Chris Mak

So, you have the screaming riffs, the masterful rhymes, a well produced record and a fan base that includes more than just your mothers; now what? They say—in “the biz” —that any media exposure is good for a budding musical career, but how would a yutz like you or I go about constructively exposing ourselves through the media?

With recent technological developments, such as satellite music television and the Internet, there are now mind-vomiting amounts of ways in which musicians may broaden their listener base. But, out of all the new gadgetry that the wi-fi age has to offer, radio has always been at the forefront of musical evolution. Large record companies will often put new bands through their paces on college radio stations in order to find out what will be the “next big thing.”

As daunting as it may sound, getting your record spun on the radio is a lot easier and cheaper than you may have imagined. There are two “choose your own adventure” routes that an independent artist may take: (1) go to a promotions company, or (2) DIY. Going to a professional company is extremely expensive, often requiring upwards of three thousand dollars (not including the price of over a thousand promotional CDs) for just an eight-week promotional push. Although it has its benefits, most of us are too hungry to afford decadence like that. So now what? Here is what an independent artist needs to do in order to successfully DIY.

First, find a horde of radio stations that you assume will play your genre of music. Non-commercial and college radio stations are usually the best because they often play a large variety of new and old genres, they may also have a selection of “specialty” programming, meaning they have certain DJs who will play specific genres during the day. Some non-commercial and commercial radio stations like 107.7 The End have “locals only” shows that showcase regional music. So sending multiple copies to the station, for “general” play and for “specialty” rotation in order to maximize your possibilities for airtime, would be a good idea.

Second, assemble your promotional mailers, which should include the following items: a labeled CD in a jewel case and an artist one-sheet; it's as simple as that. Although I love vinyl, compact discs are most station's primary format.

Even with the “advancement” of Myspace, high-speed Internet, and MP3s, I receive hundreds of mass addressed emails a week saying “Hey, Check out my band on myspace!” But, as much as I'd like to download every MP3 or compute on over to the prodigious amounts of Myspace profiles, the frank truth is that having to deal with both physical CDs and digital downloads is too much work for most music directors.

The other item in your package, the artist “one-sheet,” is what most people fudge on. Like the name implies, the one sheet should just be one piece of paper with a description of your band, contact information, a track listing and—if you're feeling cheeky—a band picture. A lot of bands make the mistake of putting CDs, huge one sheets and eleven-by-twelve glossies of themselves into plastic folders. First, that extra packaging just generates unnecessary waste, second, all that stuff creates more cost and third, if Joey Ramone's music was judged by the way he looked his band wouldn't have become the household name that it is today.

Finally it has been two weeks since you have mailed out your promotional packages, now what? I'd pity the fool that didn't follow up on their hard work! Call all the radio stations and make sure they all received a copy of your new hit CD. Although it may initially be tricky to reach the music director just be persistent and polite. If you have difficulty reaching a station's music director or if the station decides to turn down your CD be polite and professional. The only other thing, that I can imagine, radio people might do more than listen to music is talk so you may quickly find yourself alienated by other stations if you act in an unprofessional manner.

Hopefully, this article has provided you with at least one tool, which will make swimming through the jellyfish infested waters of the music industry less painful. I know that promoting a band with very little money seems next to impossible and I also know that peeing on a jellyfish sting helps ease the pain. Anyway, being able to work independently in the industry is a very rewarding and empowering experience, even if it means peeing on yourself every so often. Feel free to snail mail any promotional packages or email me any questions.

Music Director
700 Viking Union MS 9106
Western Washington University
Bellingham, WA 98225