Hints for Airplay & Promotion:
On the Outvoice Internet group there
was a discussion among radio folks
and artists of what to do, and not to do, when an artist is putting together
their CD and then promoting it.
I considered these points so excellent
that I'm including the highlights of
them on this page. Please contact me
with additions. JD Doyle

Note: All of these posts first appeared on the Outvoice list serve, in June of 2002. I have edited them a little for space and to remove references to other people or particular artists, and have received permission from all the writers to reproduce their ideas here. The posts cover a wide range of ideas for packaging and promotion and press kits. Their ideas were so excellent, and well written, that it was difficult for me to edit very much of it, so please excuse the length of the information on these pages. I felt it was important enough to warrant the space, and, if you're an artist, your time reading it. And, of course, they are suggestions, not commandments, but I'm proud of my radio counterparts and their contributions to our music.
From Julie Nicolay:
I'd like to share a few things that radio folks LOVE to have.

1. Complete and easy to find contact information! If you don't have that, you're probably gonna get forgotten about pretty damn fast. Email, website, phone, snail mail, fax, cell phone, ex-girlfriend's pager, whatever. But put it all there and put it in MORE THAN ONE place in your press kit, not just on one page. One page can get lost. Or eaten by the cat (hey, it DID happen!).

2. Print run times for each cut ON the CD, and...

3. ...if any cut has offensive language (in the FCC's opinion, anyway). Some folks don't listen to every single second of your CD, so they would love to not be suddenly caught with "#&*@" going out over the airwaves and the possibility of a big, fat fine to go along with it.

I got a CD from an artist at the OMA after-party and right there on the front of the disc was a small label letting me know that cut #3 might have language that some radio folk feel is offensive. I listened to the whole thing anyway, so would have known that, but I was glad to see that sticker on there. Makes DJs feel like you REALLY care about their job enough to help them out, and THAT little effort makes a big difference (and gets you remembered) in the stack of music that can arrive each week.

4. As much as I don't understand it (I mean, just how busy can one person really be?), it helps if you send a CD with the plastic wrap already removed. Some folks don't want to take the time to open that up. Don't wanna ruin the manicure, y'know.

5. No cassettes! In this day and age of technology, cassettes are a waste of time for you to spend your money on if you're sending them to a radio station, especially. If money's an issue, just find a way to get a few CDs made, not 1000. If you REALLY want us to listen to and play your music, make a CD; 99% of us won't bother with a cassette. They're too much trouble to cue up and they break and jam, etc. Besides, they don't sound as good as a CD!

6. Please make your CD of good production quality! You know, you could have a fabulous song but if it sounds all muddy, or your vocals are unintelligible because the VERY loud guitar, then we won't want to play it. Why work hard on your music and spend the money for recording it and then have crap for a final product? I've gotten some amazingly bad stuff sent to me over the years and I've never played it. I DID contact some of those people and offered my unsolicited, but I hope helpful, advice on creating music that sounds good enough to play.

Have someone who doesn't know your music that well listen to your CD before your final mix and pressing. If someone ELSE can't understand the words, or thinks something sounds bad, it probably does.

7. Not to plug a certain company, but Discmakers offers a good overview of how to get your music played on the radio when you make a CD with them. It's a flyer that's part of a marketing tips package they include with your finished order. You can probably get a copy of that from them, or someone you know who did use them. It's worth taking a look at, believe me.

8. This isn't meant to sound like your mother or your junior high English teacher, but people, please use SPELL CHECK ! If you don't show at least some aptitude for caring how you "look," then you aren't going to get a lot of interest. Sorry, but it's true. It makes a difference. If you can't spell or write, get someone else to do it for you. I know, I know, it's the MUSIC that's important, but nobody's gonna even pop you in the CD player if they think you're lame-brained enough to send out something that is that bad! So, sorry if this was a little long, but it really does make a difference in how you present yourself to people on many levels. Basically, if you want airplay, make it easy and nice for the DJs! We WANT to play you, that's why 99% of us are doing this: we have the passion to get the music heard and ain't makin' a penny, either. So send us your fabulous music and make it easy for us to play you!

From Robert Drake:
Here are a few other things to consider. Here at WXPN, we easily receive 150 CDs for airplay consideration PER WEEK. After 14 years of working here, I can tell you what makes me stop and open one and what makes me yawn and simply toss it out.

Fortunately, regarding OUT artists, I am a bit more thorough and I open all CDs and listen --- however, here's some general tips to save money;

- Skip publicity photos. Instead of having dozens of 8x10 shots made, so you can include them in dozens of press kits to be sent to cold contacts, invest in a website that allows media to access and download hi-resolution images of you or your band. Not only would this save time and money, it is actually easier for a print outlet, since the image is 'ready to go' v. a picture, which they must scan in order to use.

- Skip stickers. If you've made stickers, save them for your gigs. Having your sticker on my filing cabinet behind my desk here in my office will not get you played. It doesn't even help keep your name in my line-of-vision, since most cabinets I've seen are literally COVERED with stickers. It's just a blur.

- Long-winded press kits are tricky. I have to say for me, I only need a CD and a bio sheet - plus extensive contact information - not just for me, but also for my listeners.

- Here's a point that knocks many potential CDs out of the running: Make sure your CD is easily available for retail sale. The policy at XPN (generally speaking) is that we won't play a song that you can't purchase commercially somehow. The fact that it's available for download is of no importance to me. It has to be available for sale in some way (online, in stores, etc.) There's nothing more frustrating than playing a track, having phones light up wanting more info, and telling them that it's not available, or that it's not EASILY available.

- Finally, another point. Tracking. Tracking CDs is probably the single-most annoying thing -- for the musician and for the radio staffer. A general rule is, if you sent a CD press kit to some COLD contact (one that hasn't asked for it), you might as well sit and wait to see if you hear from them. If I receive something unsolicited, and I play it and LOVE it, I usually contact the 'contact person' and let them know.

Now, there is a purpose for Tracking - and that's if you are working several different CDs (i.e. working for a major label) - then it's worth you calling a station to follow up on your projects. But remember, most radio staffers receive dozens of packages a month (and in some cases hundreds per month). When you do call, understand that you aren't going to be remembered so i'ts important not to let emotions get in the way. Best to track via e-mail - or to ask the station's receptionist when are the "tracking hours" (if it applies).

Finally, as an independent musician, your time is vital. Focus your marketing geographically. If you know you are planning to play in a certain region, spend all your time marketing to that region. You're going to get more 'bang' for your buck if you get added to a station in a market where you're booked to perform in two months, than if some station adds you in an area you never visit. Once you have tackled your 'tour schedule' locations, then you can focus on national marketing.

Again, these are just my thoughts, having been on this side of the industry for 20 years (both in radio and in print) -- you're more than welcome to disagree (ha ha!)

From Taylor Cage:
I've got to weight in on the "Wrap or Not" advice..after seeing CDs by the box-load at the station--and noticing how many of them had fallen/slipped from their CD cases--I'd have to go against common opinion here and advise musicians who're sending their CDs to a radio station to send them wrapped. You don't know where they're going to wind up. Now, if you send to a particular programmer or to a reviewer, unwrapped is better.

Which leads up to my next piece of wisdom:
If you're going to send one CD, you might as well send two. Do a little homework--most stations have some kind of schedule set up on an internet site, even if they don't broadcast on the web (yet). Find the particular programmer who's most likely to play you, and sent him/her a copy of your CD. Along with that, send another copy to be put in the station library. Why? If the station has a copy, other programmers can pick up on your music if they so choose. If you send a copy for a particular programmer too, he/she will always have his/her own copy of your CD for the show, and he/she won't be disappointed when he/she finds out that someone liked your CD so much that it's missing from the library..

Another piece of wisdom: If you have a website, let your fans know to which stations/programs you've sent your CD. Encourage them to write-or better yet, call a request for your CD. To be honest, I have many excellent musicians to choose from for a program. If I know that my listeners want to hear a particular musician, you bet he/she/they will be on my play-list

From Jon Gilbert Leavitt:
Another helpful hint about CD's: make sure your name and/or title is on the spine of the CD. Sure sounds basic, but a lot of jewel cases don't have a broad enough spine and names/title have to go on the front. The reason for this: many people who listen to CD's because they have to (publishers, prod. companies for soundtracks, agents, radio/media, etc.) pile them on their desk, corner of the room, wherever. If your name isn't on the spine, they can't readily see it. If it's a demo CD, the name should especially be on the spine with contact information on the front of the CD cover.

From JD Doyle:
I know Julie mentioned the request to put run times on the CD...this is really important....do not make a busy DJ who has to pick the last song to play before an hour is over; and she or he knows it has to be under 4 minutes to complete the live show....do not make the DJ "wonder" if your song will fit versus one on someone else's CD with the time listed...guess who will get played.

And personally I really like the tracks numbered...it's a nuisance to have to count to see that the song desired is number 11 out of 14 on a list. Don't use fancy print or print too small (my old eyes are bad enough already), or run the track list in a circle (or worse) around the cover. And, while I know it's a budget concern, I personally don't like slim-line jewel cases for a commercial release....without your name and the album title on the "spine" visible in a stack, it easily is forgotten. And some of those "cardboard" covers will "flatten" in a stack, and not show the title as readily.

Also, do you homework about the type of show you're sending to...if it is a monthly show it is insulting to write them a couple weeks later to see if they've "put you into their rotation"...it's a monthly, there isn't a rotation. That says you didn't care enough to find out about the show.

From Pamela Smith:
I agree with all the earlier suggestions but have one to and. Put your business card in the CD case. When a listener calls about your CD, I have all the info available and with the CD.

New Additions:

From JD Doyle, November 2011:
As the comments above are almost ten years old, I thought of some new ones:

"Know your audience".....I can't tell you how many times I've been asked to put someone's CD "in my rotation." Almost no GLBT radio show that has a rotation....that's top 40, daily programming. Show that you cared enough to bother to understand the type of show you are contacting.

Just recently I threw out a 10x14 glossy photo of an artist, where would I keep it? I would have rather he spent his money on giving me a real plastic case for the CD, instead of a paper one...I don't want to file CDs in paper on my shelves so essentially I paid for a case for his. With the internet we don't need photos anyway, we can just grab one from their site....

....But thinking of that, their site NEEDS to have a large scan of the CD cover, and the artist, to be grabbed. I've seen some with no graphics and some too small to be useful. Someone writing about your CD in an online column or blog may want to show the product, makes more interesting reading. I am much more likely to read an article with graphics. Two things I look for in an internet site: information and organization

Their site needs to have a way for a media person to contact them! You'd be surprised how many don't, and I do NOT want to fill in a guest book and wonder if anyone ever sees that I wrote. And if I've played them on my shows I want to be able to let them know that....that just makes sense, I want to let them know that their efforts paid off, so they keep me on their distribution list, and they certainly should want to know that also.

I do like when an email from an artist includes a mp3, but go the step further, include the artist's name in the file title, like "Band X-let me love you"....if I get a file just called "let me love you"....and if I don't Immediately rename it, I will very shortly forget who it is, and after a few months may not even be able to guess when listening. That also applies for mp3s that a programmer can download from a website.

If I've already had contact with a rep and it's been clearly established that I ONLY play openly GLBT folks, when they write me six months later with another act, their email NEEDS to say if the artist is GLBT, I don't have time to try to research that...I'll just delete the email. Similarly, if you know a show is only for Women's Music, contact them accordingly.

Times have changed and the digital era, like it or not, is here....if you can provide the CD either as a real disc or a full download, offer a choice to the programmer. Some, like me, really want a real disc, with real liner notes, maybe even lyrics to read. Some consider that more clutter and just want the sound files. Ask.

Jamie Anderson recently wrote a blog about "Ten steps to getting better press – a guide for musicians," which is well worth a visit, below: