OK OK you CAN! But it won’t be immediately anyways, and not to mainstream radio. Also, if you think you can buy your way in via payola, it has become a huge gray area and it’s best avoided if possible, not to mention you’d need more money than you’d ever imagine, best to keep it ethical. The way to get your song on the radio is to generate enough traction on your brand that you’re song would generate more listenership for the radio station than the A-listers. Your song is an ad for radio station ratings, and they know it. Your music drives listeners so ads can be put on the station, so you have to bring more listeners in than A-list does.
From my personal experiences, I was in a band one time that had a pretty good album released. I took it to our local pop stations, and was then introduced to the Operations Manager eventually, because he’s one step away from the big boss, and I like going to the top. Now the way big time radio works
is that there’s a bunch of stations, all in one office building, they either do their shows live, or pre-record them, and play them like an MP3 playlist. Each station is run by a program director, who is in charge of making sure the whole station stays on air, and always has content to deliver, and also give all the approvals of what goes on, now Something like iHeartRadio (Formerly clearchannel) will have several stations, and several program directors all in one spot. Check this site to see what I mean, most of those stations are managed out of one office, and if they’re not in that office, they’re in contact with it through a syndication network.
From having a college radio show, I knew a general hierarchy of how most radio stations are set up, which is basically DJ’s report to program directors per station, and program directors report to Operations Managers, and OM’s report to VPs. My strategy was to find the program director and convince him/her that our music was worth to be played alongside folks like Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, and other A-listers, because I genuinely felt this way. Of course, as you can imagine, they didn’t, but the surprising part was that it wasn’t for the reasons I thought it was.
I was told that our music actually in fact was BETTER than anything the major labels were sending them to put on their heavy rotation, so I immediately asked “Ok, so why not put it on the air”, and the answer was simple, and I sat thinking about it for a while why we’re kinda doomed to get something on the radio.
The operations manager (who I have the utmost respect for his bluntness) said this “It’s because if have a choice of putting up your songs, which is relatively unknown compared to the global reach of an A-list musical act, or putting up the A-listers songs, it’s too high of a risk, when I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that the name recognition from A-listers will be far more likely to raise our ratings, or at the very least keep them the same. Bringing in you guys is something new, and TOO unknown, therefore too risky.”
I was floored. But it got me thinking, how do I overcome this? The answer is….. Everyone must know your name. There’s no clear path to getting this to happen, and for each person or group it’s different, but that’s basically it. The more people know your name, the more clout you have, the easier it will be to get on the radio if you don’t already have a major record label backing you. I’m certain the easiest way is to get a major record deal, but even that is incredibly difficult, and also not a guarantee. Macklemore is a perfect example of the clout game though, His song Thrift Shop went viral, worldwide success, and only after that was his music on the radio, not before, even though his message, skill, and capabilities were no different. Baauer too (harlem shake anyone?), except none of his other songs have been on the radio because they’ve never touched the same level of popularity, even the Harlem Shake itself was short lived on the radio. So even if you’re in the best band in the world, if no one knows your name, it doesn’t matter. Animals as Leaders is a perfect example of this, hands down some of the most talented musicians out there today in the world, but when you compare their influence to Justin Timberlake, or probably more appropriately Iron Maiden or Metallica, they’re dwarfed, even though they are blindingly talented. Similarly, you could be totally atrocious, and no skill, but if people know your name, you’ll stand a better chance of getting that heavy rotation spot.
Ok so then now what? Part 2 will get into that.