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How to Get Radio Airplay For Your Music - Part One

By Bryan Farrish

In the last issue, we detailed the number and types of radio stations that play new music in the United States. We now look at which of those stations you should choose to promote your music to. Your choice of radio stations should be based upon:

  • Long-term goals: Do you want to sign with a larger company, or, do you want to sell CDs?

  • Genre.

  • CDs: Do you have manufactured CDs, or CDRs?

  • Web presence: Do you have an in-depth site with articles, photos, individual bio's, mailing lists, and tour info, or, a simple site (or no site at all)?

  • Previous promotions.

  • Distribution, Touring, and Press.

Note that *servicing* your music to a radio station, and *promoting* your music to a radio station, are not the same thing. "Servicing" is simply getting your CD to the station. "Promoting" it is getting them to find it, listen to it, and play it.

Long Term Goals

If you are (or have) only one act, and if your intentions are to build a buzz to the point where you can "sign" with someone, then non-commercial radio is probably for you (genre permitting.) Non-commercial radio is very accepting of new acts, and these stations "report" their airplay to the trade magazines readily. They will also interview you, play station-identifications made by you, and (in general,) work with you. This all adds up to a good buzz. But... these stations will not sell many CDs for you.

If, on the other hand, you are running a small label and you intend to build the number of artists on it... and you intend to sell CDs, tickets and other merchandise through it, then commercial radio would be a good choice for you (again, genre permitting.) Only commercial radio can get your song to enough people, enough times, to sell any real quantities of CDs. But "long-term" is the key here, since you will not start seeing payment from your CD sales for quite some time (6+ months).


Non-commercial radio is very accepting of Alternative, Metal, Rap, Hip Hop, Jazz (non smooth), New Age, World, Electronic, and Novelty/Comedy.

Commercial radio is accepting of Alternative, Modern Rock, Rap, R&B, Smooth Jazz, Top 40, Adult Contemporary, Country, Americana, and AAA (Adult Album Alternative.)

CD'S: If the CDs that you have were printed on a computer (some people call these "CDRs", "write-once CDs", "burned CDs" or "one-offs",) then you must choose non-commercial radio.

Web Presence

A strong web presence can be a great reason to choose non-commercial (and in this case, mostly college) radio. College kids (age 18-24) have the highest percentage of access to the web (almost 100%).

Past Promotions

Have you promoted a previous release to radio? Have you just completed a college tour? Have you done a retail promotion with a chain store that advertises on radio? If so, make the most of it.

Distribution, Touring, Press

If you lack having your CD in many stores, and if you have no performances in cities other than your own, and if you have no articles written about you, then non-commercial radio should be a strong consideration for you (or possibly, a non-charting attempt at Commercial radio, using specialty shows, smaller stations, and outer-lying areas.) These stations do not have strong concerns about distribution, touring, or press...

Commercial stations, however (especially larger ones in larger cities)... do. It works like this: Radio stations are paid based upon their ratings (the number of listeners they have.) If a label exposes an artist to many potential fans by way of performances, posters, TV, articles, or film, and these fans then want to hear the artist's song, they will have to tune in to the radio station that plays it. This means that this radio station is going to get all these new listeners, and thus, is going to be paid more. It's that simple.

Click here for Part Two

Bryan Farrish is an independent radio airplay promoter. He can be reached at (818) 905-8038 or

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Get radio stations to play your music. Indie bands, musician tips