Friday, 24 September 2010

Getting that gig on Radio – it’s tougher than ever…

I realised, looking at the front blog page today, that, to my shame, I have not posted for well over a month; for this I apologise. However, I do have good reason for this apparent inactivity: I have been, and still am, ferociously busy on something I am calling the Pilot Project, about which I will blog in enormous detail very soon.

I'm also about to start teaching a seriously detailed Radio Course, concentrating on presenting skills. Normally I cover music scheduling, in a concentrated burst – not perhaps the best way to approach the topic - but this gig has me working on presenting and production, at length, with a team of committed and savvy students; I’m looking forwards to it. And, in a connected bit of serendipity, I was asked today for advice on how to apply to a station. So now seems a good time to pull all this together. More after the jump….  

If you want a paid gig on a radio station in the UK in 2010, you need to know a few key truths:

First: there are a helluva lot less jobs to go for now than there were at the beginning of the year. See my posts here and here for a few more details.

Second: the pay’s really not that great, unless you work your way up to stardom.

Third: the guys – it’s almost always guys, by the way – that you need to reach are, frankly, feeling just a bit beleaguered, what with budget cuts on one side, and job cuts on  the other.

But let’s say that you’re going to bite the bullet and go for it anyway. Here are some tips to help you along.

Listen, hard and long, to your chosen station or stations. Make a note of what you consider the strengths and weaknesses. Then listen, hard and long, to your stuff. How does this sound in comparison? What have you got that might fit with your target station? And what else has the station done that has worked well – or badly?

By the way, I’m assuming you have existing stuff; there’s really no excuse not to have existing stuff, even if you’re starting out – there’s community, student and internet stations galore. Go get involved, now, if you’re not involved already.

Put a demo together, specifically for the station you’re pitching to. Don’t just assemble a demo and think that will do for everybody – it won’t. 

Make the demo short. Lose almost all the music, and use the opportunity to show off with some flash music edits to highlight your production chops… or simply fade out and in. The station wants to know what you sound like, and how you work with music. Even though you are targeting a specific station, be true to yourself.

Put the demo together on a CD, and label it properly – printed label, with your name, address, email and phone number.

Find out the right guy to send it to. Include a CV that majors on your radio experience. Don’t forget to list real-world experience too – it helps to show that you’re a real person.  You got positive press-cuttings, endorsements, and letters of praise? Great! Put them together on the CD too.

Send it, and wait. The station almost certainly won’t come back to you instantly. But they may keep the CD on file, especially if it impresses. 

Keep waiting.

Do NOT pester the PD, his PA, or anyone else at the station.

Keep waiting.

If you don’t hear anything… well, you’re no worse off than you were before. Keep on working at your existing station and/or your day job. 

Keep waiting.

If they ask you in for a chat, go back to that list of strengths and weaknesses you drew up when you researched the station. Be ready to draw on that list… but whatever you do, be careful. They may have a truly crap drive time presenter… but he could just be the PD’s protégé.  The music selection may make you feel ever so slightly icky, but it’s almost certainly going to be a long time before they come to you for your considered views on programming. Rubbishing what they are doing almost never works.

But be ready to make constructive suggestions, based on what you’ve found in your research.  Present yourself so that they see you as having something they may need.  Throw some competition or promotional ideas out – and be ready for them to be pinched.

Have an answer ready if they offer you a job on (ha) ‘intern’ terms. Decide how you would handle a salary of rather less than you’re getting now at your day job.

And, if you get the job… have an exit route planned, just in case you conclude, too late, that you’ve landed a gig working with a bunch of deluded basket cases, lead by a penny-pinching psycho who will never pay you properly, or promote you. It's not uncommon - sadly.

And don’t count on this as a long-term career move. This year, there are dozens of able, worthy, experienced professionals, all of who have families and mortgages, who right now are wondering where they can go to, now their stations have been rationalised out of existence. A lot of stations cater to kids or parents with young families – that’s what the advertisers want. So they tend to go for presenters with that kind of appeal. The means... twenty and thirty somethings.

By the way, in case you think I’m trying to talk you out of going for that dream gig… I really am not. I’d just like you to have all the facts. But I really, really, want you in the industry if you happen to be hugely talented and determined.

Good luck….