How to Get Airplay on Non-Commercial Radio

by Christopher Knab and guest columnist John Richards of 90.3 FM, KEXP

Here is an article from Third Edition of Music Is Your Business. It was written by John Richards who hosts the morning show on one of the nations MOST IMPORTANT alternative music stations. You can find them on the web too at

John has the real skinny on how to submit your music to them, and most alternative non-commercial FM stations. Read it, Print It, Post it in a place you can’t ignore it! Now, heeeerrssss John!

...Christopher Knab ----

There are so many thoughts on how an artist gets airplay both here at the KEXP and radio in general. While I can’t speak for those other radio stations I can tell you from my experience here at KEXP, at my indie label Loveless and other music related activities some advice that might help cut down on the confusion and help you get the music heard and hopefully played on radio.

Use these quick links to find what you're looking for....

THE PACKAGE: First you must prepare a package to submit to radio stations. Here is a list of what should be inside (I assume you know to put a return address on the outside).

The CD or Record: The finished product with full artwork is always best. However, if this isn't possible, clearly display the song list, album title and record label info. Please put it in a jewel case otherwise if might get lost in the shuffle.

MP3/Sending Music In Digital Form: This has made it SO much easier for bands to send music however it has made it SO much easier for someone getting hundreds of songs emailed to them deleted without even being heard. You have to think about the amount of music that is probably being sent to a DJ and if its realistic for you to think they’ll take the time to open your email and listen. You also have to consider they might not be able to play the MP3 directly in most cases so they have to physically burn the song onto CD to play. You don’t want them doing anything physical, trust me. I think its great to send music this way but don’t expect direct airplay to come from it.

MySpace: Sending a DJ a link to your Myspace page to listen to your song seems like a great and easy way for them to hear your music and for you to get the word out and I agree it is! But right now in my Myspace Inbox I have at least 400 bands asking me to do that. Its much easier to ignore those messages even if I don’t want to. Just a question of time really. So again, use Myspace for that purpose but don’t have unrealistic ideas of the success of this practice. Oh and don’t post bulletin after bulletin on a DJ’s or station’s site. It really pissed them off. Going in with the “How can I not piss off a station?” is half the battle.

The One Sheet: The "One Sheet" is designed to outline what you're sending and why it should be listened to. Limit it to one page; multiple pages create desk clutter and most likely won't be read. Avoid cramming the "One Sheet" with too much but do include the essential information below:

  • A song list

  • A list of any songs the FCC wouldn't like, such as those with obscene language.

  • "Go To" tracks (3-5 of your strongest)

  • A few press quotes if you have them. Don't try to be funny; assume that music directors don't have a sense of humor because they don’t.

  • A comparison to other bands but make sure they apply (not everyone sounds like Radiohead). You could also include the "genre" of your music.

  • Avoid too much clutter; get to the point and let the music speak to that point.

Unwrap the CD and fold the one sheet inside the CD case. Don't ask music directors (MD) to contact you, assume that you must contact them. Most MDs don't have time to return calls. Call them during their office hours and continue to do so until you reach them. Email is great as well. Send one a week until you’ve heard from them and thank them for their time. If they are playing it, offer up CD’s for giveaway, tickets to show, whatever you can offer. They may not have a use for it but can’t hurt to try.

Other Promotional Items: Send other promotional items that will help your chances…but use judgment. Don't toss in things that spoil or appear unprofessional. I once received a package with a hotdog in it. I happened to be on vacation at the time and when I returned the package smelled so bad I threw it out…CD and all. Plus, what does a hotdog have to do with getting airplay? Don’t spend time or money or energy on a sweet picture of yourself. Why on earth would you do that? Stations like this one are interested in the music not your looks. I’ve seen more bands get caught up on this…..

WHO DO I SEND MY PACKAGE TO? Research, research, research. Use the Internet to identify appropriate stations. If they play twang then sending your new rap release is a big waste of time. You can usually find a "play list" or "rotation" section on station websites. Does your music fit? Send your package to the station's music director. If the station has multiple MDs then send the CD to the main MD and to any other MDs that might play it. If there is just one MD then send him or her at least one copy of your CD. If you send your package to a station in your hometown, send it to the local show. This is your best chance at airplay as they are usually in need of new music.

OKAY I'VE SENT IT, NOW WHAT DO I DO? Follow Up: DO NOT assume that just because you've sent your package your CD is being played. Wait at least 2 weeks after you've sent it before you follow up with a phone call. Most music directors have call hours a couple of days each week. You can usually find these hours listed on a station's website or you can call them to find out when they are.

Patience and politeness: Keep trying and once you get through remain polite and to the point. Ask the following questions. If any of the answers are "No," stop asking and politely tell them to have a nice day.

  • Did you receive so and so CD on so and so records?.

  • Were you able to review so and so?

  • Are you going to add so and so to your rotation?

  • Where are you going to add so and so to your rotation?

  • Is there anything else you need?

Most stations have a "Heavy, Medium, and Light" rotation system. If you're put into any of these its good news: you're getting airplay. At this point thank the music director and let them know you'll be calling back later to see how the record is being received and where it is charting. Continue to follow-up for 6-8 weeks, the life of a new release in rotation. Or, if you like, keep an eye on the station website's play list.

Requests: Inform your supporters what station is playing your CD; however, make sure that they don't overload the station with requests or turn bitter towards the station because your music is not being aired enough. DJ's can tell when a band's supporters are overloading them with requests and this will not win you friends or more airplay. Most stations will play music based on merit and not on requests.

NATIONAL PROMOTION There are several top-notch radio promotion companies that specialize in helping musicians get radio airplay around the country. They generally service 300 to 750 stations for a fee of $500 to thousands of dollars. Promotional mailings to radio stations will cost you money for both postage and lost CD's. Usually you handle the mailings while they track your release by calling the MD each week and find out where in rotation it is and how many plays it is getting a week.

Most companies service your CD for 6 to 8 weeks and can assist with setting up in-studio visits and giveaways. Most will recommend the type of stations to target. Here are a few of these companies:

Planetary Group, Spectre, Mcgathy, Revolver, AAM, Fanatic, Team Clermont, Nice Promotions, Pirate! Promotion and Management,

IN CLOSING It's not easy to do it yourself: write the music, book gigs, manage the tour, release the CD, and get radio airplay. But once you connect with the right listeners for your music, there are definitely rewards. I hope you now have a better idea of how to approach a radio station and get airplay for your new CD. Good luck!

John Richards The Morning Show KEXP 90.3 FM, 6-10am Mon-Fri Audioasis (all local) KEXP 90.3 FM, 6-9pm Saturdays


Christopher Knab is an independent music business consultant based in Seattle, Washington. He is available for private consultations on promoting and marketing independent music, and can be reached by email at:

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