You may be using social media, the web, word-of-mouth, performances, media and other avenues to get your music out to listeners, but the fact of the matter is that radio, especially for Ontario country music, remains an ever-important way for artists to get their songs heard.
However, navigating the radio industry as a young or emerging artist can be complex and challenging. So, where do you start?
Having a high-quality recording that you’re proud of is a first step, as this is one of the first things a music director will see and listen to. They will also check out your presence on the industry-standard portal DMDS (Digital Media Distribution System), where it’s necessary to have a complete information package that’s succinct but informative.
“You want a photo that’s current and seems appropriate for the style of song or artist,” says KT Timmermans, Music Director, co-owner and on-air host of Manitoulin’s 100.7 The Island FM – an independently owned and operated station. “The key thing for emerging artists is to be really careful about how your bio is worded – if you’re telling us you’re Canada’s Brad Paisley, you’re setting yourself up for a big anticipation and if you’re not Canada’s Brad Paisley, then I will always remember that.”
For larger markets, Music Directors pay close attention to the individual songs. “We don’t concern ourselves with image, background etc., as usually, by the time we start playing them, they’ve established themselves” says Pete Walker, Music Director and on-air personality for KX96 New Country FM.
And when they’re playing a song, directors can tell very quickly if it is worthy of a second listen. While Walker explains he often comes back to a tune the next day or after a week, his team can usually tell within a minute or two if it’s a good fit.
Timmermans adds that it’s unfortunate many artists are including extended intros in their songs. “If you’re Keith Urban, you can do that…” she notes, “…but it’s difficult for brand new artists.”
Talent should keep in mind that they’re competing against thousands of others – not only those from Ontario – for airtime. Walker says he hears from artist’s airplay trackers or labels from around the world: about 90 per cent from Canada, five per cent American and five per cent international.
And in a less-than-24-hour corporate mainstream radio rotation that may only play 10-14 songs per hour, the availability for new material is often slim. Especially when an established artist’s new single with a lot of push behind it is getting three spins a day, those at the bottom are left fighting it out for airtime.
When they do get played, it’s because the overall fit is right. Walker mentions he takes into consideration whether the song is good, well-recorded, well-sung and if it fits their contemporary country “sound.”
For Timmermans, knowing the artist is dedicated to their craft, their talent and the process is another deciding factor. “I want to know they’ve invested the time and energy in their career,” she explains. “For a lot of radio, you’re investing in that artist. I want to know they’re working – even if that’s playing at local bar, having a Facebook page… showing they’re working hard at expanding what they’re trying to do.”
Paying attention to the song’s appropriateness for the time of year is another significant, albeit oft-forgotten, element. “If you’re writing a song about beer and driving with the top down, I wouldn’t pitch that in the winter,” she adds. “Being cognizant about the material is important.”
Having connections in the industry doesn’t hurt in getting ahead either, according to the experts. From provincial associations (like the CMAO) to national organizations (such as the CCMA and Songwriters Association of Canada) and industry events, networking and getting involved will all help you get access to radio and help to develop broad-based industry relationships.
At the end of the day, making it in radio – and the industry – is doable, but you’ve gotta keep your stick on the ice.
“You look at how many kids play minor hockey in Canada with the hopes they’re going to be Sidney Crosby,” references Timmermans. “How many of them actually get to the NHL? And of them, how many actually get to be Sidney? But never forget what drove you to hockey to begin with – and that was the love of the game.”