First of all, let’s talk about what “radio friendly” means, both to a radio station - and to you as a musician. In most cases, it’s a song that understands the way radio works and is designed for radio play. If you don’t know what that means, stick around, you’re about to learn.
Like record companies, radio stations are there to make money for their owners and investors. Most owners pay a high priced consultant to come in, check out the market and tell the station owners what format would make the most money for them. It may be “Golden Oldies,” or “Tejano” or “Music In A Mellow Mood” - the station owners really don’t care. The question is simple: Will this format appeal to a large number of people so the station can charge higher rates for advertising?
Once the format is decided, they’ll hire DJs to do the programming. If it’s a rock station, they want to put DJs on the air that will draw people to listen to their station. Some rock stations will also do a “local talent” show, once a week, featuring local artists. Those are the only shows your group is likely to get airplay from.
These “local talent” shows don’t get a lot of listeners - usually just the people who are friends of the band (“Hey, man, we’re on KZFU 88.1 in 10 minutes; check it out!!”). They’ll play a few cuts from the band’s demo CD, maybe do a quick interview, and that’s it. The secret to success is to get into “rotation” on a radio station. That means your band is “scheduled” for repeated plays, without having your friends call in to request it (which your friends won’t do anyway).
So, the trick is: How do you get your song into “rotation” on a major radio station if you don’t have a label behind you? There are three things your record should have to get a shot at radio play - promotion, a large following and the song MUST be “radio friendly.” Let’s talk about each one of those things.
Promotion: That’s your job. You hafta get that CD of yours into as many record stores as possible and make sure the radio stations know about it. Make sure the station knows where you’re gonna be playing and try to make friends with some of the DJs at the radio station. And make friends with every magazine and reviewer that can do you some good. (I only accept bribes of $50 or more, for example.)
A Large Following: Nothing gets more attention from magazines, radio stations and record companies, than a large following. If you can sell 5,000 CD’s without a record label behind you, you’re a short step away from getting attention from a record label or a contract. Magazines, radio stations and record companies like sure things - they don’t like to take too many chances. Prove to them that you can generate the excitement, and they’ll beat down the doors trying to get to you.
Radio Friendly: Ok, now let’s talk about what that term means:
First of all, it’s a song that people wanna hear over and over. The type of song that will make people call in and say, “what the hell was that song you just played?” It’s gotta be original. It’s gotta be well recorded - the quality has to equal anything that’s already out there.
Second, it’s gotta be short enough to fit in a space just before the top of the hour. Times drift during the radio day; if the DJ finds he has 2:53 left to fill before the news, and your song is 2:45, he’ll play your song, and not “Stairway To Heaven.” The shorter the song, the more chance of airplay, assuming it’s a good song.
Third, the song should have a short intro. Nothing turns a programmer off quicker than a 30 to 60 second intro to a song. Get to the lyrics quickly. Save the long version for concerts and the next album. It’s the most often repeated mistake made by bands trying to get airplay. They do a 60 second jam at the start of the song to “get into the groove.” Forget it!! No station will touch a song like that by a local group, except for the “local talent” kinda shows.
If you’re doing eight bars before the first verse, cut it in half, or better yet, just do two bars. Your lead guitar player may hate you, but the radio stations will love you. Is the song still too long? Cut the solo in half, or to one-fourth its length. What’s the best song length for a group trying to get radio play? Anywhere from 2:30 to 3:30 (but that 3:30 song better have a lot to say, with a short intro AND a short solo).
So, now you know what “radio friendly” means. Go take a fresh look at the songs you already have. Do any of them really qualify as “radio friendly?” Can some be made more “radio friendly?” A good studio can take your master tape and take out a chunk of the song without anyone hearing the splice. Listen to every song you do. Is it really cut down to the essentials, or is it just an excuse for the lead guitarist to show off how fast he is? It’s all a question of ego vs. airplay. You hafta decide which will get the band where it wants to be.
(Harvey Gerst), ITR Studios, http://ITRstudio. com