Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Getting your music on the air - get the basics right and then work up.

UPDATED as of August 2013: Kris Halpin, who kicked off this whole post, has now scored  favourable reactions from Tom Robinson at 6music

It's never easy to get your new stuff on the radio, but you can do a lot to help your chances.

Plenty of barriers to get round, past, through, or over
I got an email from a muso pal, Kris Halpin....  “I’ve got a new direction. I think it’s commercial – certainly it’s my best chance for success to date. And it’s picked up a bit of local airplay. You’re a radio guy – what do I do next?”   Kris's new direction - and it is indeed well-crafted and commercial - can be found later in this post. 

So what do I tell Kris? Does radio work for musos in 2013? It’s not what it was. I hear that with a few exceptions, big radio is over as a tool to sell records. We don’t need radio to get new music; its importance has declined. 

But I think that the right local music programmed the right way can serve local radio very nicely as part of the mix. So maybe that's where to startBut to do this, to use radio, you have to do the legwork: all of it, consistently, all the time, everywhere. 

I talked to a lot of people about this; here’s a distillation. A basic and incomplete recipe for 2013 progress. It may be what you need; it may be entirely wrong. There's some great tips here – like Toy Hearts’ detailed social media strategy tips, quoted verbatim because they are so good. All after the jump. 

Step by step

1. Make a good record. 
I mean it. Not just a record you love. Not (necessarily) a personal statement. Be deliberate. This song must compete with everything else. It must sit comfortably alongside other stuff. Look at it as product. And be really hard on your work. 

2. Step back
Finish it; go away. After two days, listen back. Compare it with the competition. Don’t make excuses or allowances for failings; no-one else will. You wouldn’t for anyone else. Then run it past mates and friends. Still good? OK, time to move on. 

3. Start hustling
Send the song up to BBC Introducing and Amazing Music. Take it in person, nicely labelled on CD, to your local stations. Find out who you need to reach; meet them if you can. Use student radio, community radio, pirates if they work for you (although pirates seem to be declining in the face of the web), and online stations that might go for your song. Look on this as a starting point: this is to raise awareness, make you allies, and possibly eventually bridge to national radio. 

4: Radio people are just like you
Meet them, but don't bug them: either they'll play your stuff or they won't. You either like a song instantly (very rare), or, more often, it grows on you, right? Radio people are the same, but with the added need to do right by their audiences. Pester power is a big big turnoff. Pull them to you, don't push yourself on them. How? Read on. 

5. Be good value 
Radio guys who can pick the music want songs that are good for their station. Good can mean a lot of things. If you’re a big noise in your town, you may be good; if your song is fantastic, you’re good. If you give good interview, you’re good. If you have a great story to tell, you’re good. 

6. Get a website and a mailing list 
Get your website domain name registered so you own it. Then get a mailing list started that people can sign up for on the website. Do not spam your subscribers - once you have got them on the mailing list you want to keep them! Try Mailchimp for email press releases: their excellent basic service is free. When you update your website, link it to your Facebook and twitter accounts. Keep it as up to date and full of content as possible – make it easy for people to find out about you.

7. Freebies
Use Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Twitter, MixCloud, Spotify, Facebook and your own website. Make free downloads part of the mix for now. Plug your free downloads - for now. 

8. Keep hustling 
One play is nice. Lots of plays are better, and sustained local exposure does you local good. So, go on any station that will have you for interviews; it's good experience. Talk up your gigs, make nice to DJs and producers, be entertaining and charming on air so they’ll invite you back. Thank people for airplay, offer studio sessions or to play at their outside broadcasts or live events. Invite air staff to gigs; give them goodies: CDs, limited edition vinyl, t-shirts, buttons, stickers… 

9. Extend your exposure 
So you’re getting airplay. Terrific. Reinforce this by going to local press, blogs and websites. If you’ve had airplay, that’s good. Use this when you introduce yourself. You’ll find most people who run local sites or magazines are good hearted and helpful. But media types absolutely hate to be the last to pick up on success. They really like to be able to claim first play. Once you have even a tiny bit of notoriety, you can exploit that.

10. Talk your successes up, no matter how small.
KP and EP
Every time you get airplay or a press interview, that's good news. So big it up on your site, your Facebook page, tweet it, Google+ it, Instagram a shot of you at the station, put up a listen-again link or a recording of the interview. It's an achievement.  

Katherine Priddy released her first EP two months ago, in a limited run. It sold out. That went into her next mail-out. 
Commercially Inviable records have pulled this trick off regularly. . 

11. Exclusive freebies through your site are good. 
Got some alternate mixes from your sessions? Good. Use them – they can go to subscribers to your mailing list. 

12. Is it time to cut a video? 
Oh yes. This is absolutely key. Get the video out everywhere. Avoid crappy videos shot with wobbly iPhones: start with a good, clean depiction of what you do, that you control. You’ll want serious numbers on that video eventually. Radio 1 is only interested in figures north of 5000. If your mates have put wobblies up with terrible sound, ask them to take them down again. And think about cutting two edits from one session. You can save the second edit for later as a goodie gift. Some very solid advice from industry professionals can be found in this post: Get the concept right and then worry about the budget

13. Blog your progress. 
You do have a blog on your website, don’t you?

14. Get other people to blog your progress
This blog post originated as a result of a discussion I had with an artist. I’m getting a nice post out of it. Good for me and good for Kris. There are lots of bloggers. They do it for the love of music. Work out their schtick and give each one a different angle. 

15. Use continued exposure to get gigs at the right places.
You need to play in the most respectable venues you can get to. Not a toilet, not an unpleasant joint, but a class gig of its type. And get the gigs reviewed by your new blogger pals (by the way, I very rarely review gigs, but lots of other people do, and very well too). 

16. Monitor responses. 
How are your YouTube numbers? How many Facebook likes have you got in the past three months? What about downloads? Mailing list subscriptions? Traffic to your site? Google Analytics will help a lot here; it’s free. 

17. Pinch other people’s ideas.
There are very few fresh ideas, but there are always fresh approaches. Look at what can be done with a snappy video and savvy marketing. George Barnett used a one-day slot on the Pirate Bay to massively expand his reach. He did a very successful video cover of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky – 5.8 million views and counting, each view getting his website, his Soundcloud and his Facebook to new viewers. 

18. With proven demand, set up for e-commerce
IF you have lovely big YouTube numbers and Facebook likes, it’s time to go to iTunes and the rest, and to ease back on your freebie downloads. Not completely, of course. Freebies generate traffic. 

19. If it’s going well, think about the bigger picture
If you’re getting a local head of steam, and this may take years, the big boys will notice. So think further afield. Start hitting up them up, armed with your airplay, download numbers and YouTube stats, using the pitches you’ve learned along the way. The biggest station for popular exposure is Radio 2, and the gateway to this station is 6Music. This can also get you to Radio 1. But, depending on your genre, consider 1Xtra, Kerrang!, Planet Rock, TeamRock, and others. Even Smooth, as one of their staff earnestly suggested to me a few days back. For all of these, the way in is though the marginal shows, and competition is fierce. 

However, I would add a note of caution: big Radio has retreated from risk-taking.It has largely given up its role as the place that brings you hot new music. So it has lost the curious listeners, the early adopters, who want to be enchanted and amazed, and who might buy your fabulous new song. At commercial radio, this has led to a laughably vicious circle of conservatism, where panic sets in at the very idea of the unfamiliar, and progress is effectively self-limiting. This means that radio does not sell records anymore; it’s actually not in their interests.

I know that this statement may make some people at big Radio absolutely furious. These are the same guys who won’t give you the time of day now, but who will come running once you establish yourself.

20. What’s next? 
I can’t tell you. But if this process has taken you up a peg or two, that’s a start. I’d love it if you kept me posted. And please, if you think I've missed out a tip or two - guaranteed - on making it with your music, send them over. 

Pluggers or online?

What about pluggers? I still think they come into the picture, probably more to get national leverage. I don't know the right point. But Jon Cotton, a very astute producer at Artisan Audio and Poseidon Music, says: 
“If I had only a few grand to play with I'd be spending it on building online audience, not on an unlikely roll of the dice with a radio plugger which even if successful might not do anything anyway.” 
Credits - and big thanks to Kris!
Once again, my thanks to everybody - lots of you - who advised and helped in the writing of this blog post. Some of whom I can't name. 

The Toy Hearts recipe

Finally, here are some specific social media strategies from Sophia Johnson at Toy Hearts, posted verbatim, because they are (a) based on experience and (b) really good… 
“The more skills you can acquire the better, in every aspect of the music industry- it simply isn't enough to be a great musician/writer/singer any more, you have to be your own booking agent, manager, plugger, PR, social media, wed designer etc. And, all of this has to be backed up with great recordings and quality live performances.
On the plus side it has never been a better time for motivated musicians to get there music out there and there are so many ways to do it. Check out your favourite band, where do they play, how do they do social media, how they interact with their fans.” 
1.) Don't make Facebook events for all of your shows. They come up on your feed per entry and I have found this loses you fans. I create events for major shows (i.e. London / Hometown). Another thing is create one event for a whole tour and list all your dates in the event details. This way, it's a more general invitation and will apply to more of your fans around the country.
2.) Do post about your shows on your wall. Always put a link to tickets or the venue/promoter. If there is more than one booking to announce put a generic link to your website.
3.) Post photos and videos, content generates activity
4.) Every few months put a link to your twitter account on your Facebook wall and ask people to follow you.
5.) Link your personal and public Facebook pages, ask your friends to like you!
6.) Like other people on your official Facebook page i.e. sponsors, djs, festivals etc
7.) Make sure all your 'about' info is as up to date and full as possible with links to all of your other social media sites.
8.) Link other people in your posts on Facebook (I think this requires you to "like" them first) by putting an @ in front of their name. 
9.) Do not randomly post your own videos/gigs on other people’s pages that you like but who are clearly more successful than you. You want to generate interest, not irritate people!

1.) As a general rule, the more people you follow on twitter the more followers you will get (unlike Facebook). So get finding people, also try to follow back as many fans or new followers as you can...
2.) Tweet photos of just about anything to do with you, your shows, rehearsals... Fans like visual social media and you want your twitter account to be full of content about you. Also, you can post jpgs of any posters/cd artwork/flyers you might have for upcoming shows and any reviews or printed press (sometimes I just take a photo of an article rather than scan it). 
3.) Link to your videos (copy and paste YouTube links), again followers like visuals and varied content. Also, you can link videos you like watching or want to promote, try and # or @ the artist or band where you can - they might retweet you that way!
4.) Try and tweet as often as possible, I try to tweet everyday, but it is hard!
5.) Retweet! I do this a lot, more or less whenever anyone tweets The Toy Hearts. I also favourite all tweets that pay us a compliment or are nice 

# Hashtags: 
1.) Create your own hashtags i.e. within your tweets; this will get them seen by a greater audience and hopefully, more followers.
2.) Hashtag the city or place you are playing when you promote a show in tweets i.e. #Birmingham or you can do a town and a city i.e. Playing tonight @thegreennote in #Camden #London 
3.) #FF (Follow Friday) @ Tag people/places/twitter accounts that you wish to share and encourage your followers to follow also.
4.) Look on #Discover (top of twitter page) and get involved with #Trends where applicable and fun... For example, there was one that was #threewordstoliveby and I put as a tweet 
"Think for Yourself #threewordstoliveby"
"I don't like bluegrass #fourwordsyoudontwanttohear
People are creating hashtags and there are different #trends all the time. Some of them are rubbish, but if you can think of something to say about one you can relate to, again, they are a good way to maximise the potential of your twitter account.

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