Updated: Feb 3
In this article we discuss the mechanics of radio, recognising the importance of reach and frequency and the failure of radio, and radio pluggers to deliver for independent artists.
You need a radio plugger right?
As an independent artist you are told to achieve success you need to hire a radio plugger to help place your music on radio station playlists. Typically you will pay between £800-£1500 per single. The campaign will span approximately 8-10 weeks and at the end of it, they can't guarantee you any radio play at all.
The reason they can't guarantee any radio support is because radio is dominated by major label signed artists and tightly controlled playlists. Therefore as an unsigned artist it is virtually impossible to break this monopoly. Your best hope on radio is a one-off spot play, on a regional, community or student radio station, even these opportunities are seldom given out to unsigned or self released artists. If you do manage to secure a spot play, you have no control over when, or where this play will take place.
Before writing this blog post I explained how Radio plugging worked to a planner within a media agency.
This is a paraphrased version of their response...
"If we were paid £1500 by a client and didn't actually manage to secure them an audience for their advert we would be fired, this is absolutely crazy. Our media plan ensures the advert reaches the right people at the right time to maximise effectiveness. In this case your song is your advert, so to have no control over where your advert is placed makes no sense.
Even if a radio plugger does manage to secure a one-off play that doesn't mean that has been an effective media buy. It's like the equivalent of targeting a female audience aged 18-25 in London and ending up with a male audience aged 55+ plus in Sheffield. This is a spectacular waste of money."
The importance of reach & frequency
If you spend any time within media agencies you'll hear the terms 'Reach' and 'Frequency' these are two key tenets of any campaign. Reach refers to the % of your desired target audience that will be 'Reached' by the advertising campaign and 'Frequency' refers to the number of times your target audience will be exposed. Logic and a ton of research suggest that the combination of these two factors is the key to success, having one without the other is unlikely to work.
Radio pluggers fail to deliver reach or frequency for unsigned bands
Once again radio pluggers fail to deliver either reach or frequency for unsigned artists. Even on the off-chance your plugger gets you on BBC6 Music how often do they secure you both reach and frequency? Let's face it you won't get a place on their playlist, a late night spot play is the best you can hope for, while a late night spot play on an internet, regional or community station is more likely to be the result.
Reach and frequency helps you convert listeners into fans. But when you have limited reach and one-off frequency that's unlikely to happen, there is simply no chance to build enough momentum among enough listeners to convert them from listeners to fans.
The journey from listener to fan.
Listener hears your song on the radio
Listener likes your track
Listener hears who the song is by
Listener remembers who the song is by
Listener takes a direct action in response to hearing the song
How many people complete this journey on the back of one play on late night regional radio? So if you don't spend £1500 on radio pluggers each time you release a single what is the alternative?
What's the alternative to expensive radio pluggers?
Targeted social ads
The value of Spotify for independent artists
As an unsigned artist you keep 100% of the income you generate from Spotify. Start making playlists featuring your music, share them with your friends, family and fans are encourage them to do the same. Creating buzz on Spotify is far easier than creating buzz on radio, it's in your hands and it's free. If Spotify sense a buzz they will add your music to one of their own curated playlists and at this point things can literally go crazy. Just ask The Daydream Club an unsigned artist from Leicester who started this way and now attract around 1m streams per month. That's approximately £2,000 a month. Read more about what happens with Spotify playlists unknown artists here.
Sign up to Musosoup to dramatically reduce costs by cutting out the PR middle men.
Now you only pay for the press you get. Now you get get your music infront of music blogs and writers for free.
Targeted Social Posts & Adverts
Social media is awash with data with enables you to understand the audience your music attracts. For example your Spotify Fan Insights will show you the cities where you have most listeners globally by age and genre. It will also show you the other artists fans are listening to. Use this data to build an audience on Facebook Business The penetration of Facebook is almost total, so if you want to only target males, aged 16-21 in Bath who also follow Stormzy and listen to Resonance FM you can.
You can create an advert or promote an existing post to either your existing fans or go dark so only non fans see it. Start by keeping budgets low (£3 will reach approximately 1,000 people) and test out a couple of different audiences, with a couple of different content options (tracks, videos, playlists) to see which ones deliver the best results. Test out targeting fans in markets outside of the UK, US and Europe, you often find it's far cheaper to reach music fans in non traditional markets. Remember to insert a quote from the blog coverage you have achieved to provide some added gravitas.
Squall Influencer Marketing
Squall helps musicians get their music heard, by more people, more often. It works by directly connecting musicians to social media influencers. It's free to register and you only pay for guaranteed promo. Find out more.
In ConclusionTo be clear, this article is not suggesting radio can play no role in promoting music. That would be foolish, our recommendation is simply that as an unsigned artist you can spend your money much more efficiently and achieve much greater success by focusing on the channels you can control. Once you have become the most talked about artist on the Internet, and you have record labels beating down your door - let them pay for radio pluggers! At this point you will be able to get on playlists and radio will actually deliver reach and frequency you desire, but until then keep your hands in your pockets.
This blog post is by Major Labl, we are a management and creative services company that
help transform unsigned artists into financially sustainable independent artists. Find out what we can do for you
Major Labl have created 'The Cycle' a proprietary framework to help artists plan to promote their music more effectively. Download step by step DIY guides, book training or get PAYG management support on your terms, without contracts or commitments.
Watch Mark Knight, Founder of Right Chord Music / Major Labl talk about his approach to artist management