Are You Getting the Airplay You Deserve?

on air

Want to start getting heard on the radio but not sure how to go about it? Maybe you’re thinking of paying a plugger but not sure if it’s worth the money or if you’re at that point yet? Students often ask me how and when to get on the radio. Here is a practical guide to getting played, getting re-played, and getting something out of being played from radio hosts and an artist with airplay in more than six countries.

The age of streaming has changed the music industry beyond recognition. It might be tempting to think that you just make some music, stick it on Spotify and YouTube and Bob’s yer uncle, you’ll have fans in no time. Er, no. There are millions of musicians out there doing that. You still need old fashioned radio play to build your audience. The time may come to pay a plugger to help you with this as they have contacts who would be difficult to reach on your own but they usually charge at least a few hundred pounds for this service.

Getting the Music Right

 So, you’ve decided you could do with a few more spins? How do you go about it? It may sound simple but a lot of artists make the mistake of sending out tracks that aren’t broadcast standard. As Danny Matheson of Celtic Music Radio and Camglen Radio told me, “[Music] has more chance of getting airplay if the recording is of high quality and the music good”. Lochlann Green of KA Radio (Texas and Ayrshire, Scotland) puts it a bit more bluntly, “If it’s a very low quality demo or recording then I won’t play it.”

So, how do you make sure your music is broadcast standard? Compile a playlist of the kind of tracks that would be played on your target radio shows and include your own track. Ask yourself honestly if it stacks up in terms of both writing and production.

Getting Your Target Audience Right

If you are an unsigned artist, it’s a bit unrealistic to aim for BBC 1 or 2 or major commercial radio stations right at the start. Local airplay is more realistic. It’s a good idea to contact local presenters and give a bit of information about yourself rather than just sending links. I often help students to find their Unique Selling Point when marketing their music in emails to presenters…in other words the thing that makes you stand out. We all have something about us that people will connect to. Basically it boils down to this: why should people listen to your music when there are a billion songs out there they could be playing? Work that out and that will help you connect with the right audience for your music.

In Northern Ireland there are 2 presenters on BBC Radio Ulster who play local music, Cherrie McIlwaine and Ralph McLean.

The BBC does run a project called BBC Introducing which enables you to upload your music to be screened by a team of BBC radio producers. If they like it, it can be passed onto appropriate local and occasionally national presenters. BBC Introducing also offers useful events and information guides.

Commercial radio stations also have predetermined play lists with major labels plugging their artists’ tracks for this sought after airplay. It’s going to be a waste of time sending out demos to presenters who can’t play your tracks even if they like them. Finding community radio stations and really researching which shows play your genre of music is going to pay off. I have formed some great friendships with community radio presenters (not just so they’d play my tracks. They love music and so do I and so we click!). There are some great stations out there like Celtic Music Radio in Glasgow who were formed to connect songwriters not just in Glasgow but all over the world. Stations like this often have very active Facebook groups and chat threads where you can meet a lot of writers and interesting people. One of the things we do for our students is to help them find suitable radio stations and to equip them with the research skills to acquire opportunities for airplay.

You may also find that once a couple of community stations have played your tracks other presenters may be more likely to listen to you because you’ve already had a bit of airplay.

Getting the Timing Right

 Getting airplay is great and will hopefully help grow your social media, increase your YouTube plays etc. but it’s important to think about the timing when sending out tracks. Have you got a gig you’re plugging or a new release? It’s good to be able to offer your new fans a product and give the presenter something to say about you, such as ‘if you like this track, ____ will be playing at the Empire next Wednesday’.

Some radio stations will send you details of audience reaction, eg tweets, Facebook group posts, emails which can be handy to use on your website or in email campaigns when you have a tour or a new release and are looking for press and airplay.

Getting the Presentation Right

 This is really, really important. There was a consensus amongst the presenters I talked to that unprofessional looking packages or poorly written, generic emails really put them off.  As Lochlann Green put it, “There has to be a professionalism about it… the artists have to take their music seriously and the way they present it.” Lochlann says that he has 75 labels and promotion agencies who send him tracks and that he often searches Facebook for artists who might suit his show so you need to be well presented to catch his attention!

Fiona Elcoat of Lionheart Radio offers some good advice, “Well presented packages, either EPK or CD with notes/ or email to accompany MP3 files are good for me. If the music and biog/ album info etc contains name of artists, brief background, info on the enclosed music and contact details, web links etc then I’ll give it a go. Artists who obviously have no enthusiasm and a ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude cannot expect the music-buying public to be ‘bothered’ either. My pet hates are nothing but a link to YouTube, iTunes, Soundcloud etc. I specifically request MP3’s (where possible) to be forwarded, with info to a specific email address or to ask for my postal address. Some just don’t listen and I receive a PM on Facebook which invariably gets lost as I get many messages a week. I’m also miffed if I offer airplay/ plugs and info on air and that artist makes no effort to self promote that airplay.

 Other pet hates which the presenters listed were:

  • Not actually having listened to the show you’re targeting
  • Sending enormous WAV files
  • Not sending a bio or any information with your links
  • CDs without song titles and basic information about the album (copyright owners, year of release)
  • Facebook and Bandcamp urls which don’t include the artists name (it is easy to change these)

Sony Award nominated Ciaran Doris formerly of Celtic Music Radio sums up what your strategy for approaching presenters should be, “Professional, courteous communications from the artists- I was really turned off by people who lacked basic etiquette, and manners. And who basically gave the impression they couldn’t be arsed, or that they were doing ME a favour being on my show!”


Getting Your Royalties Right

Sometimes students ask me if they should apply for airplay opportunities on Sonicbids and similar sites, or on pay to play sites they find on Twitter. Let me say this clearly: ‘Nooooooooooo’. You should never have to fork out cash to get airplay, unless you are paying an experienced and respected plugger. There are a lot of stations out there who do not offer PRS (royalty) payments and are happy to actually take money from you, but they won’t help you increase your fanbase, give you audience feedback, look out for future releases from you etc. There is no shortcut: you must actively network and form positive relationships with presenters (like the ones who so kindly contributed to this blog! If they had just taken my cash and spun a song of mine, probably without paying it much attention, they wouldn’t be the much loved champions of music they are now!).

When your tracks are played on the radio you should be getting royalties, which can range from 70p per play on small community stations up to £9 per play for national radio. It may not sound a lot but it all adds up, and if you’re not getting paid your royalties you are being ripped off. Before you even think of getting songs out there in public, whether that is via live performance, the internet or airplay, you should sign up to a PRO (Performing Rights Society, ie the people who collect your hard earned royalties) such as PRS or IMRO.

The Right Time to Pay a Plugger

Paying a plugger is an investment so you want to make the most of their services and get the timing right. They can get you newspaper coverage, radio play and TV appearances as well as interviews. I used Jeff Robinson (highly recommended!) in Northern Ireland who is fantastic but I made a mistake… I did it before I had defined my artistic identity and gotten to the right point in my knowledge of the craft of songwriting. Get some feedback about the commercial viability of your music (we offer this through our free consultation service), and only when you’re ready go for it!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave feedback below or email me at .

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Eve Williams BA (Hons) MA MMus is a music and music business educator, artist and songwriter from Bangor, Northern Ireland. Her songs have been played and playlisted in radio stations in the UK, Ireland, the Philippines, Germany, several states within the USA and New Zealand. She has performed live and been interviewed on UTV Life, U105, BBC Radio Ulster, Feile FM, Celtic Music Radio, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and Iur FM. Eve has been named One to watch by Nashville Songwriters Association International twice and has appeared at many international festivals, including Celtic Connections in Glasgow and YouBloom in Dublin. She carried out A&R consulting and Rights Admnistration for Resonant Music Licensing and signs artists in this role. Eve teaches songwriting privately and at Open Learning Centre at Queen’s University as well as coaching singing, digital marketing, broadcast interview skills, press campaigns, rights and royalties, music publishing, music licensing and many other aspects of the music industry.

 “I think that anyone that’s serious about taking music seriously should consider doing Eve Williams’ music course. She is very friendly and knowledgeable and there are many things that most people do not know about how to take your music to the next level, be that level getting played on the radio or getting better exposure or just simply writing better songs… Eve Williams is a one stop shop for any musician wanting to take their music seriously or any musician that simply wants to be better at their craft. I have noticed a great improvement in my own craft since taking the course and I look forward to taking my music to the next level.” Patrick McFerran

 Eve is holding a Songwriting Weekend in Bangor on 8th & 9th August 2015. For more information click here.



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