it carries itself where it needs to go. I don't want to bother with these defunct systems, and I'd rather just get to know individuals, build relationships, and build an empire that way. I came from very humble beginnings – I expect the road to be very difficult indeed.

  • old drums

    I've worked in radio 25 years. Mostly on the business side. I keenly observe what goes on in the programming side. Because — big cliche but the truth — I love music. From weird and obscure stuff to mass-market pop. If i like it, I like it.

    I read the column. I didn't read every word of every reply.I skimmed most, though. Here's my two cents:

    There are a lot of truths laid out here. There is also some mis-information along with misplaced anger and bitterness. Just because you're a hard-working musician doesn't mean you'll get, or are entitled to, radio airplay — commercial or otherwise.

    If you want to greatly increase your odds, become really popular. It works every time. Write, perform and record a song so popular that the audience, and then radio, will celebrate you above other options.

    Sure, plenty of great music and potential hit songs are overlooked. More common is pretty good songs that just don't rise above the fray. Or not far above it. I know, you listen to the radio and hear songs that really aren't great; aren't hits. Yeah, maybe those songs got greased — by money or relentless effort — but those songs won't last.

    Of all the comments here, pay closest attention to Josh. He's actually a program director and he's willing to listen. All he needs is one great song and evidence of building popularity for it. That's your challenge. You could be next. But if you're not, please stop blaming others. All radio is looking for is good songs that people like. It's not radio's responsibility to jump start that process.

    And yes… don't waste your time and money on "radio promotion." When you're at that level, you'll know it. Meanwhile, put effort into those grassroots platforms noted in the column – college radio, non-comm, web radio, etc, etc.

    Enjoy being a musician, for God's sake. Maybe someday the people, and maybe radio, will decide that you're amazingly good. Maybe not.

  • Hello Chris great advise Iam about to get into that I talked to one of the promoter artis and he toll me exacly that for me to have my CD on the radio they make it so hard for all of us with no mejor record lable. thank you

    Enrique Nava

  • Jerry

    Having been a PD at medium and major market stations for many years I can tell you without hesitation to never do mass calling by fans, friends or family to a radio station to try and get the song played. That will not only piss off the airstaff and the management but may see you dropped from consideration. I know of one indie artist that had his fan base make calls to stations all over the US. Stations know their listener base very, very well and they also know when BS calls come in from people not in their area. Most of the stations contacted dropped the song and the artist was heard from no more. Sadly, he had a promoter helpomg him who told him not to engage in that activity but the guy wouldn't listen. I still have the CD and it's a decent tune that had a good chance of going somewhere.

  • Hey.. Im going back through all the old blogs and absorbing as much as possible from all this. Thank you for this article in particular.

    I am in the beginning stages of managing a band. The band themselves have been around for about 4-5 years, I have only been managing for about 3 monthes. Why would I do such a thing, and why would they let me? Theres a longer story there, but it essentially boils down to the fact that they needed someone who wouldn't just say 'you work on getting popular' and would actually get down and do the work and organization to get there.

    One thing that comes up, especially from friends is the need to get their CD out to radio. It does sound good, even with technical hurdles in the way, to an untrained eye. I new there had to be at least some technique to it, in tany biz thats been around a long while there is technique to Everything.

    This note outlines some of the technique to it.. I've said from the start that 1-off things like a given gig or getting up on the radio is neat at the time, but in the long run isnt the total solution. Thank you for delineating some of the work that has to go into radio play to actually help it become part of the solution for a band.

    david benson

    manager – the sindicate

  • I have very good thoughts on my success. I am just very scared since I will fall either in the cradling hands of a devilish octopus handling many bad cases but assuring me comfort. I am very scared for the production that I won't get noticed but the bars and coffee houses, when every night they tell me I am very talented and can actually pull it off; Hence, I won't get a single acknowledgement by a Disc Jockey, Radio Publishers. There's no need for it. If you are standing above the levels that regular artists have, why are you shut down so they can play their songs. It's not "fair". Fair = Impossible.

  • Great article and comments. Thank you CD Baby. Striving for commercial radio play is "chasing rainbows," amen. I don't believe anyone mentioned, so I will – with enthusiasm. Every single track I've posted there has gotten lots of indie-type airplay (including some domestic FM). That in turn has helped sales on itunes, rhapsody, and napster…..In short, AirplayDirect rocks!

  • To Wallace(post #14),

    If you don't mind me asking, what company did you use that you were so happy with? We are currently considering starting our own college, local and internet radio campaign. We are looking into a couple different promoters, one in particular is MusicSubmit. There is so much work that goes into compiling lists of the best radio stations to send them to, the contact information for each radio station, the name of the best show, etc etc that it only makes sense to go with someone who has already done all of that foot work. Why reinvent the wheel by spending 100's of hours compiling my own list.

  • Like it's been mentioned. Unless you're at a certain level and your music is of a certain genre, chasing radio is going to end up with you burning through a fair amount of money for very little results.

    First of all determine if your music has the type of appeal that most commercial radio stations are going for. If not then go the college route.

    However, the main avenue for you will not be through radio, it will be through the thousands of music blogs that can get the word out about your music. Start compiling a list of music blogs (or you can pay people that have already done this) and target the blogs who play your genre. If you target the blogs correctly you can gain quite a lot of downloads/listeners/page views (whatever you're focusing on) without having to spend a lot of money.

    Keep in mind, you still have to do the work for this method to be successful as well.

    • Thommy Sides

      Thanks for sharing this Mike. I guess I’ll google music blogs when I leave this site today.

  • In the first paragrpaph of major independent radio promoter Bill Jerome's website (Jerome he states that you need a major label deal.That is the bottom line for commercial broadcast radio airplay in the US.It is a private club.

  • Thanks Chris,

    Very helpful. Especially about the following up thing and being persistent

    Thanks for all your work!

  • Nice advice.

    But I would say that even 3 months advance can be optimistic for gigs, at least in Europe. I would think more like 6-8 – many venues and festivals book that far up front.


  • All this agreeement on a very, very sad state of affairs: Corporate Radio locks out new music from the Independent Artist. It's all down to promotion, i.e, money. Isn't this how it used to be with music distribution until Derek Sivers came along?

    Now I don't claim to be the next Derek Sivers, but I do refuse to accept the injustice and unfairness of commerical radio and records practices. As 'old drum' above said, "Plenty of great music and potential hit songs are overlooked." Of course they are – with a rotation of a meager 30 songs per day, how could great songs NOT be overlooked every single day? And to make matters worse, the amount of songs in rotation is lessening more and more according to the former VP of Programming for ABC Radio.

    If we make music, do we have a right to be played? No, but we do have a right to have a fair chance of getting commercial airplay based on merit? Yes, abso-friggin-lutely. Radio's excuses are many but the most recent from a large market PD is this – "We don't make the hits, we play them." He believes that is what the listener wants…

    And traditional radio continues to arrogantly blunder.

    'Old drum' references radio PD Josh and Josh says, "Labels put a lot of promotion into THAT SONG. Why play a different cut off the Lady Gaga album if she’s going to be performing “Love Game” on Leno, SNL, Today Show, etc."

    There's your logic. Radio plays what a major label promotes. Why? Because major label promotion tactics PAYS radio. It's not payola if you find the loophole…. And I quote Eric Boehlert***:

    "The days are long gone when a DJ made an impulse decision about what song to spin. The music industry is a $12 billion-a-year business; today, nearly every commercial music station in the country has an independent record promoter or "indie" guarding its playlist. And for that right, the record promoter shells out hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to individual stations — and collects a lot more from the major record labels… Indeed, say many industry observers, very little of what we hear on today's radio stations isn't bought, one way or another."

    For more real radio facts:

    You think this Eric guy is full of crap? Think again.

    ***Eric Boehlert is an American writer, currently a senior fellow at Media Matters for America. Prior to this he was a senior writer for Salon for five years, and before that a contributing editor to Rolling Stone.[1]

    At Salon Boehlert won the 2002 American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers' Deems Taylor Award for music journalism, for a series of articles in 2001 on the radio industry. The series was also shortlisted for the Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism.[2][3]

    So what does a talented, professional, hardworking Independent artist with music GOOD ENOUGH (OR GREATER)than what is currently played on radio today do? You do what Derek did, and you come up with a solution.

    You can also join me and 24,000 Independent artists and their fans. Sign up for free for a chance to break through the crapola. Your opportunity for meaningful commercial radio play (regular rotation airplay based on merit) is coming but we need you and your strength in numbers. There are 8 million artists and bands online uploading cool, new music to the Internet everyday. The best songs ever made HAVEN'T been discovered yet and I believe those songs are Independently produced – made by artists who "have not sold their art or creative work to a corportation." (Does anyone remember how that used to be forefront on CD Baby?)

    Investigate this for yourself and if you want, check out our little crusade for the airplay of Independent music.

  • In reponse to JOSH, the PD

    Josh, the problem with your reply is that it's prejudicial and aimed at no one in particular. It strongly assumes that some "indie" you're hereby setting straight is a semi-talented, under-developed, wishful/hopeful and sincerely deluded wannabe.

    Let's say that there are indeed 90% of those and therefore your comment is somewhat correct if applied to any such specific case

    But that's NOT the point in the posts here. You completely ignore the remaining 10% (who still number in the many tens of thousands) whose music is not just every bit as good as what the majors manufacture – it's more often than not BETTER. And yes, you can then go on to argue that "better" is subjective and all that. Let's not go there. Trust me, there's TONS of SUPERB independent music out there.

    We deal with stations around the world on a daily basis – with PD's and station managers. While network executives have surprisingly much more vision than I would have expected, many of their NEW initiatives break down when approaching PD's.

    Perhaps you are an exception, but the vast majority of PD's are blinkered, closed and totally unwilling to play anything other than what THEY THINK "their audience wants." And when when they receive research and studies from highly respected organizations such as Bridge Ratings or Jacobs Media – they almost invariably TOTALLY ignore them. Because "they know better." Oh, and because indie music doesn't sound so good, as you say!

    Only a deaf or a deeply prejudiced person would say that in good conscience.

    And in the meantime, radio IS going down the tubes. Each station sounds like the next, while PD's continue insisting that what they do IS correct. And when their station closes down, they walk away to their next job secure in their knowledge that they were always right, and that radio is going down the tubes IN SPITE of their efforts and because of OTHER reasons (like blaming the web). But NEVER because THEY had no guts and no vision to try something new to re-invigorate their station(s) and re-engage listeners!

    Problem is… PD's don't listen to radio very much. Not as "listeners" anyway.

    And, yeah, sure – you guys pick the playlists (and often that playlist is distributed to all the stations "under" you). But the question is: from WHICH source to you make your selections? You don't expand your criteria, do you?. (Of course not – indie music is sh*t anyway)

    You don't go outside of the box. You'll oh-so-cleverly pick song A or song B – out of a pre-supplied list which only has song A and song B. Bravo! You can have any Model T as long as it's black.

    We're dealing with world-class indie music DAILY. But NO ONE (in mainstream radio & records) wants to touch that music UNTIL it gets the major label seal of approval.

    Whether or not radio's relationship with records is based on payola matters not. The truth is: it's NOT healthy. And the irony is that it's not healthy for radio and records! And definitely NOT healthy for the fans and listeners.

    When solutions are offered (and they DO exist), ranging from the FCC settlement regarding minimum "indie" play to (some) network executives or (many) research organizations URGING PD's to adopt new types of (indie-based) programming – the response from PD's is almost invariably "NO". Typically, they'll answer things like "we don't break hits – we just play them," or "nobody knows this music, our listeners will switch off" (because they are, of course, EXPERTS and also mind-readers).

    I've been working with radio and indepenent artists for years with my organization, and the WALL which PD's have put up (regardless of whether they're paid to be thick or because they just are thick) is virtually insurmountable. In my considered view, PD's are the biggest mistake radio has ever committed. When the on-air DJ became hired "talent" (lmfao), that was the beginning of the end. PD's are the real gate-keepers on top of the little pyramid they've been placed on – and they'll die before they STOP CONFORMING.

    This problem exists all around the world, but nowhere is it more acute than in the States.

    OK. I'm ranting and I'm ever so slightly peeved with what you wrote. I know PD's who are NOT like that, so it's POSSIBLE to have an open-minded PD. But they're one in a thousand. Truly.

    Josh – people like you – PD's – should stop and think.

    Don't think through your UNWARRANTED prejudice against some half-baked HYPOTHETICAL poorly perpared wannabe indie. Instead, think about the thousands of SUPERB artists with MASSIVE HIT potential and CREDIBLE music who are constantly stopped and prevented and tripped over and unfairly dealt with by EVERYONE in radio – and records.

    Wanna find some of those great new artists? Visit Fame Games Radio (

    Kind regards,


    MMI / Fame Games

  • Steve

    There's a company that does radio promotion for indie artists at a great rate. They're smart about it though. They go after radio stations that will play indie music. They hit secondary markets, college, internet, etc. They promote digitally instead of having the artist provide CD's. They're website is

  • flaming duck

    You will never get on commercial radio because you don't have money attached.

    I don't mean that literally (although that does happen sometimes), but more in the sense of numbers. Commercial radio is about sales, first and foremost – it's not about music, great or otherwise. In essence, it has nothing to do with music.

    The way Corporate station owners see it, playing a short list of current popular tunes and classics from whatever bygone era you pick (mostly the 80s though) is the way to bring the most amount of listeners in.

    Bringing in listeners means increased exposure for advertisers. And repetition is a known form of brain washing – so they repeat everything over and over, either convincing the listener they "like" this new song, or by pressing a nostalgic button in their brain by playing a "classic", thereby equating the new with the old. And that makes you feel young, and everybody wants to feel young, right?

    Now they've hooked you, you come back over and over. That's how the monopoly of commercial stations operate, and that's why they all sound the same. There is NO WAY they will break the formula because it messes with possible loss of money.

    What you need is someone who recognizes that advertising is required to keep a station running, but doesn't program music to increase ad revenue.

  • Chris, you're spot on. As a host of three shows on two stations (one community and one college), I can attest to your suggestions.

    Early in my radio life, I posted my own tips to maximize the amount of airplay your album may get.
    Before you manufacture your CD, please read this. It may help you.

  • Paul

    Does anyone have any experience of using It says on their website they are recommended by CDBaby, but I have read elsewhere that it is a scam.

    • Jlisdaman

      I JUST READ AN ARTICLE FROM CDBABY THAT SAID TO STEER CLEAR OF THESE TYPES OF COMPANIES. THEY CANT DO ANYTHING BETTER THAN YOU CAN AS SENDING IN MUSIC..Use you money for a Publicist or funding a tour and try and use local radio stations within the tour

  • Pingback: join the music lifestyle club()

  • Something I have pounded to death in my column as LA Rock Examiner is that many radio stations in the Los Angeles area DO NOT play much new music AT ALL. There are just a handful of shows that will take a chance and they are no doubt flooded. People have a better change in local, college and midwestern markets. When I DJd in college I was always looking for something new I hadn't heard of.

    Now I keep telling people you have to do it YOURSELF.

  • independent is the way to go period….

    radio promotional budget went to fund tour….

    and it paid off big for old-Man Tha Husla, results was a local and world wide independent tour, Commercial Radio will be next to fall, because no matter how much money they pay, in they payola scheme/system, as we all know there sells of albums, digital downloads and other materials are not selling at all, thats why most of the commercial labels have been shut down,merged together,closed or filed for bankrupt status..its only a matter of time before they do the same with the music they are making and producing.




  • paul f

    Here's a hope of success from the UK. I've produced 12 tracks under the name of v_four.

    Based on prior experience (failure) and the state of the music industry – I've posted zero cd's to radio stations or record labels.

    I uploaded some my tracks to and so far 4 of my tracks have been played across the UK on D.A.B and online.

    I would say good luck, but if you take action and work with the technology available then you can manage your own career not a suit.


  • Paul asked:

    Does anyone have any experience of using It says on their website they are recommended by CDBaby, but I have read elsewhere that it is a scam.

    With regard to I have just signed up with them so I hope its not a scam – I actually only signed up because of the cdbaby recommendation. It would be good for someone from cdbaby to maybe comment on this. I'm hoping its going to work well but I'll post back when I see how it is working.


    • Jlisdaman

      Music submit, Did absolutely nothing for me at all. They promosed me spins, they promised they would send your music to thousands of radio stations and web zines and magazines, Just about anything you think of, Well I believe that they did , What they do it they have a list od email addresses, that you yourself can get as well, and they emailed these people with the click of 1 button and there goes your money and your music sent to all these places. I never got one response that was something of any use, never had 1 spin anywhere that I could find. I would definetly recommend staying away. Most of these people are here for the money and dont know these people any better than you do. College for 1, changes people out like you change your underware, or at least most of us. The best thing to do is save your money and possibly try and find a publicist that can help you get some publicity or try and finance a tour of somekind, As your doing these things be emailing and calling these radio stations yourself asking for permission to send in your material and who to address it to, and think about when setting a tour to try and get the promotion with radio station in the areas to come, because they will be more apt to play your material because you are gonna be performing. Hope this helps you some..

  • Coming from a Commercial Radio Program Director/Music Director many times over, turned Artist Manager, Publicist, and Radio Promoter, Thank you Chris!

    I found myself pretty feed up with how commercial radio, analyzes this and reports that, yet continues to ignore the listeners simple complaint of "why are you playing the same thing over and over and over." Listeners are smarter then they give us credit for, how long did they think they could spoon-feed listeners exploited for $$$ no-talent, blue eyed, blonds. Not counting Christina Aguilera, oh yeah she's got brown eyes and a voice.

    Now being on the other side of the phone calling into radio, I find it extremely frustrating, no make that humorous… I can not believe the ego's and the abhorred behavior to their customers i.e., their listeners and management pushing an artist. I guess PD's and MD's don't realize that the caller on the other end knows they don't really have the say of what gets added. I sure don't have anything to prove, but I'm out of radio because of the ghastly behavior of GM's and SM's pitting programing and sales departments against each other. Between the sales department not giving a rats a$% about the end product, and the follow-the-leader mind set from non- creatives, and don't get me started on the arm twisting corporate threats if PD's add an indie artist that has not been tested. And one last thing… maybe the most important thing, fighting the tide of change of technology is setting commercial radio behind – way behind. Digital is here to stay!

    Most I run across these days in commercial radio would do well to go back to business basics 101. Treat others respectfully, work hard and pay attention to what your customers are saying.

    But what do I know? …. just sayin'

  • I have had good success with the internet radio stations, special niche channels have always been pleased, especially when it moves away from the mainstream.

  • Man I love this article and it was so informational and I am gonna save it. One thing to say the Superb analysis this article has is greatly remarkable.Who goes that extra mile these days? Well Done! Just one more suggestion you caninstall a Translator for your Worldwide Readers Amazingg skills! Keep it up man, you rock!

  • Jefkearns

    How is it working?

  • Bringing in listeners means increased exposure for advertisers.

  • David

    Music Submit isn't anything that you can't do, only better. We released two singles in June, one was a love ballad and the other was a rock songs, These songs were sent to commercial radio stations through another promoter we were using and we also used radio submit. I learned the hard way the two major problems with Music Submit, even though I believe there intentions were good.

    1) They submit your songs to a list of stations without regards to the format of the station. "Without You" was submitted to dance and rock stations which formats they do not fit. We followed up with some of the stations and when speaking to with reps from the station, learned they do not fit the format. They even sent the song to some metal stations and a couple of metal magazines. That is the first problem, they send a song to all genres at radio and magazines and do not consider the format. This is a waste of your time and money.

    2) Our song "If The Walls Could Talk" charted on Billboard single sales with us hitting the stations ourselves and hiring a radio promoter. The life of a song is approx. 3 months, which is what happened with "If The Walls Could Talk". Any person and/or company knows that you need to get the product to radio stations immediately, not over time. We used the 1,000 package with Music Submit and over a two month to three month period they were submitting the song to radio stations and magazines. Our song charted at Billboard and by the time we stated with our next release, Music Submit was still sending out the song to their stations. A waste. If they sent the songs out at once, it might serve a purpose, but not strong out over a period of time.

    3) If you use Music Submit or any other service, you have to be prepared to follow up with the radio station. Even though some artist are willing to do so, the Music Director is not going to take your phone calls (in most cases) and trying to promote it to the station is very hard to do. An artist needs to stay away from these type of services as they will make some money, you may get a request for some airplay, but what good does it do you when there is no plan promotion behind it. How do you promote an album with internet station in Italy, a magazine in U.K. and a college station in Waco. You can't, you need to push the song regionally so you can do a tour and make dollars.

    Radio promoters are not as expensive as they used to be and a good one can cost around $20,000 for a single. (This is for secondary markets, not primary markets). Why send a new song to stations in LA, NY, Dallas and so forth, when they are tied into the major record companies. Concentrate on the secondary and college markets and get bang for your bucks, and do not waste money on services that are not promoting a song to radio buy only submitting it. You can do that yourself. There are lists out there and you can control the region of the country you want to promote your music to.

  • This is VERY helpful. I had a snake of a producer tell me he would promote my song, along with the actual radio promotor, for $7500 !!! And I bet my song wouldn’t have been played where I wanted it to. Thank you for saving us artists time, money, and a big headache!

    • kai$oundz

      Who was he exactly

  • Glad to hear you've stepped over said snake.

  • Sfoster315

    Well, the CD is a dinosaur, all releases these days are done digitally.

  • chat chat

    Here is my 2 cents… If your song is really good and you send it to the radio whatever how… they gonna play it. If it is just an ok song they are going to play it only if you call them. If it is a song without any hook forget it you waste your time they not gonna play it at least not more than one time just by respect.
    Tour or not on tour that changes nothing we are not in the 60′ or 70′. If it is great you not even need anything else but if you want to make money and grow you need to sell stuff and go outside make gigs and apparitions. There is no limit on where the song can play and have success anyway they gonna play it again when the band is on tour in the region or if something in the news is related. The song is on the Internet anyway and everyone can access it, it is a no sens to not release it worldwide.

  • alias2u2

    We put an unsigned, undistributed band on the most powerful commercial radio spins chart, Mediabase Top 50. We have helped numerous unsigned bands chart on radio. It can be done. Just sayin' … Artist Airplay Advisors

  • Frustrations with radio talked about in this article, is the reason why we Incorporated.