A Beginners Guide to Building A Fantastic Music Promotion Plan: our story, your team, budgeting and Canadian vs. U.S radio.
Do You Really Want It?
Do you want to learn more about radio, airplay and music promotion ? Yes, my friends, it’s bubble bursting time once again. I can’t tell you the number of new bands and solo artists that I have spoken to who have that dream, but don’t have the talent, work ethic, drive or determination necessary to claw their way to the top of the charts. Oh I know – YOU are different. YOU have raw talent and all your family and friends think you are a superstar. But are those people going to fund your dream? Or are YOU going to work your ass off to be a success?
You heard right. I said WORK. After all, it’s the music business. If you want to be successful, you must start to think of music as a career – as your job. If music is just a hobby for you, the stop reading right now and go play video games. If your passion is music – if you live and breathe and die for music – then let’s move on.
You’ve probably heard the expression ‘pay your dues’. What exactly does that mean in terms of the music industry? Well it means starting from the bottom, being pretty much broke for long periods of time, working crap jobs and playing crap gigs to earn money and then finally breaking through with success. Anyone that’s been in the music industry for any length of time has a story to tell. Yours truly is no exception! When I first started out in radio in the early 1980’s, I left my comfortable hometown in Ohio for a job doing overnights at a classic rock radio station in Jacksonville, North Carolina. I was 19 years old. The job paid a whopping $3.10 per hour. I lived in a cockroach infested apartment that cost $158 per month. I worked as many overtime hours as I could. The first commercial I wrote and produced was for a drive-in X-rated movie theatre. (it turned out they loved my voice so much I got stuck writing, producing and voicing all their commercials for two years!) I did live remotes. I dreamt up ideas for station promotions. And in a little over a year, I was promoted to music director and the mid-day shift.
Did my life change dramatically after that first year? Well, I would not say dramatically, but it was great to sleep at night again, and earn $4.50 an hour! Being the music director gave me an opportunity to connect with loads of industry people, some of whom I still keep in touch to this day. Oh and I did move to a slightly better apartment. The most important thing is – I was a sponge. I learned everything I could from anyone who would teach me. I went to any concert I was invited to. I sometimes drove three or four hours just to see a band, then would drive the four hours back home and head to work with the bare minimum of sleep. And Lord almighty, I could tell you some hilarious stories about those days! Keep in mind – it was also HARD! I DID have moments when I wanted to chuck it all in and go back home. I remember one particular day when I wanted to admit defeat, and then I heard Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” and the last line “It’s a town full of losers – I’m pulling out of here to win” jolted me back to the fight. And that’s why I will always love Bruce. That one line changed my life. It made me realize I was a fighter, not a cry baby and I WOULD make it.
Okay, so enough about me! I was reading a passage from Keith Richard’s new book, “Life”. He talks about the early days of the Rolling Stones, when they all lived in a dirty little apartment in London, playing any gig they were offered and scrounging up money for guitar strings and the like. They didn’t ask for handouts. They didn’t expect to play for $500 a night on their first tour. Instead, they slogged it out in the trenches of stinky dive bars in and around London, honing their craft and paying their dues. They were not an overnight success. They basically started out as a blues band and over the years, evolved into one of the giants of the rock world. They survived the death of one of their members. They survived personality clashes in the band. They fought and they won!
And since I’m referencing the Stones, I might as well bring up the Beatles. They played anywhere that would have them. They went to Hamburg, Germany, where they played for eight hours a day – popping pills to stay up, living in dirty rooms, having sex with pretty much every girl they met, and learning how to entertain a crowd that basically doesn’t care if you exist. When they returned from Hamburg, they were a very tight band that knew how to keep the attention of an audience. They definitely paid their dues. And what happened after that? They sent out some demos, got rejected by quite a few record labels until one person at a label heard something special, took a chance and well, the rest is history. Did they throw in the towel when they got discouraged? No! They kept going and they topped the charts!
Do you see the picture now? Don’t expect to start at the top. Nor should you want to. It’s great fun to sit in a room with loads of seasoned musicians and listen to their war stories of life on the road, what it was like to start out and how they struggled. These experiences influenced their music and made them fully appreciate their success. You’ve got a long road ahead of you. But if you’re “pulling out of here to win” – I’m with you all the way!
Assembling A Winning Team
Everybody loves a winner. You can be a winner in the music industry if you surround yourself with the right people. Let’s call them you’re A-TEAM. It’s time to ask yourself, who do you need on your team. Here are some key people to consider, along with a brief synopsis of their duties.
MANAGER: A manager is your advocate in the music industry. This person will find you recording and touring opportunities, sponsorship deals, and promotional opportunities. A manager will coordinate the details of your career, be the contact person for your career and be a bulldog for you when necessary.
ACCOUNTANT: Yes, you need your own accountant. You need to save every single receipt in order to understand where the money goes and to qualify for funding. An accountant will help you create budgets for recording and touring and for marketing and promotion. It’s important to have your own accountant so you can keep tabs on your manager (investigate the career of Billy Joel if you think a manager won’t steal from you) and your finances. You do not want to be audited and a good accountant will prevent that from happening. Your accountant may also be able to assist you in filing the paperwork for various government grants and loans.
LAWYER: A good lawyer is not cheap. But a good lawyer will make sure you are not a target for con artists. And don’t cheap out and use your manager’s lawyer. You are the priority. You need your own advocate.
PUBLISHER: This is one aspect of the business we have not fully explored. You can start your own publishing company, but you have to be sure you can collect your royalties. In Canada, you should register your songs with SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada). SOCAN is the Canadian copyright collective that administers the performing rights of more than 90,000 composer, author and music publisher members by licensing the use of their music in Canada. They collect license fees on the behalf of artists and distribute royalties to them. Royalties are wonderful. Here is a newsflash for you: a big chunk of change in the industry comes from songwriting. This is why you should never give your publishing away! And this is why many bands have broken up over writing credits. Sort out songwriting credits immediately and once again: DO NOT GIVE YOUR PUBLISHING RIGHTS AWAY!
PUBLICIST/Social Expert: How can you expect anyone to know you exist, if you don’t have someone out their tooting your proverbial horn? The role of a publicist is changing as the media shifts gears. Today, a good publicist needs to be adapt social media sites in addition to having contacts in print and television media. You want someone to increase your profile on Instagram, twitter, facebook and the myriad of social networking sites that pop up. In addition, your publicist should get you exposure in print (reviews, interviews, fashion features, etc) and on television. A publicist will write your bio for you, and will also help you with content for your website.
BOOKING AGENT: You want to be renowned for your live shows? Then you had better get on the road! A booking agent will do just what the name implies: book shows for you! Now keep in mind, when you initially start off in the music business, no agent will touch you. You have to obtain gigs on your own, build a fan base and give an agent a reason to want to book you. In the end, it all boils down to money and an agent wants to know he can make money from booking you shows. When you sign to an agency, it increases your chances of getting to tour with bigger acts.
RADIO TRACKER: Oh did we save the best for last? A radio tracker, aka radio plugger, radio promotion person, will do just what the title says: increase your exposure at radio! Your radio tracker will listen to your CD or song(s), advise you on the choice of singles and the order to release them, and which formats will best suit your music. They will create a timeline for you, outlining release dates, with contingency plans built in as well. The tracker will alert radio to any tour dates and arrange interviews and radio performances when you are on tour. They will also coordinate on-air giveaways.
So, these should be the people on your team, but you can flesh it out a bit more, by adding in a webmaster (the person who designs and maintains your website), graphic designer (to create your unique artist logo and design your merchandise that the fans will be clamoring for); tour manager (the person who coordinates your life on the road – advancing shows, collecting fees, insuring you do your interviews, etc); and sound man (yes, when you get big enough, you’ll want to travel with your own sound man). Are you intimidated? Don’t be! If you have all these people on your team, it means you have taken your music career seriously and are SUCCESSFUL!
Budget Is Not A Bad Word!
Picture yourself at a concert, dancing and singing along with your favorite artist. Look at that awesome stage! Look at those lights! Check out those dancers! Yeah baby – that’s where you want to be someday, right? Well, how much do you think it costs to put on a production like that? Huge concerts are not cheap to produce, hence the high ticket prices. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. You’re just starting out in the music industry, so you don’t have to worry about semi trucks full of gear, a production staff of 300 and costuming costs. Let’s concentrate on what YOUR budget needs are as a new artist.
Being aware of the costs associated with recording, websites, touring and a support team is one of the first steps in establishing yourself as an artist and NOT a hobbyist. I know it’s a lot more fun to talk about performing and songwriting, but the reality of the business is this: nothing is for free and everyone is willing to take your money. It’s up to you to be smart and know what you SHOULD spend money on now, and how much is correct. I have spoken to artists who have gone into the studio with no set budget, then ended up spending close to $20,000 on three tracks, leaving them no money to promote their single to radio, or to publicize their music. They now have three killer tunes that only their family will hear.
Let’s start mapping out your budgetary needs. First of all, I would highly recommend setting up a spreadsheet to outline your costs. It is very helpful to see where your money is going. (As a side note: save your receipts) You need to figure out how much money you have to work with. You have been working hard, and perhaps even found a windfall of cash, so now you have a budget of about $30,000. Where is that money going to go?
Are you in a band? If so, you will have to discuss financial responsibilities for everyone in the band. Are the costs being split evenly? Are you paying yourselves while you are in the studio? Are you hiring any side musicians to augment your tracks? These are all budget entries. Are you a solo artist? If so, you are going to have to hire musicians to play on your tracks. Ask around, check out various musicians and ask what their rates are. Now you have an entry on your budget for musician fees. The musicians and their fees are in place, which means you can enter the studio to lay down the tracks. Decide on how many songs you are going to record and be sure to have the songs fully written before you begin recording, as you don’t want to waste precious studio time and money writing songs. Before moving forward – do some homework! You don’t need to record your tracks at the biggest and most expensive tracks in town. You can use a cheaper studio, and then master your tracks at someplace more prestigious. However, you need to know what this will cost you BEFORE you begin the recording process. Go online, or spend a couple of days visiting studios. Look at their gear, talk to the producers and engineers (you will have to account for their fees in your recording budget as well) and talk to other artists who have recorded at each studio to see how happy they were with the procedure. Once you have decided where you are going to record, you will have budget entries for studio time, producer fees, engineer fees, and miscellaneous expenses (cds, equipment rental, food, etc). Make sure you know exactly how much money you want to spend and be sure to stay as close to that amount as possible. It is inevitable you will run over budget, so be sure to pad it a bit.
Look ahead to what will happen once the recording process is completed. What are you going to do with the killer tracks you have just recorded? If you want your tracks on the radio, be sure to research radio trackers. Again, it’s homework time. Check out their websites, talk to their former clients and ask about rates. This will be another budget entry: radio promotion. You want to think about hiring a publicist. Same homework rules apply and yes, it’s another budget entry!! Other costs to think about include: website, photos, biography (this may be included in the cost for a publicist), electronic press kits (commonly referred to as EPK), and manufacturing costs.
It can sound somewhat overwhelming. However, if you know the costs before you embark on a project, it will make your life a lot easier. The more you know, the less likely you are to be ripped off. Be realistic in your budgets and don’t spend all your money on recording! I’ve seen way too many people blow their budget on studio time and then what do they have? A great cd that no one will ever hear (except their family and friends who have gotten copies for Christmas, birthdays and any occasion where gift giving is appropriate!) If you want to fulfill your dream of becoming an international singing sensation, then be smart from day one and budget. See, it’s not such a bad word!
Loads of songs have been written about the radio: Queen’s “Radio Gaga”, Elvis Costello’s “Radio, Radio”, The Ramones “Do You Remember Rock ‘n Roll Radio” and REM’s “Radio Free Europe” , just to name a few. Now, how do YOU get your song played on the radio? Well, the first step is to get familiar with the different radio formats.
In Canada, there are six different music based radio formats: CHR (Top 40), AC (Adult Contemporary), HOT AC, ACTIVE ROCK, ALTERNATIVE ROCK and COUNTRY. There are a couple of AAA (Adult Album Alternative) stations in Canada, but they tend to be grouped with the Alternative Rock stations. In the United States, these formats are expanded to include URBAN radio (with a sub category of Urban AC), RHYTHMIC radio (with sub categories of Rhythmic AC and Rhythmic CHR) and Gospel radio. You will see the Rock charts further divided into AAA (with a sub category of Americana and Folk), Classic Rock and Adult Hits. Radio in Canada is different from our neighbors in the U.S. If you really desire a radio hit, then you must understand formatting in order to produce music that is suitable for the right station and demographic.
Let’s break things down a bit. CHR is Top 40 radio, which is pretty self explanatory. The top artists currently at this format in Canada are Zedd, Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, Kesha, and The Weeknd. Now, if you are familiar with these artists, CHR radio in Canada is fairly rhythmic (dance-oriented), although you will see ballads on the charts if they are very strong and have hit at other formats. This should give you an idea of the type of sound you will need to produce in order to have your songs played on CHR radio. Keep in mind, rock oriented tracks DO appear on CHR radio, but only after they have charted at ACTIVE ROCK or ALTERNATIVE ROCK. Rock artists like Nickelback, Kings of Leon, Arkells and Weezer regularly appear on the CHR charts. Take a deep breath and we’ll move onto other formats!
Canadian ROCK radio is divided into two categories. We’ll start with ACTIVE ROCK, which is more classic sounding than Alternative. The top artists currently at this format in Canada are Foo Fighters, Three Days Grace, Billy Talent and Green Day. In order to chart at this format, you’ll need to crank up the guitars, bang on those drums and get a killer bass line. Now, when we look at the artists currently charting at Canadian ALTERNATIVE RADIO, you will notice a bit of crossover with the ACTIVE ROCK artists. The chart toppers are Weezer, Foo Fighters, Muse, Billy Talent, Three Days Grace, Rise Against, Tegan and Sara. In the US, there tends to be a bit more diversity in the lists, but keep in mind, there is a greater population density in America, and that lends itself to more variety in formatting.
AC (Adult Contemporary) radio appeals to an older audience. AC stations are generally played in offices, as the music is mellower and not offensive. The current chart toppers at Canadian AC radio are Michael Buble, Pink, and Mariah Carey. AC radio programmers steer clear of wailing guitar solos and concentrate on songs that have a broad appeal. On the other hand, HOT AC radio appeals to a primarily female audience that is younger than AC. The top artists currently at Canadian HOT AC radio are Kelly Clarkson, Miley Cyrus, Michael Buble, and Lady Gaga. There are a few artists who appear on the CHR charts as well as the HOT AC charts. AndHOT AC radio can be more rhythmic than AC radio (hence the younger audience). If you want a hit at HOT AC radio, you can follow the rules of CHR and Rock radio (but you might want to do a HOT AC edit of your track that takes the crunchier guitar parts out).
Country radio should be pretty self explanatory! Get me some pedal steel guitar and take a look at the current top Canadian country artists: Lady Antebellum, Carrie Underwood, Brett Kissel, Marren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini. Canadian country programmers are always looking for a great song. Lyrical content is VERY important in country music! And, as previously mentioned, pedal steel guitar is a pretty important part of the country sound. There are many country artists who have successfully crossed over to the CHR charts, and these included Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Keith Urban, Dixie Chicks and Taylor Swift, just to name a few. I think you know what to do if you want to top the country charts.
So now you have a bit of knowledge regarding radio formats, which should help you to target where your music will be heard. However, getting your track to radio is the tricky part. That’s when you need to hire the services of a radio tracker. Radio trackers have a data base of all the radio programmers per format and in the country they work in. In Canada, many trackers cover multiple formats. In the US, trackers tend to concentrate on specific formats – jazz, country, active rock, AAA/Americana, etc. Again, the US has more radio stations per format, which makes it easier to specialize in one genre of music. Let’s focus on Canada, otherwise your head will start spinning!
Why do you need to hire a radio tracker? Well, you can try to track your single by yourself, but you will have to spend several weeks researching all the different radio stations in Canada to find the names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of the program directors and music directors of the stations in the format you want to target. (a quick note: the program director – or pd in industry lingo – is the top dog at the radio station. He or she ultimately decides what music gets aired on the station. The music director – or md for short – is the program director ‘s right hand man/woman and has a say in what gets played on the station.) You will have to figure out when they take their music calls and when they send out their playlists. This is incredibly time consuming, especially since there is no industry trade paper in Canada with these lists readily available to you. Many radio programmers will not take calls or listen to music from people they do not know. Keep in mind, radio programmers receive anywhere from 20 to 40 new songs each week. Obviously, they don’t have time to listen to every single one of these, so they rely on trackers and promo reps from major labels to help them set their priorities.
Hiring a radio tracker helps you get your music noticed by programmers. Mind you, there is NEVER a guarantee of airplay when you hire a tracker. Anyone who promises you with 100% certainty your song will be played at a station is lying to you. If I could guarantee radio airplay, I’d be a millionaire. Obviously, you need a GREAT song to get attention. You need a savvy radio tracker to help you decide the release date of your single to radio. As an independent artist, you don’t want to send your debut single to radio in September. Why? Because September and October are the months for the fall ratings period, (also referred to as the fall book) which is usually the most important ratings period to stations, as they base their advertising rates on this book. Look at the calendar and you will notice a BIG holiday that involves an obese man in a red and white suit. This holiday means major record labels are counting on a big fall quarter to boost their profits, so you will see releases from BIG SELLING ARTISTS, who will also be vying against you for radio airplay. Who do YOU think a programmer is more likely to add – Lady Gaga or an unknown artist?
A radio tracker can help you choose the song that will most likely get airplay for you. The first single you release to radio should be a strong song that represents YOU as an artist. The tracker will direct you to the proper format for your music. Sometimes you can approach two formats with your song. This is called crossing over. If you look back at the list of formats, you will notice several artists who are on two charts at once, hence the term crossover. It does cost more to work double formats, but there is an added bonus of more exposure, which translates into more sales. And sales mean money, which we all love.
When you hire a radio tracker, you are paying for their relationships with programmers. As you can guess, music is subjective. Many times, programmers have two or three songs of equal merit to add to their station. Their choice of the single to add to their station can come down to who they have a relationship with and who they want to help. That is why you need a great radio tracker on your team!
Before you decide to hire a tracker, I would highly recommend speaking with several trackers first. You need to work with someone who has a good track record and who you feel comfortable communicating with. Check out their websites. Speak to their former clients to see if they were happy with the work done. Try to chat with a programmer to get their recommendation. Be sure to do your homework in order to be sure you have hired a reputable radio tracker who will secure adds on your single. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! You are spending your hard earned cash on your dream of breaking into the music business and you have every right to get the answers you need.
If you would like more information on radio tracking, check out my website: www.amtofm.com Now go write that hit single so we can deal with the next step in your musical success.
Want to learn more about radio, airplay and music promotion? Click Here : Andrea Morris Talks Radio with RockItUP!