Skinny Unsigned #1: How to get your music played on radio
Skinny Unsigned is our free monthly guide offering insight and advice to unsigned musicians and bands. This month we’re delving into the world of radio airplay, with a handy 4-step guide to give you the best possible chance of getting your music played on national radio in the UK!
Gaining airplay on large national radio stations (i.e Radio 1, Radio 2, 6Music, Radio X) is quite rightly considered to be one of the key avenues of music promotion for many artists and record labels. And despite the recent rise of online streaming services (along with the exposure that landing on one of their major playlists can generate), radio airplay is still a sure-fire approach to generating industry buzz and connecting your music with potential fans.
Step 1: Make sure the songs are ready
Before making the decision to approach radio stations, you should be totally confident that your song is as good as it can possibly be. National radio shows receive hundreds of new tracks per week, and with airtime at a premium you’ll be competing against not only fellow unsigned acts, but also signed and established artists for those coveted radio spins.
That’s not to say you should blow your band budget on multi-million pound studio facilities, but there is a certain level of quality expected by radio stations and the standard of your mixes should generally stand up to that of similar bands or artists who are being picked up by radio already. An accomplished producer is an essential (and generally affordable) asset for any serious artist, and they should ideally have an established track record of producing radio quality recordings for their artists.
It’s important to listen to your material objectively and be totally honest – if you don’t feel your music is ready then it’s best to be patient and wait until it is. Remember, your song needs to be good enough to stand out from a very, very large crowd, and exercising tenacious quality control from the start will pay dividends in the long run.
Step 2: BBC Introducing
Launched in 2009, the BBC Introducing Uploader has long been the essential tool for unsigned artists trying to land their first slice of airplay on the BBC. Once uploaded, your track is sent to your local BBC Introducing show and listened to by a member of their team. If you gain the backing of your local show, there’s a range of great opportunities available including playlisting on Radio 1 Introducing, live sessions and slots on Introducing stages at festivals like Glastonbury or Reading and Leeds.
However, Introducing shouldn’t be viewed as a viable alternative to proper radio promotion, and should instead be viewed as an additional means to get your music played on the BBC. Having the support of your local Introducing show is always a good talking point when approaching national radio shows, and local presenters will often forward their best discoveries on to relevant shows at Radio 1, 6 Music, 1xtra and Asian Network.
Step 3: Finding the right shows for your music
Once you’ve uploaded your track to BBC Introducing, you can start looking at other ways to approach shows more directly. Firstly it’s important to understand exactly how radio works and the typical structures in place at national radio stations. Generally speaking there are three types of national airplay, which are as follows:
Spotplays: A spotplay is a single play of a song on a specialist or evening show
Freeplays: A freeplay is a single play of a song on a daytime show where the song isn’t on the playlist
Playlisting: Playlists are the holy grail of radio. If your song is added to a playlist on a national station, you can expect between 10-30 plays per day depending on the band of playlist (A list, B list, C list etc), across both daytime & evening shows. BBC stations tend to playlist a mix of well established acts alongside new artists who’ve worked their way up via specialist shows, whilst commercial station playlists are mostly comprised of acts who are already established or have recently been playlisted on BBC stations.
It’s worth noting that every national station has it’s own nuances, and that the guides outlined above are very broad. However, they should give you a basic outline of radio structure and why certain songs are placed in certain shows / timeslots.
As an unsigned act, your first port of call will be approaching specialist shows for spot plays. To give you a head start, we’ve given a quick break down of where you can find specialist shows on some key national stations:
- Daytime shows on Radio 1 are generally dictated by the playlist. However, there are some key specialist evening shows which regularly play unsigned music, and this is where most new tracks / artists are played on the station for the first time
- Unlike it’s sister station, Radio 2’s daytime output is comprised of both playlist and freeplays, along with more specialist orientated shows which regularly support new music
- Although it does have a playlist in place, the general output on 6 Music is dictated heavily by the presenters themselves, and unsigned artists regularly pick up spotplays across both their daytime and evening programming
- As with most commercial stations, the daytime programming on Radio X is largely dictated by their playlist. However, the station has a great reputation for supporting new bands, and there are specialist shows on the station which regularly pick up on unsigned acts
Using the guide above, and with a little bit of research, you should be able to narrow down the national radio shows which are most likely to pick your song up for a spotplay. Listening to the shows whilst doing this can be a great help, as it will give you a feel for the sort of artists they’re currently playing and what they might be looking for. Write down your list, and move on to step 4!
Step 4: Sending your songs to radio
Now you know which shows are most likely to play your music it’s time to kick on with the difficult bit – getting your song to them! A good place to start is with good old fashioned CDs; simply address them to the presenter at the radio station address (e.g Mr DJ, BBC 6 Music, London, W1A 1AA). Ideally, the CD should be professionally printed and include your contact details on the artwork. Be sure to also include an A4 bio or press release (short and sweet is the name of the game here) in the envelope, and always make sure you’ve paid the correct postage!
Another way to reach out to shows is of course via e-mail. The vast majority of national radio presenters have producers who help curate music for their shows, and these are the people you should be reaching out to in your e-mails. There are various resources you can use to find producers, including the BBC Radio website and Media.Info, so take some time to do your research and know who you need to talk to.
Radio producers are notoriously busy and constantly flooded with new music (not only are they ploughing through music submissions, but also sitting in appointments with pluggers and doing their main job of actually producing the show!), so make sure your e-mail is concise and to the point. Avoid sending lengthy biographies and never attach files or download links. At the very most, your e-mail should include a short paragraph of info, a release date and a Soundcloud link (with downloads enabled). Be sure to upload your track in WAV format to Soundcloud, as most stations won’t play MP3s (even if they’re extremely high quality).
It’s important to remember that shows are constantly bombarded with new music, and unfortunately DJs and producers simply don’t have time to listen and respond to everything they receive. However, by following the steps above you can give yourself the best possible chance of getting your music played on national radio the DIY way!
Using A Plugger
Professional radio pluggers follow the basic principles outlined above, but also have years of experience and knowledge of what shows are looking for, along with personal relationships with DJs, producers and heads of music at national stations. They have a deep understanding of the radio landscape, and can develop a long term strategy to take new bands or artists from the spotplay stage right through to major playlisting.
Here at Skinny Music we specialise in national radio plugging and have over 10 years of front-line experience in music promotion. If you’re looking for professional representation please feel free to take a look at our radio plugging services or get in touch!