Monday, 20 May 2013

Airplay: a howl of frustration

Busting past the music gatekeepers to get radio exposure. How is it? How should it be? Tips, tricks and opinions
Name's not down, yer not coming in  
Two weeks back, hazily happy after a great day, I joined a brilliant Facebook rant/thread led by a long-standing muso pal, Neil Spragg. At the heart of it was this question: How the hell do you get people at radio to listen to your stuff? 

Lots of people pitched in with comments, sympathies and tactics, both ethical and imaginative... and downright creepy. In fact I have deliberately not included the creepiest one of all in this post. Me? I weighed in as someone who was regularly on the receiving end of demos, pitches, and hustles, back in the day. 

Read this and you'll also see it suggested that musicians might not even wish to try that hard at radio anymore. I still believe that radio has a huge part to play in supporting new and local music, so I found that hard to take; but, equally, I concede it's hard to argue against that view in the present radio climate. 

It was (and is) a great chat thread. It's the kind of thing social media does well. So, with my sincere thanks to everyone who joined in, here's a condensed version, sorted roughly by topic, after the jump. 

Neil Spragg, Jon Cotton, Mark Evans, Fred Laird, Richard March, Andy O’Hare, Paul Dementio and Drew Singh. There's links to everyone at the bottom of the post.

The big question that started this off

Neil Spragg So, has anyone got any idea how an independent musician, without pluggers, PR or agents can get BBC DJs (specifically 6Music DJs, or, more pertinently, their producers) to actually pay attention to submitted CDs? I hear stuff on Freak Zone, Radcliffe and Cerys Mathews every week that purportedly comes from CDs sent in by bands they had no previous awareness of. So, how do they choose what to open, and do the rest just get binned? 

Jon Cotton They receive hundreds a week. The fact is there is a LOT more music now than in Peel days. Bandcamp are getting 1000 sign-ups a DAY.

Neil Spragg That's the answer I didn't want to hear, Jon (but that I expected). Didn't John Peel make a point if listening to everything he got sent? It seems DJs have less interest in discovering their own interesting bands, rather being told who is interesting by some industry gimps.

Robin Valk That's not fair on the DJs. The problem - I speak as one who decades ago was one – is that the ones who really do care about new music are drowned in the volume of material. They do listen, and conscientiously at that. But you only have so much receptiveness to dish out. Forcing yourself to listen to too much stuff means blind spots and errors of judgment. You try listening to three hours of brand new material - and I am sorry to have to say this - some of which may well be badly recorded, badly presented, or just plain bad, and see how you feel. What always makes DJs sit up, though, is the fear that someone has spotted something they missed. 

Fred Laird Well, Stuart Maconie played us, twice. Not sure what we did - we just popped a cd in the post with a cover letter. But we've sent in stuff since then and had nothing, which is odd as the later albums and production was better. 

Stalking the DJ - Ethical or effective?
Jon Cotton Penny McConnell got Gramophone (John Cotton's 90s band) played on Radio 3's Late Junction by giving a demo to one of the presenters at a gig where she knew the presenter would be. I know another, now rather famous, artist who had his big break because the plugger heard the DJ say on air he fancied a curry. The plugger took a taxi, with curry and CD, to Broadcasting House.

Richard March Try to strike up a personal connection. First time we got played by Peel was 'cos we went up to some gig he was playing and waited all night to doorstep him on his way out!

Robin Valk Yeah, but others will be trying the same trick, and it wears thin when it keeps being played on you. When I was a very green 24 something DJ, a plugger told me that George Harrison, no less, had specifically instructed that I be personally given this advance white label pressing on his Dark Horse label. Because he's heard my show driving through. Ha. I bought that - once. Then the penny dropped. That started to turn me into the hard-bitten unpluggable bastard I became later. And the trouble is all those jocks you want to reach have been fed that same kind of crap - for years. They are human beings too, and they don’t get any thanks for exercising editorial judgment, which is their job.... if it means you get knocked back. 

Andy O'Hare Don't send CDs any more!! Here's a link for Hereford and Worcester musos to the BBC Introducing scheme ... But it'll also work for any area, and it doesn't cost anything..

Is Radio still useful? Are there other routes?

Robin Valk Problem is, radio is no longer the big route forward. And there’s no John Peel now to bestow credibility either, but that always was a double-edged sword. If Peel liked it, other jocks got sniffy. So that's why people jump on artists with big Youtube numbers. It shows that the artist has demonstrated some sort of appeal. Everyone is raving about young George Barnett, who is now getting super numbers. That proves good music nous but even better marketing chops. That may not be your route, though. 

Neil Spragg Nail on the head Robin, marketing isn't an area that really appeals to me, or that I have any skill in...all I can do is try and get the music that I make to people who I think might like it. But if they don't even hear / listen, then it's a loser from the start. George Barnett was always going to be onto a winner with that cover, as he is amazing, and he does the song better than Daft Punk did. Sadly I'm not a mega-talented 20-something multi-instrumentalist, so my 'markets' (such as they are) are always going to be more 'niche'. 

Jon Cotton I heard from a plugger last week that even B-listing on Radio 2 doesn't shift records much any more. It's A-listing or nothing. Individual plays do hardly anything. If you're willing to put time into it - tweets directed at people generally get seen - I have friends who have played this well with press, and are thus getting lots of exclusives in Mojo etc.. 

Thinking differently? 

Jon Cotton Take heart - niche is fine nowadays, even the slenderest niches have thousands of people in them, looking for someone to quench their very specific thirst. Let Seth Godin lead the way of your thinking. 
Fred Laird When we sent in the cd's that got played we were the obscure of the obscure but we had Julian Cope raving about our debut, and Maconie is a fan, so maybe that explains that one. It is very frustrating. The mag reviews are coming now cos our label is pushing it with calls and emails....

Paul Dementio Upload tracks to BBC Introducing, submit tracks to Fresh On The Netand upload to Amazing Music, their Amazing Radio station occasionally has some crossover with BBC shows. Also, get some of your fans to recommend your music to Stuart Maconie's Freak Zone, but not spam of hard-sell them....For that show, it's better coming from listeners than the band itself. Also try Dandelion's not got a BBC connection at all, but has a very loyal listener-base and follows the John Peel ethic. Worth a try. 


Jon Cotton To have any chance you have to stand out - have a personal connection with them, meet them, or have a plugger put it in their hands (minimum a couple of grand normally). 
This label really existed. Honest.

Matt Stevens You need to build relationships with people over time and not hard sell what you're doing. Takes years. If you haven't got the contacts hire a decent PR company - not cheap.

Mark Evans We have our second Red Shoes album out at the moment and we've found that if you use a PR company (it doesn't have to cost the earth, and I mean that) you do get good rotation on the smaller BBC and local radio stations. It also gets you reviews in the press and online which obviously helps to raise your profile and transmits into sales. We still haven't managed to break through to the main BBC radio progs like Radcliffe, Maconie, because we can't afford the couple of grand that's required for that level of plugger. Happy to pass info on id anyone wants….

Getting traction or spinning your wheels? 

Jon Cotton The pedestal we put mass media on is a relic of when it worked. Press is completely dead. For independent acts it's all about the net now. 

Matt Stevens Press still gives you credibility

Jon Cotton It gives you quotes to use online, and that's useful - but little more. Check out the latest circulation figures... And, by the way, the crown jewel of TV coverage - Later - gets you around half a million viewers nowadays. Helpful, but people using the net well, like George Barnett, can just go round it if it's a roadblock.

Paul Dementio I feel that radio/press doesn't have as much impact as it did.....but I disagree that it's all about the net. It's a multi-platform thing now: online, press, radio, TV....most of the atter three have online presence too, so they're still relevant.

Jon Cotton True - more is better - but mass media more frequently FOLLOWS net success now IMHO - the easiest way to get on the radio is probably to do well in the social media world. Radio will follow as DJs discover it through social media. But frankly, who cares! Radio isn't where music is discovered by listeners now. 

I'll give you an example: watching RCA work Laura Mvula from a standing start, I followed her Amazon preorder chart position as I watched them trying strategies. Radio 1 session: No change. Double page spread in the Sunday Times Culture: No change. By ‘no change’, I'm talking an Amazon position around 300, which equates to probably 10 to 20 sales a day
What broke her was Graham Norton and internet advertising. The former because I think it was just the right demographic and rose above the noise. 

Neil Spragg Graham Norton broke her? I'm sure there's a terrible paedogeddon joke to be made there, but I can't quite find it 

Robin Valk It's whatever triggers the word of mouth, and that changes all the time. Years ago, I was convinced that plays of albums on CD, in semi-hip wine bars and boozers, was what got some artists their mass familiarity - stuff like Tina Turner, Simply Red, Hall and Oates, Fleetwood Mac... all that safe rock stuff broke that way. And as John says, Radio followed, because by then it was researching what was popular. I know - I ran the research.

A marketing perspective 

Trew Singh If this was a marketing job, we would:
  1. Research what organisations, people and any other stakeholders might be most likely to make use of your music or skills. 
  2. Then we would try and find out what projects they have currently running or have had running recently, for which your music/skills would be suitable. 
  3. Then decide if it would be most effective to go through an intermediary to get your music to them or go direct or both. 
  4. If you go direct, find the name, job title and dept of the person who you need to contact and try and find out what their specialty is. 
  5. Then contact them to say you have music/skills that would be of use to them and on which projects they are doing or have done and possibly suggest what you could have done which they have done that would add value, also ask for further contacts within their org if they feel they cannot make use of you within their area of specialty. 
  6. If you send them anything ask how would they like to receive it and then send it with a short properly written press release. 
  7. Always push for a meeting as opposed to sending stuff cuz you can sell yourself more and get better feedback that way. 
Hope that makes sense, but that is the first part of the process we do on marketing.

And there I left it. Lots of ideas, new perspectives, and positivity to go with the frustration. Again, my thanks go to all the participants who generously agreed to being part of this post, and especially Neil Spragg for kicking the whole idea off....


Neil Spragg of Omnia Opera and other activities 
Jon Cotton at Poseidon music, 
Mark Evans of Red Shoes
Fred Laird of Earthling Society
Richard March of the Peaky Blinders
Andy O’Hare
Paul Dementio of Cardiff's Dementio Thirteen
and Drew Singh. 

Shining independent use of Video

George Barnett Get Lucky on YouTube - (2.3 million views and counting)

Contacts to try

Fresh On The Net
Amazing Music
Dandelion Radio
BBC Introducing

More radio posts and music business posts on Radio To Go

Get the Radio To Go Newsletter to your in box every Monday.


johnlyons121 said...

Any chance of an explanation as to why Neil Spragg thinks Graham Norton's involvement would trigger a joke along paedogeddon lines?

Robin Valk said...

Hi John

I checked with Neil. He says

"It was a completely off-the-cuff joke that could have been made regarding just about *any* TV celeb at that time, and was more in reference to the use of the word 'broke' than Graham Norton to be honest (because I'm childish like that). I presume John thinks it was some kind of homophobic comment, feel free to reassure him that it wasn't, FWIW."

Hope that clears that up. Neil's not homophobic.