WHAT STEPS ARTISTS NEED TO TAKE BEFORE THEY GO TO RADIO
“Hey, Mister, That’s Me Up On The Jukebox!” – James Taylor
OK, so, you’ve raised enough money from your friends, family and (let’s hope) fans to record that set of songs in the way you’ve always wanted them to sound and now it’s time to share your creative output with the world. And what better way to do that than through the time-tested path of radio. And, indeed, there is no better way for your music to become one with the masses than through the repeated plays of radio. And it’s free!
No, actually radio is not free. But even if it were, there are numerous steps that you first need to take along the yellow brick road to reach the radio stations of Oz. You’d better sit down.
Let’s look at the big picture. You’ve heard this before, but perhaps not drilled down quite so cleanly to its current granular level. All radio stations are in the business of making money (except perhaps for your local college stations and NPRs, their constant pledge drives notwithstanding). Radio makes money from advertisers by enticing them with the size and breadth of their quarter-hour demographics. Audiences tune in because they like what they hear. They like what they hear, generally, because it is popular, familiar and/or entertaining.
Popular, familiar and/or entertaining. Is your music any of those things? Entertaining is subjective (we won’t go into why people find things entertaining other than to say that’s why there are so many different styles of music and accompanying radio stations), so we have to take that off the table for now. Popularity can be measured, although it’s hard (if not impossible) to be popular without first being familiar. In fact, familiarity is a major metric by which radio station programmers determine the popularity (and hence the theoretical entertainment value) of music. So the trick is to become familiar. How to do that without radio? The chicken and the egg and Catch 22 all rolled into one. Hmmm.
That’s your goal. Familiarity. How to get an unsuspecting audience to become familiar with you and your music before you take your record to radio? There are many ways, all proven successful, although generally it boils down to the luck of being the right artist with the right music at the right time. But even to get to that point, all the steps you need to take first involve money and time and effort in varying degrees. Where to start?
The cheapest and fastest initial step toward familiarity (and yet the most scattershot with an appalling rate of ineffectiveness) is online social media. If you don’t have your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., up and running and active and followed and liked, you might as well get to it. None of these things guarantee attention and familiarity, but these days it’s hard to have any cred without those things in place. These are things you could and should do on your own without having to rely on third-parties to do it for you. Fans can help – but you have to initiate and supervise the work on a weekly, if not daily, basis. The artist in the new millennium has to be organized and responsible as well as creative. Your acceptance of that fact will help. But there is no social media without fans and there are no fans without a credible live show.
So a second (albeit more expensive and time-consuming) step would be to develop a live touring act, getting a following and finding an agent. If you don’t have your live act together yet, be prepared to take a couple years to make that happen. There are no born performers and, even if you’re already blessed with the ability to get on stage night after night and make a fool of yourself, it’s more than just performing your music note for note. You need to entertain (there’s that word again). And the thing that’s just as important as your music is what goes on between the songs, the communication that connects you and your personality (assuming you have one) with the audience. That is how you gain an audience and that is how you build your social media fan base and that is how you become familiar.
NOTE: You can take a shortcut of sorts on that live show step by bringing in a performance and staging adviser to give you some tips and help you develop a real show. (Conviently, I’m doing live performance consulting. Click on the contact button, email me firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 818.388.3995. I’m open 9am-midnight, seven days a week – just like Tower Records used to be.)
Step 3: Everything is visual. You will need some great photo images (not lots of photos, but a few great ones and only great ones) and a YouTube page filled with live videos (cheap), great lyric videos (costs some money) and/or fully-produced, conceptual (and expensive) videos of your songs. It’s all about YouTube. Get on it. There are ways to make inexpensive but professional-looking videos, but you’ll still need money and good advice.
Step 4: PR can help. Now we’re starting to talk about real money. With a publicity/PR firm, you usually get what you pay for. They can run anywhere from $500 to $5000 a month. Unless you already have pushed Steps 1-3 to their possible peaks, don’t go there yet. Again, you need someone professional to guide you through this rat maze.
Once ALL of these steps have been taken to fruition (and the process could take years), you’re ready for promotion, marketing and sales. Here is where really have to go outside. You cannot swim in these streams alone, even if you think you know what you’re doing. The landscape is changing rapidly and what was true last year is not necessarily working anymore. Here’s where you call on an independent company who specializes in these areas. LA-based The Artist Cooperative is one such company with which I am very familiar: www.theartistcooperative.com
Oh, and BTW: you’re also going to need a lot of luck. Your music needs to be in the right place at the right time and there is no way or no one who can predict that. So good luck!
“Hard work is the key, but luck plays a part.” – Neil Diamond