Sunday, May 11, 2008

Radio Spins

By, Wendy Day from Rap Coalition (

I have been consulting independent urban record labels and artists for many years now, and the most misunderstood aspect of this industry is radio. So few understand how radio really works, and an even smaller amount of indie labels and artists understand how to get their records played at radio. Because of the lack of information and knowledge, radio promotion remains an area where one can lose a large amount of money very quickly. And most do.

I have a friend in Detroit who paid $25,000 to a radio promoter on the recommendation of popular radio host at a local station there. My friend did not receive one spin anywhere in the country. He was eventually told the single did not research well and that it was not a radio single. It was too late in the project to hire anyone else. Could he have been told that prior to spending the $25,000? Provided it was true, yes. My guess is that he was taken for a ride and that the radio promoter (whose name I never even heard before), and the guy who had referred the scam “promoter,” made a quick come up on $25,000 for no work. There are two other folks I know who hired a radio promoter in Atlanta who is known for jerking people, and one lost $25,000 and the other lost $15,000. That promoter now works for a major label, so he’s fine financially, but these two labels are out a large portion of their budget for no spins whatsoever. Now they are looking to break bones.

Just last month, I got a call from a guy in the South who has invested in a project, but is totally clueless about the music industry. He name dropped some people in the industry who are excellent at what they do at radio, but not for people like him. When I tried to explain how it all worked, my answer did not fit his vision of how he wanted it to work and he disappeared quickly off the phone. I imagine he will soon be parted from even more of his money by folks who pick up on what he wants to hear, and tell it to him. What is it about this industry that makes folks act like idiots? As I pull up the BDS to see what spins his artist is getting, I see he still hasn’t figured it out. Sadly, the artist has placed his career in this guy’s hands. Who really loses? The artist.

There are quite a few legitimate radio promotion people and companies out there in urban music. I do not understand how the other bullshit names keep coming up over and over again, attached to horrific stories of fools and their money soon parted. Don’t people check references? Are they so new to the industry that they lack any resources to call and ask for opinions? Perhaps there are just that many con-artists out there to make a quick buck, I don’t know.

Radio is a format that reaches hundreds of thousands of people, all day and night. Most markets have at least one urban radio station, and some key markets even have two or three competing stations for listeners and ad dollars. Please understand that radio exists to sell commercials. It doesn't exist to contribute positively to the culture, it doesn't exist to inform the community, and it doesn't exist to break new and innovative music. In fact, it’s anything but. A grip of research has been done by all of these huge wealthy radio conglomerates, and the research shows that when a listener hears a song where they can’t happily sing along, they change the station to hear a song where they CAN sing along. When the listeners change the channel, they miss commercials, and the station's ad price drops because the amount of listeners drops. Simple economics.

Think about it logically for a minute. Lil Wayne’s Lollipop. No one has enough money to have paid for this song to play as much as it is currently playing. The song is a hit record. Radio plays it because kids request it, it researches well, and ad sales will go up. Downloads and ring tones are occurring by the millions.

So how do you get your song played on the radio?

This isn't an easy answer, because the truth is just that many will never get radio play. If an artist does not make music that fits the format of the radio station or if the song is not of competitive commercial quality, their music won't get played on most radio stations. Without a real budget, they won't get radio play. Without a "hit record" today, they won't get radio play. There are just too many other folks with bigger budgets, deeper pockets, and better connections to fill the few slots available at radio today. It's more competitive than ever. The main thing is stop looking at radio for what you WANT it to be, and see it for what it really is--learn the game before stepping on the playing field!

Back in the day, rap music wasn't accepted on commercial radio formats, so no one worried about getting on the radio. Word of mouth was key for spreading rap music, and for a few hours a week, college radio played some. It was easier to get onto college radio back then, than commercial radio today. Somehow, artists felt they were missing something if they could not get added to radio. This increased need for radio play has gotten out of hand today. Now a radio station might have only 4 or 5 available slots to fill with new songs, but there are 50 new records vying for those few spots--with budgets, with well-connected radio promoters pushing them, and with established artists and well-known producers. How will you compete?

The best way to attract radio attention, is NOT to head up to the station to drop off a CD of your newest song. You need to blow it up in the clubs and at the street level first. Back the record up with other promotion and marketing efforts. Let the radio DJs come looking for you because your song gets so hot on the streets and in the clubs. If you have a truly hot record, it will end up at radio. That is the definition of a hit record. David Banner's Like a Pimp, Webbie's Girl Gimme That, Webbie's Bad Chick, Magic's I Drank, I Smoke, Shawty Lo’s Hello, Rocko’s Ima Do Me, BloodRaw’s Louie, Gorilla Zoe’s Hood Figga, Shop Boyz’ Party Like A Rockstar, Young Jeezy and Usher’s Love In The Club, etc, all started out as songs that hit the clubs and streets hard (mostly because there were no budgets available for radio play initially). But the songs started to grow legs on their own, and radio embraced them. You can't buy that kind of authenticity (and many have tried). But there is no way around the fact that if the radio powers-that-be do not think your song fits their format, sound, or necessary quality, you will NOT be getting any radio play. Period.

So, when you hear the more commercial artists getting spins, and you want the same push for your music, you may have to go back and rethink your sound, your production, and/or your style so you fit the format. Also, it’s important to have a good reason why you are going after radio play. Many stations are interested in knowing that you have a complete plan for your project rather than just wanting to hear your song on the radio. Learn the correct language and use it to communicate your intentions. Are you planning on dropping a CD with legitimate independent distribution? If so, what is your release date? When are you going for adds at radio? Are you backing up your promotional efforts with a complete campaign? Or are you trying to secure radio spins to capture the attention of bigger record labels? [In my opinion, this is a half-assed way to try to get a deal. If it was this easy, anyone with money could secure a deal for a $50,000 radio budget. In my sixteen years of experience, I have yet to see someone become successful from getting a deal solely from radio spins--in fact, I have seen many, many, many fail. Because of this, I do not normally shop deals based on radio play. If you look at the SoundScan chart for any given year, not one of the top thirty or forty rap artists got their deal from getting radio play, yet most did get good deals from selling CDs regionally.]

Is it possible for a regional artist or indie label to gain acceptance at radio? Yes. But it all depends on the song, the timing, and the reasons behind it. And most importantly, it depends on your connections and whether or not you have done the proper research on radio. Every city or town with an urban radio station has people who understand how it works. Find the LEGITIMATE people who can inform you. Do research on the internet. Ask people who have done this SUCCESSFULLY before you. It is my hope that this article serves as a good starting point.

Building A Buzz

By Wendy Day (

In the early 1980s, when rap started, there were few rappers and producers, so they had no difficulty standing out. Today, it seems everyone wants to be a rapper or a producer.

As more people want to get into the rap music business, it gets cheaper and easier to do so. The price of production equipment, recording equipment, and microphones has dropped substantially, making rapping and producing open to more people. And it has become easier than ever to get music to the masses by uploading finished songs to the internet to share them with the world on free MySpace pages, or inexpensive websites. Marketing has become cheaper and easier as one can sit at home and use the internet to market, promote, and drive traffic to one’s website or MySpace page. Because of this, it seems that everyone wants to be a rapper.

The days of needing a record label are over. So why do so many people still want to be signed to a record label?

Regardless, there are less labels, less money in the industry, less people buying CDs, and less positions for artists to get signed to record labels. So if you really want to be an artist, and have your heart set on being part of the traditional music business, you will need to STAND OUT!

You stand apart from all of the others by building a buzz.

As I travel around the country, I meet tens of thousands of people who say they want a career as a rapper (and even more who say they want to be a producer) yet very few stand out. Handing a demo CD to anyone is a waste of time, energy, and has never been very effective at catching someone’s attention. What I do see, are the artists who stand out because they are putting in the work and building a buzz.

Grinding. An artist’s grind is far more important than their talent. Talent is easy to find—people who will work hard are less easy to find. You may think you are the most talented rapper around, but the truth is that talented rappers and producers are a dime a dozen. There are more than 300 million people in the United States.

Not only are you competing with other artists from your area, but you are competing with artists from all over the country. The odds of winning a lottery are probably greater. So how will you stand out?

The best way to do so is to choose an area that’s workable. I suggest taking a map and drawing a circle around your city that extends about a 5 hour driving time away from where you are based. That will become your territory—your marketing area. Your first step is to own the city or town that you are from, and then expand out slowly in that territory (the 5 hour circle around your home).

After you’ve made your songs, you will choose the best one to focus on as a single. It’s best to ask for feedback from strangers (malls, gas stations, and high schools are good places to get feedback) as to which song is your best one. Strangers will be far more honest than people who know you. To build a buzz in your own area, you will work that single locally. That means you will attend all of the open mics, perform as much as you can (if a major artist comes to town, you should be the opening act and you accomplish this by building relationships with the key clubs and promoters in your area), hang posters, distribute flyers—basically get your image and song in front of as many people as possible. Make sure all of the local DJs know who you are (club DJs, mixtape DJs, and even eventually the radio DJs). All of the employees at the local record stores and clubs should also know who you are.

It’s important to promote your song in as many places as potential consumers who’d buy your music will be. So, marketing yourself to retirement homes and nursery schools would not make sense, but college campuses and ‘hood malls make perfect sense. Anyplace where large amounts of your potential fans gather is ideal. As your song and name catch on in your own area, you can begin to expand your buzz within that 5 hour circle. You can also begin to attend the regional conventions and record pools. You should already have some sort of buzz before traveling, unless you are attending to learn more about the business (there are many free websites these days where you can go to learn how the music industry works, however).

On the record label side (I’m talking about the real record labels—the ones that have a track record of success in putting out rap records, not Lil Rey Rey from down the block who printed up business cards saying he’s a record label), the people who sign artists to their rosters are called “A and Rs.” Their job is to help the artists who are already signed to the label make their records, and to find new talent. Since there are tens of thousands of rappers and producers, it’s hard to catch their attention if you do not stand out. Some of the major labels have A and R Research staffs, whose sole job it is to find the artists making noise in their own areas getting radio spins and selling CDs on their own.

I have gone to 12 music industry conventions/gatherings/record pools since the start of this year. I have received over 1,000 demo CDs thus far, and I can’t even sign anyone to a record deal. So someone that CAN sign an artist, how many CDs and MP3s do you imagine they get in a week? The ONLY way you are going to stand out is if you put in the work and effort to build a buzz for yourself. Instead of going to them, you want them to come to you.

The chance of you sending a CD to a record label and getting their interest is so slim that the odds of you getting struck by lightening or winning a lottery are greater. Even with someone very connected in the music business (like me) can’t help you if you don’t stand out among all of the other rappers and producers out there. Great music is no longer enough. You have to have a strong buzz, and you have to be willing to work harder than everyone else—not just in your own area, but in your own region. Without a buzz, you may as well just go get a job and make music to be happy as a hobby. By the way, there is nothing wrong with doing it for the love!!