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Airplay Basics

by Russell Gragg
Special to

After weeks of waiting and repeated phone calls to the manufacturer/Fedex/your mom, you've finally received a nondescript cardboard box chock full of copies of your debut CD.

Now what?


Obviously you're going to set a stack of them aside to hock at dimly lit tables in the backs of bars, but you're also going to want to get them in the hands of radio station music directors and press types.


(Clockwise, from above left: Duotang, Buttless Chaps, Julie Doiron, Beans, Emm Gryner, Spooky Reuben, Hot Little Rocket.)

Where do I send my package to?

    Campus/community radio stations across Canada - whether they're 15,000 watt behemoths like Toronto's CIUT, or cable-only FM stations like CAPR in Sydney, NS or CJSF in Burnaby, BC - are your best opportunity to get your music heard on the airwaves. Commercial stations, quite frankly, are a waste of an independent band's time, money and resources. Odds are, their musical programming is done out of a head office somewhere in the hinterlands of Mississauga, so the disc given to a local program or music director may, at best, get a single spin on their Sunday late night "demos" show. More likely, the end result of all your months of hard work in the studio will end up as a coaster for someone's coffee mug.

    There's a full list of Canadian campus/community radio stations available on the !earshot website. It includes mailing addrseses, music directors' names, phone numbers and email addresses. Every single station deserves your disc. Don't dismiss the smaller-market or low-power stations. They all report to !earshot, too, and can be instrumental in getting your disc to crack the national charts. Besides, since the smaller stations receive fewer promotional discs, your release is less likely to get buried under a deluge of other music. And you'll be able to tell fellow musicians, "Oh yeah? Well we're huge in Kamloops!"

What goes in the package?

    C/C music directors in Canada are a beautifully cynical lot. Odds are, they've been in their positions a few years and are not generally swayed by shiny baubles, trinkets and novelty items. They receive anywhere between 10 and 40 packages of music daily, so they've probably seen every silly promotional item ever marketed. The difference between your CD making the playlist or not depends pretty much on the music.

    A press kit is a simply and surprisingly inexpensive promotional item to put together. All you really need is a single double-sided 8½"x11" piece of paper and a copy of your CD. Anything more than a single sheet is overkill and frankly, probably won't get read.

    The front of your bio should contain a list of band members and the instruments they play, a brief history of the band including members' past projects, and an abbreviated description of the style of music contained therein. Watch your superlatives! After all, a country as sparsely-populated as Canada can't possibly have a thousand "seminal" bands debuting year after year.

    The back of the page should include any relevant press articles on your band including live show and record reviews. If your band actually shelled out for some high-gloss 8"x10" photos of yourselves, save them to autograph for your groupies. MDs couldn't care less about your fashion sense or your boyish/girlish good looks.

    While promotional keychains, guitar picks and such are a waste of money to include in your packages (and for Chrissakes, it's actually illegal to mail matchbooks), stickers can't hurt. As a general rule, every clean, flat surface in a C/C radio station is covered in band stickers. Programmers can't help but become at least subliminally aware of your band's name.

    A final note: please invest in proper bubblepack manila envelopes for mailing your goodies out. Without the padding, your disc will quite likely show up at the station reduced to convenient bite-sized pieces. The MD at your local station probably has crates of slightly used envelopes that they'll happily donate to your worthwhile musical cause.

Then what?

    Once you've sent your packages out, you're going to need to do some followup. A safe bet is to wait two weeks between the time you do your mailout and your first contact with the MDs. Most MDs have specific "tracking" hours, usually a few hours a couple of days a week in which they'll answer inquiries from labels, promoters and artists. Respect these times.

    Your first contact should consist of three questions: have you received our CD? Have you listened to it? And if so, has it been added to the station's playlist?

    If the answer to questions one or two is a resounding "No," thank them and try back the following week. If they've received it and it's made the playlist, ask the MD if any of the programmers are digging it. Should you still have any extra promo copies, offer to send a couple out to those programmers care of the station. Sometimes all it takes is one DJ championing your record to get a buzz going.

    The average lifespan of a CD on a station's playlist rangers between six weeks and three months. If you have the time and the resources, and if the station seems generally positive toward your record, continue to call the MD bi-weekly for the next couple of months to check on the status of the disc and whether it's charting. Additionally, most MDs email their charts out weekly and they're usually happy to add you to their mailing list.

    A quick note about charts. C/C stations compile weekly top 30 (or 35 or 50) charts as well as specialty genre charts. These charts reflect airplay on the station, and since campus radio programmers have pretty much free reign over what they play, no amount of whining or cajoling the MD is going to result in higher chart numbers for your band.

Promotion companies? Are they worth it?

    Much of what's covered in the previous section can be handled by professional promotion companies. Like anything else in life, you get what you pay for. The better companies charge more (often anywhere between $500 and $1,000), and are more selective about the artists and releases they choose to represent. The bargain basement promoters may charge significantly less, but have less rapport with MDs. It all comes down to a qestion of time and money on the part of your band.

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