While the digital age is allowing constant adaptation and growth for many of the music business’ practices, commercial radio distribution (for major FM radio channels) has not changed that much over 20 years and is still somewhat of a pain.
Unlike distribution to Spotify or Pandora, submitting one song for radio rotation will cost you around $1000 at the lowest. And that’s for only one week of rotation.
Why is it so costly? Because mainstream radio is the only thing that major labels can still dominate.
Studio recording has become something everyone can do from home, so the big labels lost the monopoly on owning the master recordings of songs. Social media has made it so that unsigned artists can go viral in the press and media.
Streaming is even available for unsigned independent artists to get a chance on their own with little help!
The only thing that is elusive and unreachable to unsigned talent is major radio, so the major labels put up big bucks to dominate that industry, confident that no one can compete.
If you have a hit song that went viral everywhere, major radio stations may take note and add you to a somewhat heavy rotation, but there’s only a very small chance.
Some stations may have a ‘hot or not’ segment that features Indie talent for free, but that is only one or two spins compared to thousands upon thousands of spins that really allow radio marketing to do its magic and get a song heard by the masses.
Unless you happen to be an unsigned artist and rich, it is best to leave major radio distribution to chance.
Fortunately, this doesn’t include college radio, community radio stations, and online stations, which are usually more lenient and open to receiving submissions at no cost.
After completing and recording your songs, you need to make sure you don’t miss out on two vital steps involved in audio recording and reproduction. You need to make sure your music is properly mixed and mastered to polish your sound.
A lot of research, time, and skill goes into mixing and mastering, so I won’t cover all of it here since it would take up an entire book to properly address it.
Hopefully, you have someone who is taking care of this process for you, but I’ll briefly explain the key factors that go into these two processes.
If you have explicit lyrics, it is important to have edited versions of your song available for radio shows to be able to play your music.
Companies are also becoming very strict about ID3 tagging or properly formatting the song, artist, genre, and year data on your audio file.
Artists without clean edits and tags are missing out on 90% of the effective promotional outlets available to Indie artists today. There are many free apps available for you to download from the net called ID3 Tag Editors, including MP3tag.
While major stations have strict schedules and segments set up daily, some places like to spice things up by adding "hot or not" or "pass or trash" segments for independent artists who want to be heard.
Segments like these don't usually include large prizes, but you may be able to secure a few spins and some new fans if your song is received well by listeners.
Beware: DJs and listeners can be rather brutal in these types of segments for entertainment value.
Check out your local station's website. If they have this type of segment, it will probably be featured on a web banner.
Similar to trash or pass segments, some major radio shows like to give the spotlight to artists in the area.
By only allowing submissions from artists within certain zip codes, major radio shows can cut down the hassle of deciding on thousands of submissions being sent every week.
This also cuts down competition for you to be possibly featured. Some stations even include local talent on their website blogs. Check out your favorite station's site for any segments that may mention local or your city name.
Most radio shows hold some type of contest that listeners can interact and compete for a chance to win cash or something similar. Some contests require callers to showcase their talents for other people tuning in to hear.
Check to see if your local station runs this type of contest. Not only can you showcase your skills live, but you may also be able to win a prize for it.
Who knows, they may also give you a chance to shout out your Soundcloud page for someone to check!
Some stations also like to have people come into the physical location to do interviews or have virtual/phone interviews with up-and-coming talent that piques their interest for certain segments and shows.
This would be a lovely marketing opportunity to get your music and backstory out to new ears.
Many major radio shows do not have the capacity to accept digital submissions from independent international artists. While it may seem discerning, the truth is that it's not always impossible to send one of your songs for possible rotation.
Some major stations still allow physical demo submissions to be sent via snail mail.
With this method, traditional stations can easily accept, organize and review unsolicited music without being overwhelmed by thousands of emails and large song files with potential viruses.
Accepting "physical only" music submissions cuts down the workload dramatically: most indie artists these days don't sell physical CDs or won't put in the time to send them manually.
This gives you a chance to shine if you're up to the challenge. Call your favorite station and ask if there is a P.O. box to send your demo to.
Here's where the work comes in. If you're looking to get this all done for free, you're going to have to do the research yourself as I do for myself.
Luckily, I like to research, and I'm hoping you do too, so I'll take some of the weight off of your shoulders by sharing two tricks that direct me to radio stations that are taking free music submissions.
You can use a trusted site like IndieBible, which has a regularly updated list of many radio stations that accept free submissions.
I use this google search hack to hone in on radio sites that are taking submissions. The phrase in quotes can be changed to several different types of variations, but make sure to mention radio in the search query to keep your results relevant.
I also use a similar method on Twitter's search to get a hold of radio stations that are looking for music submissions but are only sending the announcement on their social media instead of their website, so it wouldn't show up on google.
This may work somewhat with other social media platforms, but I find that Twitter gives me the most results.
Be prepared to sift through a lot of crap to find gold. If you don't have the time or attention span for this method, then you may just want to save up enough to hire someone to do it for you in the future!
Do you actually have the budget to test out real radio spins that will be consistent, unlike many of the free submission opportunities that you'll come across?
Congrats; you have something that most independent artists do not have! Look into the following companies and consider setting up a package.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her recent collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!
If you are in need of singer, songwriter or song producer services, see what Yona Marie can offer you on her services page. As an Amazon Associate, Yona Marie earns from qualifying purchases. Amazon and other affiliate products are recommended to genuinely help readers and keep this site up and running as well.