Radio Station Promotions

Radio Station Promotions

David Avery is the founder and president of Powderfinger Promotions, an indie radio promotion and publicity firm. After he earned his B.A. in music as well as an M.M in musicology from New England Conservatory of Music, he got his start in the industry as a music editor at Schwann Publications. When the company relocated to New Mexico in the early ‘90s, he began promoting bands in the Boston area and eventually decided to open his own business, Powderfinger, in 1994. The company has relationships with over 600 College, AAA, Americana, Jazz and Jam Band stations across the U.S. and Canada and has been twice voted the College Radio Promoter of the Year at the New Music Awards. Through Powderfinger, David has worked with major artists including 311, Steve Winwood, Widespread Panic, India.Arie and Modeski Martin & Wood. Powderfinger works largely with indie and unsigned artists and has run successful campaigns for acts such as The Dresden Dolls, The Sterns and Michelle Shocked.   

 

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David talked to me about the current radio market and how and when artists can work radio promotion into their business strategies. He also shared some tips for artists that want to build relationships with fans and establish long-term careers in music.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Thanks for taking some time to talk, David. How did you first get into the music business?

 

DA:

 

I got involved kind of by accident. After I finished doing my graduate work, I got a job with a company called Schwann Publications. They were known originally for being the place you went to find all available music recordings in the U.S. I joined on as a music editor when they started offering that type of information. Eventually, they were bought by another company and moved to New Mexico, and I decided I didn’t want to relocate.

 

While I was looking for another job, I had a lot of time on my hands. And a musician friend of mine decided he was going to put out a 7” single that was geared towards the college radio market. I decided I wanted to help him get it out there and promote it. I started tracking down radio stations and figuring out how to contact them and get information about whether it was getting airplay or not. It was trial by fire, but there was nothing to lose, because there was no contract. No one’s career was at stake, and no one was going to lose money if I wasn’t successful.

 

The process went really well with that artist, and a few local bands in Boston decided they were going to hire me to promote their new releases. So, I realized I could get paid for doing this. I looked around to see what other music promotion companies were doing, and there was not a lot going on at the time. People were not really using the Internet yet. I basically said, “Yes” then figured out a way to promote these new releases to radio stations and how to put together reports to track their success. I found someone to help me build a database in exchange for promoting his band, and the whole thing evolved organically. Basically, it happened because I had some spare time, and friends needed help. And eventually it turned into Powderfinger.

 

And over the years, we’ve ended up doing way more work with DIY and indie artists. That was even the case in the beginning.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

You guys are doing mostly radio and press promotion. In terms of radio, is there an ideal time for an artist go to radio?

 

DA:

 

College radio and also community radio matter a lot. First of all, they are the stations most artists can get on that people are actually listening to. If you’re an unsigned artist spending money trying to get on a lot of Clear Channel stations, you’re probably wasting your time. If you’re going to spend money on a big radio station, wait until you’re going to be playing a major gig in the city where it broadcasts and then spend money on advertising on that station. Invest in a spot with your songs playing in the background, because that’s probably the only thing you will be able to get.

 

In general, what’s cool about college and community radio stations is that their listenership is very loyal and invested. They have listeners that send them money so they can stay on the air and keep doing what they’re doing. There’s a reason commercial radio stations play the same song 20 times per day:  Because listeners are just tuning in for about 15 minutes and then turning it off. People at community and college radio care about the artists. They want to own an artist in that market. They are looking to make a deep and long-term commitment.   

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And is it more effective to do college and community radio stations when you’re touring through those markets?

 

DA:

 

That’s an open question. If you’re a band that has never been on the radio before, one of the things you get out of being on college and community radio is that you find out where you have media support – especially if you’re doing a national promotion. I worked with an artist named Lipbone Redding from The Bronx. We did a national promotion, and about 12 radio stations in Colorado had him in heavy rotation. And he had no idea people in that area would be so receptive to what he’s doing. He ended up going out there and visiting on his own and then setting up a tour and expanding his reach a little into parts of the West and Midwest. Now he can tour on the West and East coasts. He just had no idea that touring was possible until he did the promotion and found out where he had media support. So, new artists can do a national promotion, see where they are getting the most airplay and try to leverage that into getting gigs at clubs.

 

Bands that are more experienced have a different experience with this type of radio. We just promoted a few albums for Slightly Stoopid. They’ve been touring for at least 15 years. They know people will go to their shows, so any extra mileage they can get out of radio will only help promote that and drive more people to their shows. They already know they will get radio play in a lot of places, so they don’t need to think so much about where they will be opening new markets, which helps the tour and everything else all around. But, as a first timer, you need to figure out where your markets are. And your biggest market will not always be in the area where you live, which of course presents its own dilemma.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Yes. You hear of this happening to artists all the time. And there was that Searching for Sugar Man documentary that explored about some of these issues. A musician from Detroit released an album that no one in the States ever listened to, then found out he was basically as big as Bob Dylan in South Africa.

 

DA:

 

And what musicians will do is get airplay at college and community radio stations, then get a gig in the area and go back to the station and look for support – an in-studio appearance, a ticket giveaway or whatever they can get. And they use that to build up their presence in that market.

 

These types of activities also give you a national story. There is a lot of competition, even for a band that is just playing regionally. If you can say, “I got airplay on 100 stations in all 50 states” or “I was on this specific chart,” suddenly you have something to talk about that goes beyond your immediate fan base. Fans want affirmation that they are not the only ones who like specific music. So, if you have a favorite local band, and that band is also loved in other parts of the country, it confirms your opinion that the band is good.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And it encourages people from the industry to step out when there is a little more confirmation of an artist’s value.

 

DA:

 

Definitely. And as an artist or a band, it gives you a story to tell and a track record. If you are in music to make money, it’s a long-term process. There are very few people that make $1 million overnight. It’s a long road, so you have to think about building your career one step at a time.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Yes. If you’re looking to get rich overnight, I think lottery tickets have better odds.

 

When an artist is looking to hire a company like yours or pursuing radio, how do they make sense of what they will be seeing on report sheets and other materials? How can they tell which radio stations are of quality and which will not be potentially helpful to their career?

 

DA:

 

Our rule is that a station needs to be either heard or seen in order to be of quality. It either has to have some sort of substantial audience, or the station has to be reporting to a chart that matters to the artist. It can be a tiny college station, but if that station is reporting the Top 30 songs and artists to CMJ every month, being on that station can help you with the charts. That’s fine if you are interested in charting, and it also helps spread the word on that particular campus. America’s a big country, and sometimes you have to conquer it one tiny piece at a time.   

 

If you’re really looking for gig support, a station needs to be heard. It doesn’t necessarily need to have a huge audience. There are some stations out there that are not that big, but they still dominate their market or their little neck of the woods. For instance, WRBB at Northeastern only has 10 Watts, but they’re sitting right at the edge of Roxbury, and they play a ton of hip-hop. They have a lot of listeners, maybe more than someone with a 1000-Watt station in the middle of a cornfield.

 

If you want support for shows, you do need stations that make an impact on their area. It just really depends on the station. Some are good for that and some aren’t, so you just have to do some research. When it comes to local stations, it is pretty easy to find out which will help you promote your shows and which will not.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

What should clients have prepared before approaching a company like yours for help with promotion? Is there a specific list of materials artists need?

 

DA:

 

Musicians are usually in charge of their own social media. And social media matters for publicity more than it does for radio, even though it affects both elements. We look at an artist’s website and whether or not their bio is up to date. We also look at their Facebook fan page, if they have one and whether or not there is music available there. We see if are posting regularly and whether or not they have followers that are commenting and interacting. It’s the same thing with Twitter. Social media enhances what we do and is something that most artists feel comfortable doing on their own. And they are better off managing their own pages and profiles, because they are often posting very detailed information about gigs. The band, or their manager, is really a better candidate for managing the social media accounts.

 

So, before we start working with someone, we check to see if all those details are in order, because, that’s really important when someone is looking for you online. If someone goes to Google you, and your Facebook band page is just your personal page, and you have 10 friends … that just tells everyone you’re going nowhere. So, why should they care?

 

Before you approach someone for help with promotion, you need to make sure you have a current bio and that your website is up to date, functional and makes sense. And you need your Twitter account and Facebook fan page to be active. Beyond those, there are things like Instagram, ReverbNation, BandCamp, etc. But Facebook, Twitter and your website are the core of everything.

 

Some artists will offer up a website URL, but then you click on it, and it takes you to their Twitter profile. That’s just terrible, because you can only provide really limited information there, and you don’t have much control over it.

 

And you have to remember that with radio stations, the CD is still what they want, even at college stations. That is changing a little bit, and at Powderfinger, we also make everything available via download. But most people want the CD or both the CD and downloads. Part of the reason for that is because these college and community stations are very album oriented. They are not really interested in singles. That goes back to what I was saying before:  College and community radio stations want to really own an artist rather than a song. The album is still the “real deal” to a critic and to this type of radio station, because it shows off the work you can do. A lot of people can manage to put together one really good sounding song. But you need to have a cache of songs that are great in order to show people you have what it takes to be a real musician.

 

That being said, there is a lot more acceptance of downloads by stations than there was even a year or two ago. But a CD is a really handy package for them to reference. It’s all the songs, right there in front of them with the album artwork and all the notes. And not every station uses everything attached to the CD, but sending the full CD is still the method that gets artists the most airplay. If you just send a digital download of one song, you’re just not going to get much out of it.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

How much do college radio and community radio help contribute to building an artist’s story for commercial radio?

 

DA:

 

Just as an aside, college radio and community radio are the two main types of stations we work with, but the formats we mainly work with are jazz, AAA, Americana, a lot of jam band specialty shows and then sometimes new world music.

 

That being said, I don’t have too many people come to me that think about breaking into commercial radio anymore. For the most part, they’ve given up on it, unless, for example, they are country artists that have something that bridges the gap between country and Americana. You can go to smaller and mid-level markets and get something going at smaller commercial stations if you have a project like that. But you’re not going to break into the major, big-budget stations if you’re not on a major national label. With some types of music, you can get something going at commercial stations as an indie artist. Country is one of them. And sometimes Top 40 and Hot AC works. But even with all those, if you spend a little money on a promoter, you might get on a chart or get some airplay, but you eventually hit a wall.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Do commercial stations eyeball AAA radio at all?

 

DA:

 

There is also commercial AAA radio, which is much more singles focused. I’m sure commercial Hot AC and AAA stations watch each other. But that’s more about what’s going on in their own markets; they just want to know if the guy down the dial is playing the same music they’re playing already or not.

 

I don’t have too many people coming to me that want to use me to get into commercial radio. If they are doing something might be viable in that format, those people are usually in their own niche, so I will send them to a country promoter or someone within their own specific genre. It’s just so separate that I just don’t think people even think about commercial radio anymore. For the most part, getting played on college or community radio stations is not going to get you on a station like K-Rock. If you’re not on a major label, you don’t have tools in your pocket to get there.

 

The only way to do it is market by market. If you can draw 500 people in Los Angeles who are K-Rock listeners, they might pay attention to you, but it’s still not really likely.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

It’s great to know. I think some artists have the idea that one radio station is the same as any other. There are some stations where you can make a dent and others where you need a bagful of money and a team of promotion people in order to get involved.

 

DA:

 

And that’s the other thing:  Commercial radio is very expensive, and promoters are very expensive.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Do you have any parting words of advice for artists about publicity and promotion or just about navigating the music industry?

 

DA:

 

My biggest piece of advice is “plan ahead.” Too often, artists puts together great releases and then discover they are out of money and don’t know what to do next. They’re not always thinking about the next step or the next couple steps beyond where they are. For example, if you’re going to hire someone for radio promotion, you need to think about what you need to do after that. You need to think, “I just spent X amount of money and am getting airplay. Am I going to go out to these places and play? Am I able to go out there?” You need to think about these things ahead of time. It’s a complex puzzle with a lot of pieces. Musicians are showing they are very smart about figuring out the pieces and managing them on their own.

 

Try to think about the big picture. Once the songs are written – before you even make a recording – think about all the other things you will need to spend money on. Start investigating your options and look around.

 

To learn more about David Avery and the work he does for musicians, visit the Powderfinger Promotions website. You can also follow the company on Twitter and Facebook.