Unlike commercial radio, getting your music played or featured on college radio is well within your reach. Use these techniques to get your music played.
Getting played on college radio is within the reach of all independent musicians. While getting played on commercial radio is a bit of stretch, college radio is accessible. In this second installment in our “get heard and seen” series, we’ll show you how.
First, let’s clarify. While college radio is accessible, you will face some stiff competition. Independent labels and promoters (people whose job it is to ensure an artist gets played on college radio) are all vying to get their artists into rotation. They know this is a relationship game and that it’s critical to get to know the college music directors personally. But even with this competition, there are many opportunities to get your music played.
There are three types of college radio opportunities available:
- College radio station rotation. College radio stations have their own rotation and if you can get into it, your music will be played often. The key to this is through the stations’ music directors who decide what they want to add on their own.
- College radio station shows. College radio stations have their own shows that are created and run by students who have full choice as to what they play. These are not constrained by the rotation mentioned above and might feature different genres than the station’s regular programming.
- College station live on-air performances. Although less common in today’s pandemic-laden world, live, on-air performances will come back as things settle down. Often, college stations are happy to have artists come in to be interviewed and perform a few songs live and will sometimes stream the appearance live over video.
Preparing to launch a radio campaign
Before you begin, you’ll want the following at-the-ready:
- MP3s & WAVs. You’ll need high-quality, mastered, high-bitrate, release-ready MP3s and WAVs of your music ready to send to these outlets. Note that some stations might have specific format requirements, so be prepared to create these if necessary.
- Bio and picture. Have a short and long bio, promo pictures, and background info ready to go as many stations will ask for these materials.
- Simple tracking system (e.g., a spreadsheet). You’ll need to keep track of who, where, and when you sent your music and any supporting material (press/media materials such as a fact sheet or your bio). A simple spreadsheet, such as Google Sheets (which is free), works just fine.
How to make money
You make money from commercial radio via royalties, specifically via your composition PRO for the songwriter and publisher, as well as via SoundExchange if the college radio station is also streamed online (and not just broadcasted over the air). If you haven’t already registered your music, get this done first so you can get paid.
In fact, before you start any outreach with your new music, make sure everything you submit is registered properly for all royalties available to you. For more detailed info about how royalties work and the 14 registrations you should do to protect your music and ensure you get all the money that’s owed you, see the “Licensing and Royalties” chapter of our book, Making Money With Music.
How to get played
Once you have royalties set up and have your music and bio ready to go, here’s how you can get played on each of these types of commercial radio outlets.
1. Make a targeted list of places to submit to
One shortcut for this step is to use a service like The Indie Bible, which contains lists of places to get your music played and the people to talk to, including college shows and stations.
- College radio rotation. The access point to college radio rotation is the music director of the station. Music directors are the target of many other promoters, though, so you’ll want to try to get to know them personally and follow all of their submission requirements. They might have a lot of formality to the submission process because of the sheer volume they get, and you’ll get ruled out if you don’t follow the guidelines. Follow-up is usually key to success here, and polite persistence can mean the difference between being ignored or getting on the rotation.
- College radio station shows. The shows run by college students are usually far less formal and are more easily reached by contacts through email or social media. Sometimes, a single message with a music attachment is enough to get a play out of them. The larger shows are well run, and sometimes even have separate producers, in which case you’ll be sending your music to them. Because this can be such a personal interaction, it helps when you research the DJs. Find out what they’re talking about on social media and what they care about. This can give you clues on how to convince them to get involved with your music. Giving them advance submissions as well as adding them to the guest list when you play can get their attention.
- College station live on-air performances. This opportunity to get your music played works best when you’re playing live, since stations often like to highlight musicians who are doing a show that night or that weekend. It’s also a great stop to book on a tour since you’re only in town for a brief time — that gives you a good reason to be very persistent about getting an answer before they lose the chance to have you in the station. If you get one of these bookings, make sure you record the resulting performance as this makes great bonus material for fans.
2. Submit music to your targeted list
Once you’ve done your research, completed your target list, and updated your spreadsheet, it’s time to start submitting (and adding the dates of when you submitted to your spreadsheet).
3. Keep tabs of the submissions
After submitting, keep track of the responses in your spreadsheet. Some are automated systems, but if a person gets back to you, be sure to use good PR techniques, like being politely persistent, to increase the likelihood of being played. And yes, following up by emailing and calling in can help. They’re busy college students, after all.
4. Track plays
Unless you are doing an in-person performance, you may never know when you were played. Being featured on a show or added to the rotation doesn’t mean anyone will reach out to tell you. In fact, it’s more likely you won’t know if your music was played unless you listen to each station or they keep a log at their website (which many college radio stations do). Either way, create search alerts with your artist name and the name of the songs that are part of your campaign. You can do this with services like Google Alerts.
What to do once you’re played
When you’ve been played, do the following:
- Share on social media. Don’t forget to share the news with your fans on social media. College stations particularly like it when you do shout-outs to them because it ends up cross-promoting the station or show.
- Send thank-you’s and update your spreadsheet to include these contacts going-forward. Send a thank you to the radio station or show host/producer as well. College stations love seeing material from you ahead of the public, so keep your target lists current so they can become “insiders” who you send your next track to before the public sees it. Also, don’t forget to add them to the guest list of any shows you play in their area.
- Ladder up and out. Finally, when you get played, be sure to publicize it and use your success as a reason to reach out to those stations and shows that haven’t responded back or played you yet. It’s proof people like and play your music. Also, use it as a trigger to reach out to new stations you haven’t sent your music to along with a link for proof of coverage. Each play you get builds momentum and can be enough to convince others to give your music a spin, which grows your audience and your name recognition. Then, the next time you drop a new track, the world will be excited to play and hear it.
Read the rest of the “Get Seen and Heard” series.
Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today’s tech-driven music environment.
How to get played on commercial radio
Build your music career one small success at a time
10 music promotion strategies you need to succeed
Are you ready for Music PR?
Craft three band bios to describe you and your music