Confessions of a Radio Programmer

Posted by D Grant Smith on Nov 18, 2015 09:00 AM
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DGrant-DSDDays-1.jpgAll images courtesy of the author

Confession 1: Mail that has no name on it comes in all the time. Yup – no contact information provided for a new album released by a band that has a good sound and potential. How do I let them know we'll be playing their music? I wish people were more deliberate in their attempts to make contact. 

Confession 2: My email inbox is chock-full of messages from bands, artists, PR companies, and managers... half of which are from bands that don't have a recording of more than a single, no hard copy, and their music doesn't fit our programming format. I wish artists took the time to look up the programs and stations they contact before sending out submissions.

These are a few of the realities of being a radio programmer, and they're not so bad in the grand scheme of things. We get tons of mail, both from the postman and in our email inboxes. 90 percent of the email is from artists who want airplay. That's a part of the job and we welcome it. We love getting to experience new artists and new music. But if we could have our druthers, there would be a few things we wish could be a little different, that would make our work a little easier and make for better connections with the artists we showcase.

We radio programmers chose this path because we love people. We love connecting with people and showcasing their talents. It's one of the big reasons why we do what we do. Here's another confession: Most of us wish that desire for connection were reciprocal – meaning that the people we interview are just as excited to be a part of our station or program as we are to talk with them. That's not always the case, but when we do get to meet and interview folks who are fired up to be a part of our programming, it makes the interview and the conversation so much better. The audience truly wins when this kind of interaction takes place.

In music programming, you'd be hard-pressed to find a radio programmer who isn't passionate about music discovery. Even stations that play mainstream music and are (unfortunately) subjected to the same series of songs by the same handful of artists every day love getting to hear new music from emerging artists. Suffice it to say, we love new music.

The passion behind the work of radio programmers is for both the artists and the audience

What we love more than simply hearing a new great song from an up-and-coming band is making a connection with that band, and showcasing their talents in more robust ways than simply playing a track a few times on a music show. This is why we do interviews.

The purpose of an interview is more than just promoting a band's new music. We book interviews with artists that we truly believe in and want to be a part of the journey forward with. In other words, we don't book interviews with any artist who comes along and asks for one. Interviews are a special part of our work that require us to take the time, energy, and effort in researching and crafting questions that dive deeper into the stories behind the art.

DGrantSmithWilliam_Fitzsimmons.jpgI talk a lot about connections because it's really the one thing I'm most passionate about with the work I do. For me, as a radio programmer and a music superfan, I'm very passionate and loyal to the artists who connect with me and my program, The Appetizer Radio Show. This is also a reason radio programmers create awards for artists, which allow our fans and listeners to engage more with both our radio platforms and the artists for support (as pictured left, William Fitzsimmons presented with our annual Golden Fork Award). These featured artists are played more often because their music connects more with our team (myself included) and because we've been a part of their musical journey. That process of growth and being a part of the transformation for an artist who goes from completely unknown to successful in the indie space is what most (if not all) radio programmers are striving for. We have a place in the growth process for artists, and we're very passionate about it. When artists show their appreciation for the place we have in their journey, it means the world to us. 

Most submissions will not get a response

I hear artists tell me frequently that they wish stations would reply to their submissions so they'd know if they were being featured. One reason why it's so hard for stations to do that is because thee frequency and volume of submissions is really high each and every day.

However, when we get submissions that are sent with a direct appeal to us individually to be featured on our individual radio platform, it communicates something different. These are the kinds of artists who find themselves getting more features more frequently from more stations over time. More radio programmers get the chance to interview and connect with them because not only is the music great, but the artist's approach to radio showcase is great, too. Everyone wins, including (and especially) the listener. In the end, what we do and what artists do is really about our shared love and appreciation for our audiences. How we connect with each other is a shared passion in serving them great music.

An inside look at my process for choosing artists to feature

Since I get so many emails and packages in the mail daily, there is more material to go through than we can get on the radio in any given week. Most of my colleagues at other stations and programs have a similar experience. Here's what makes the difference for me in deciding whether to take on a new artist:

  1. The band needs to have at least two or three really solid songs worthy of airplay. Other music curators sometimes just want an artist to submit one song, but from my perspective, my radio platform is about showcasing the completeness of an artist, not just an individual song.
  2. I'll listen to a few songs from an artist, and if I'm seriously wowed, I'll put them in a folder for consideration. If the submission contains any messaging that addresses me and my program specifically, I'll give them a little more attention, because they obviously sought out my show specifically for a feature, and that counts for something.
  3. In the end, what gets heard on The Appetizer Radio Show is what connects with me emotionally, and what I believe will connect with my audience. What kind of experience does this music provide? If it creates a fun, moving, emotional, thought-provoking, rock-out, cry-out, or other engaging experience, it's probably going to get heard on the show. If it's just a sad song about your girlfriend leaving you, and you can't figure out why, that's probably not compelling enough to be featured.

This is my process. It's similar to what a lot of radio programmers have in terms of how they pick out music, but none of us are exactly the same. What is certain is that you have to have great music, it has to provide an experience worth talking about, and your submission must be targeted at the specific radio program you're reaching out to in order to get a real shot at being featured.

Licensing opportunity

Topics: radio, Music Business 101, Marketing & Promotion


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