People are always asking me how to build relationships with radio. A lot of independent artists want to know when it’s the right time for them to try and get songs on the radio. Before I can answer that question I need to explain to those that don’t know, and some that think they might know, what radio actually does. Every business has its own set of goals, and they may not necessarily align with your goals, so what you want to do is find the best way to help them achieve their goal. If you can incorporate yourself into that, you’ve hit a home run.

So think about it: What is the goal of a radio station? The goal of a radio station is to sell advertising. That is the only way that radio stations generate revenue. It’s not from playing music. Selling advertising is referred to as “traditional revenue.” You’ll hear some people say, “Hey, you know, radio stations are really looking for ways to create NTR, (“non-traditional revenue”). In other words, revenue that does not come from commercials. And that’s where I found some pretty good success being able to get radio stations to support new artists.

So the goal of the radio station is to make money, and the way that they make money is by selling advertising. Furthermore, radio stations can charge more for their advertising by having higher ratings. How do they get higher ratings? The longer people listen, the higher the ratings will be. How do they get people to listen longer? Give them what they want. And people mostly want music that they’re familiar with, music that they know. That’s why when you’re driving down the road you hear the same songs pop up every couple hours. In larger markets they now have these things called Portable People Meters (PPM). A PPM can tell you exactly when people are turning away and when they are staying tuned in. It’s just like analytics you can get on your videos now to know when people are tuning in or tuning out. So, the PPM can tell you what songs people are staying for, what songs they’re leaving for, and how far into a commercial break they’re actually listening. That’s where radio is going start getting screwed, because the traditional form of advertising is based on commercials. How many of you listen to commercials? I know I don’t. I know that right now I fast-forward through almost all TV commercials, and I usually change the station when radio commercials come on. We have become an instant society.

Because of this, radio stations are now scrambling to create non-traditional revenue to make up for the folks, like me, who aren’t actually listening to commercials anymore. This is where you can come into play and show radio as an artist, or as a manager or record label, that there’s relevance in a particular market for your artist. Too many people are trying to go out and get world domination first, or at least immediate national exposure. I think that’s wrong. I think that you need to start in your hometown. And let me say this, and I say this out of respect. If you can’t be the best thing in your town, you’re not gonna be the best thing in the world. You may end up there one day but if you can’t show me, or a program director, or a record company, or an advertiser that you are relevant in my specific market, then that’s going to put you way back as far as everyone else is concerned. So what you want to do is show that you’re relevant in your local market.

Now, if you’re engaging with your fans and leading them through the Three Levels of Fandom, you can use your email list to determine who in your fanbase lives in your local market. You can segment your email list to see who lives within 50 miles of your city. Let’s say your email database comes back that you have 200 people that are within 50 miles of Nashville, then you take that data and you start marketing and engaging with these folks. And the first step in marketing for me is to make sure that they have your music. And it’s not by selling your music. You can’t. The first time someone gets to hear your music, or have your music, they won’t have to pay for it. There are just too many options for them. So you market to them by inviting them to have your music, and get to know your music. Then, every other week you’re continuing to build this relationship through engaging emails, conversations, and interactions on your social media sites. And then you’re able to reach out to those fans and say, “Okay, I want to come do a show in your area. Where is it that you think that I should play?” They’re going to tell you the clubs that you need to contact. Then you’re going to be able to reach out to the club and schedule a show that people will attend.

Now, you noticed we haven’t gone to radio yet. Okay. This is the buildup. So you contact that club and say “Listen, I’m gonna be traveling through town and I have quite a few fans in your area. As a matter of fact they’re the ones that told me to contact you. I would love to either open for someone or have a night that I can perform.”

Hopefully the venue will ask you questions like: “How many people blah blah blah blah?” You get to tell the club manager you have 200 people that you’ve built a relationship with, that know your music, and if you’ve done the relationship part right, can’t wait to meet you because you’re not in their town all the time. So you go ahead and book yourself a show. Go ahead and sell your own tickets online. Go ahead and create your own merchandise bundles that include all kinds of cool stuff these fans are going to want to buy and show off.

Bonus Tip: Go to the bar owner (I used to be a bar owner, so I can speak intelligently on this) and ask how much they charge employees for beers, and if they would be willing to give you that pricing. In most places it’s about one buck. So, you spend a hundred dollars to buy a hundred drink tickets, and then you offer to buy a beer for the first hundred people that come to the show. Invite them to come have a beer with you! It will cost you a hundred dollars, but if you just sold your tickets for 10 dollars you just made 900. Don’t be afraid to invest money to make money.

Now you’re able to go to the local radio station and say, “Hey, by the way, I’m coming to town, and I’m doing a sold-out show.” (Be sure to find a venue that’s small that you can sell out.) The words “sell out” are awesome. Say, “I’m coming to town to do a sold-out show, and I would love to give you guys the opportunity to hang a banner if you’d like.” Or say, “Hey, how would you like to give my music away through your Facebook and Twitter page and maybe some tickets to the sold-out show?” Now you’re relevant. Now they’ve got something that no one else can get with your tickets to the sold-out show. Now you’re not asking them for airplay. You’re not asking them to do anything that’s going to jeopardize the fact that they have to play this familiar music in order to sell commercials. And most of the time the bars are clients of the radio station, so the bars will include you in the advertising. A side note, most of the time, bars are not favorite clients of radio stations because of the way they pay their bills, so you may want to do a little research first on the radio station’s website, or Facebook page, to see which bars they are currently working with and try to target those bars or venues, and enhance that relationship.

You can also build awareness in a market through the people who spend the most money at radio stations in that market. Usually they are car dealerships and casinos. You can call up a dealership and ask if you can give him or her a box of CDs to give away to every person that comes in for a test drive during the week leading up to your show. Or better yet, offer to give them a few free tickets to give away.

If this car dealer says that they do a hundred test drives in a week, then you know what, produce a hundred CDs. They’re not expensive to duplicate. Send them to that market, and now you have 200 or 100 more people who will know you and your music in that market. And then you can follow up with those new fans at the show and start building a relationship with them, and give them opportunities to follow you on your social media. And then you start thanking the radio station for their support. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t play you. If they answer the phone they supported you. Thank them for their support. Start including them in your hashtags; they’ll start retweeting you! The people who control the social media sites of the radio stations are not necessarily always the program director, or music director. They’re the promotion people, and usually they monitor Google Alerts for any mention of their station. Every time something is said about their radio station they retweet it.

So now your Tweets are being retweeted in this radio market! Next, you can encourage your fan base to follow that station. You can say: “Hey, guys, go follow the local radio station.” You don’t need to ask your fans to call the station and request your music yet. You just want to show the radio station that you appreciate their support. Here’s where strategy comes into play. After the show, if you’ve done everything right, new fans have signed up for your access list, where you’re going to be able to communicate with them. Now you can send a follow up email with either pictures from the meet and greet, or if you created a photo album on your Facebook page with pictures from the meet and greet, make sure that they have that link and say, “Here’s what I would love for you to do. I can’t wait to come back and see you.” Because you have to remember, the people that are reading this are engaged with you now. You’re not speaking to everyone. You’re speaking to this engaged group of people. It’s a different form of conversation. You can ask them to start reaching out and commenting on the radio station’s Facebook page, on the radio station’s Twitter, and share what a great time that they had at your show. And then when the time is right you can ask them to start contacting the station to request your song. See how that works?

The problem that most people have is they try to do everything in one day. They try to get on the radio, they try to get the venue, they try to get the fans, they try to do everything. It is a process. And there is a tactical strategy involved with this process. Most people just can’t book a show, announce on their website or Twitter feed, “Hey, I’m coming to town to do a show.” Most artists don’t even plan their set list before they get there. That’s the biggest disservice that you can do to a fan who has paid money to come see you.

So I hope you understand radio a little bit better. Tomorrow I am probably going to piss some people off, but I’m going to talk about why you should not be spending money trying to break yourself into radio. There are a lot of companies that make a lot of money taking your cash to do just that, but I’m going to explain the process to you. I’m going to explain to you why it hasn’t worked effectively and I’m going to explain that there’s an easier, softer way to do this! Stay tuned!