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If you've ever seen the movie, Coal Miner's Daughter, you've probably been inspired by the story of the undiscovered young Country singer, Loretta Lynn, and her #1 fan and husband, Mooney. After Loretta's first single, I'm a Honky Tonk Girl, was recorded in 1960, the couple literally drove from radio station to radio station all across the country -- meeting DJ's and convincing them to play the song. Their tenacity paid off and the song started climbing the charts -- eventually reaching #14 and taking Loretta Lynn from obscurity to instant fame.
But that was then…..and this is now! Many things have changed in music since the days of Loretta and Mooney "on the road again," but one unchanging fact is that radioplay is an essential ingredient for any singer or songwriter who hopes to become a household name.
Up to this point in our series on the Realities of Radioplay, we have been concentrating on the importance of the simple, hooky radio-friendly song. Until you have written a song like that… until you can evaluate your song objectively and still know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is a hit, you really can't go any further. But when you've written that song, and you know that it's a winner -- then what? Well, before you quit your day job and start trucking around the country like Mooney and Loretta, you need to be aware of the way radio works today.
The 1996 Telecommunications Act literally revolutionized the laws of competition and regulation throughout the communications industry. In radio, the law allowed for large corporations to purchase up to eight radio stations per market. Today, almost 66% of the 12,000 radio stations in the country are owned by radio groups. Programming is done by consultants and group programmers who distribute syndicated playlists to the individual stations, thereby controlling which songs are played nationwide.
For you as a songwriter this means that even if a DJ loves your song and wants to play it, the chances are that he/she can't make that decision alone. Everything that is played on the station must pass through the investor-controlled programmers who may or may not have any knowledge of music at all! This doesn't mean that the DJ has NO decision-making power, it simply means that he/she REALLY has to love your song in order to usher it through all the levels of three-piece suits and bean-counters that stand between your song and the all-powerful playlist!
Another reality is that most radio "strategists" have targeted the youth market as the most lucrative. Hence, younger and younger artists are emerging with songs written to appeal to the high school and college set. If your songs appeal to an older age group -- even the 25-35 set -- the chances diminish considerably that they will penetrate the controlled playlists of radio networks.
Are you depressed yet? If so, please don't be -- just keep reading!! What all this information on "corporate radio" simply means for the independent artist/songwriter is that we have to become as creative in promoting our songs as we are in writing them.
In my opinion, the path to success is marked with two directional markers. The first is EXCELLENCE. Like cream that always rises to the top of the milk, excellence will eventually become evident to everyone who encounters it. Excellence transcends fads and trends in music and, sooner or later, excellence inevitably attracts listeners. And -- remember -- those listeners are the ones the stations are trying to attract. If the people begin to demand your music, the stations will accommodate them!
The second guidepost is BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED. Start where you are with what you have. "Growing into business is always more successful than going into business." Become familiar with smaller local stations. (It is often much easier to get airplay on those.) Your local DJ's are still your first point of contact with the world of radio. Learn to know them -- check out the radio station's website and learn as much as you can about each personality. Whatever you do, gently but consistently promote yourself! Be professional and considerate -- yet tenacious and persistent -- in your approach. Use email. Send press releases and updates on your activities. Send complimentary tickets to your gigs. Volunteer to help with radio station community activities. Put on your creative "hat" and find unique ways to woo and win local radio. Once your foot is in the door, you are half way home!
Where there is a will -- there will always be a way!!