Blogging Til I Win A Grammy: Day 992 – Thoughts on College Airplay

Post #56 of ANNIE B.’s D.I.Y. MAGAZINE

I just got an e-mail today from a friend of mine in a band who asked me: “Any advice for a DIY college / independent radio campaign?”

Here’s my response, practically word-for-word:
I used to do radio promotion in Los Angeles, and at our level, radio promotion is largely a waste of time (ESPECIALLY COLLEGE), even if you have money to pay someone to do it who is in constant contact with the kids at the stations. Regional commercial & non-commercial radio promotion is probably smarter if you can pinpoint stations correctly – – like your local community stations – 88.9, WMSE, and WUWM, and then perhaps other stations like WMMM in Madison, WGTD in Kenosha, and other small market stations where they may not need you to pay for $1000 of “station support” in order for them to play your music.

Basically, from what I can tell you, you still need to send CDs, the college kids are really hard to get a hold of, and there are only 12 college stations (which major labels have a stranglehold on) in the country that have enough listening power to help you sell 100 units or more in their market in a year’s time of you getting heavy rotation on their station for an extended period of weeks or months. TOTALLY not worth the time, effort, and any money you’d spend on it, especially if you never get to that market to play shows.

The stations should be able to tell you if they played your record – called “tracking” – you call/e-mail every week and ask:
1. Did you get the record & listen to it?
2. Will you be adding the record into rotation?
3. Did it get any airplay this week?
4. How many spins? (6 spins in a week is considered high rotation for college/non-commercial, 30+ is high rotation on commercial stations.)
5. Can you play it next week?

Artists at our level sell 95-99% of their music as a CD at their shows. Even singles… you can more easily sell a “single” (1, 2, or even 3 songs) for $2 or $3 at your show than you can your $10 full-length. But since the cheapest I’ve seen for a short-run of CDs is about $2.20 per CD at Sooper Dooper, it’s questionable if it’s worth selling singles… you really want to have your fans buying your full length anyway. And of course download cards are also out there. (I have not tried to sell them, so I don’t know much about them.)

Certain genres are more internet-sales-friendly, like electronic music… since the people in that music community are ALL ABOUT their computers & being on the internet. Maybe even hip-hop, since that’s also hugely digital when it comes to production. But rock & alternative music, I don’t believe it’s worth your time trying to figure out how to sell CDs online & on iTunes. For every online or iTunes purchase I ever had with Shut Up Marie, I sold 100x more CDs at shows, if not more. Sure, there are more people buying online than ever before right now, and it’s possible that online sales is surpassing physical sales, but my guess is that these sales trends apply more to big name acts than to artists at our level. We are still at the grassroots level and might be forever, even if we reach a level of success like Willy Porter, who is what I would consider a very successful Grassroots artist. I’d be interested to see what percentage of Willy’s sales are online vs. physical. I am going to have Carmen ask him.

My opinion is that we are better off focusing our energies on getting bigger and better shows, more fans at the shows, and trying to find out how to make more money there. Like, having lots of merch for people to consider buying. The more stuff you have for sale, the more likely the fan who comes up to your table will buy SOMETHING. And more fans will come up if they see lots to choose from. I sold 6 CDs and 2 Tshirts in Lake Geneva last Saturday, and that’s a gig where I play mostly covers! Not bad, and that’s a result of having lots of Tshirts to choose from (different colors & sizes) and 2 different CDs for sale (The Kiwi Cafe and the new ABVC release). If I also had the old Shut Up Marie records, I guarantee I’d have sold some of those, too.

There is no question in my mind about how much time I, personally, should spend trying to get airplay and sell music online: NONE. I WILL, however, consider sending my CD to radio stations when I have a gig in Madison, Green Bay, or other towns that have radio stations that I can target. (Chicago is too large of a market to target, although I will still send my CD to XRT when I play there, mostly for the hell of it, but I don’t spend a lot of time pursuing airplay on XRT.)

Your time is a valuable resource that you can choose how to spend on moving your band forward. I’d spend it on things that will have real results, both immediate and in the long run. Soliciting bigger & better shows, merch, maintaining your fanbase & mailing list, and promoting with e-mail and Facebook. E-mail lists & Facebook WILL get people – who WILL buy merch – to your shows… and you won’t really see the people showing up at any significant level until you have about 1,000 people on your mailing list. (This is different than 1,000 friends on Facebook, of course!) I have 700+ people on my Annie B. MailChimp mailing list and you’re damned right I tell anyone who sends me a Facebook friend request that they ARE GETTING ADDED to my e-mail list. After all, they sent ME the FR…. I didn’t send THEM the request. If you request to be my friend, you have to agree to the terms, and I will be happy to be your friend. (Most people have their e-mail available on their Info page.) It ends up being about a 2-5 – minute ordeal, answering one friend request. But I think it’s worth it, because they may or may not see my invites on Facebook, but they’ll get an e-mail about it in their “regular” in-box!

In a nutshell: I believe that even major label bands make the biggest portion of their money playing live and selling their merch at the shows. (I’m sure you’ve heard this before, right?)

I hope this helps!!!!!!

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