College radio wants us, but doesn't know it yet
July 3, 2006 5:17 PM   Subscribe

How to get a band played on US college radio?

My firend's band released their first album a couple of months ago and the first two singles have had some airplay on independent radio here in Australia. We've heard about the US college radio stations in the media etc. but how does one get exposure to them?
Is it simply the case of sending each station a CD? In Australia there are (small-time, independent) PR agent types who manage that process, is the same true in the US? Any links, anecdotes or tips would be appreciated. They are called Josh Orange and have a myspace page should listening to them help, or assist with genres etc.
posted by bystander to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Metafilter's Hototogisu one of the DJs at KJHK (University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS), which is actually a well known college radio station amongst those who... know... in the U.S. I'll try and point him in the direction of this thread. Otherwise, I know nothing of this process.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 5:35 PM on July 3, 2006

Just send a copy to every station you can. However, having worked in college radio be warned that stations receive a crapload of releases every day and very few ever see the light of day.

You could try cultivating a relationship with actual djs at the station, give them your music and hope that they like it enough to play during their shift. I've actually played stuff that people handed to me at shows.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 5:42 PM on July 3, 2006

Though there may be PR-types who specialize in this, plenty of bands manage without or depend on their label. The station I've had a show at with gets a mailbin or two of CDs and vinyl every day. A stationmember sorts the stuff into genres, and it's put into a new music section. DJs look through the new music selection and play whatever strikes them as cool. However, unless your friends' music has gotten a lot of press and has fairly general appeal [or is lucky], it might not get much attention. Some bands send their stuff directly to DJs of certain shows [particularly when the show is devoted to a specific subgenre, where the music may have limited general appeal.] If your friend's band played black metal, for example, it might be more useful to send it only to stations with metal shows. These days, most DJs can be contacted by email - I've occasionally received emails from bands offering their music to DJs. I always give a listen to stuff that people send directly to me, and I've definitely ended up playing some of it.

[By the way: speaking as someone who books some concerts and has a radio show {currently on hiatus}, standard myspace pages are really bad for actually being able to contact a band or learn much about them. This year, I ended up deciding not to book any bands who didn't have real webpages, since I don't have a myspace account, and it was too much of a pain in the ass trying to get useful information or half-decent audio off of myspace. Your friends may want to consider getting their label to host a webpage for them or [if they don't have one] digging up a friend who knows some HTML and making a webpage of their own, even if it's just a geocities page. Presentation matters in the music business.]
posted by ubersturm at 5:47 PM on July 3, 2006

I worked in a college radio station as both a DJ and a "program manager." The amount of material the station got each week was staggering, and it was up to us PMs to listen to each CD and determine which got airplay. I'd say 75% to 90% of the CDs we received never made it on air.

Most of the CDs just came in the mail from labels, but we didn't care if the CDs came directly from the bands. I agree with DHD, just send out as many copies as you can - maybe with a brief, simple and honest note explaining what the band sounds like.

Otherwise, at our station, the DJs could bring in outside CDs that struck their fancy - so if you know some, maybe go that route as well.
posted by thewittyname at 5:51 PM on July 3, 2006

The college stations where I'm from take tapes... just send them out, and eventually you'll get some exposure.

Another thing you could do is start making regular appearances around venues that play your type of music. Making contacts is key, you'll likely get even better results thanby mailing faceless tapes to some stoned collgereindyradio 'execs'. He could be spending that valuable time rolling a j.

Then again, you could deliver a tape in person WITH a joint. Aha, now there's the ticket.
posted by sunshinesky at 5:58 PM on July 3, 2006

Speaking from the perspective of a music writer/editor, which is a little different from a radio program director/DJ, I can suggest that there are boutique-sized publicists in the US who, if one can get them to work a band, provide a certain caché that whispers "this, among all the CDs that came in the mail today, is worth spinning." Examples: Howlin' Wuelf, Screaming Peach, Fly PR.

When bands send their own music out, they frequently make small-yet-deadly mistakes that can be avoided by hiring a pro. Also, publicists will know what writers and DJs are inclined to like a band, and can target their mailings accordingly. I think it's worth paying to get the benefit of that kind of knowledge.
posted by Scram at 6:04 PM on July 3, 2006

Scram, perhaps you can share what some of those frequently made small-yet-deadly mistakes are?
posted by Evstar at 7:09 PM on July 3, 2006

Having been a college radio DJ and music coordinating guy, what thewittyname said is correct. Any good station will get at least a dozen CDs a day, most of them rock music. You need to 1. make requests and 2. get the music featured on some sort of recommended play list (most college stations don't have playlists, but they do have "play this, it's interesting" shelves).

Simply calling up and asking DJs to play the CD will work pretty good, if you can put in the hours necessary to call lots of stations. Tip: make sure your caller ID doesn't give you away to be who you are. I'd sometimes get request calls from the dude whose name was on the CD, which usually resulted in the CD being filed somewhere it would never get played.

After getting put on the featured new CD shelf (and, ideally, in a music director's weekly/monthly email to DJs), a racy CD cover helps. Putting a big sticker on the front cover that says "SOUNDS LIKE:" helps. Compare yourself to heavily played college radio music.
posted by rxrfrx at 8:03 PM on July 3, 2006

Oh yeah, whatever you do, do not call and request your own band. It's pathetic and obvious.

Also, I sure CMJ gets 1000 cds a day but they may be worth a try.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 8:18 PM on July 3, 2006

Evstar, those mistakes can include poorly-written or just plain embarrassing press releases, badly packed/damaged CDs or unplayable CDRs, inappropriate genre targeting, gimmicky or messy enclosures, links to digital press releases that never get looked at, and I'm sure other things I've yet to think of, but which some poor, cursed band is just about to do.
posted by Scram at 8:24 PM on July 3, 2006

Another DJ: Put a realistic description of your band on a sticker. Maybe a couple lines. It can be done. List the tracks you think are the best and describe them in basic terms (folky pop, poppy folk, folky slowcore, whatever). If you swear (or do anything the FCC wouldn't approve of) on a track you want stations to play, make a radio edit and include it on the cd you send out. I have come across several albums with stickers/info sheets encouraging MDs or DJs to make radio edits of some track or another. That's not likely to happen unless they are already rabid fans. An interesting package helps, especially a spine (that's all we see when its on the shelf). Just make something you'd like if you weren't the one making it.

Also: Don't use the words "lush" or "soundscape" anywhere on the promo material.
posted by jaysus chris at 11:53 PM on July 3, 2006

Response by poster: Great help so far, thanks.
I'll mark best answers a little later.
I think my friend is getting toward the more professional end, I know they spent a fair bit of money getting some good recording and production, and they certainly aren't the teen garage crowd with an MP3 on myspace. They have a fairly pro looking site at but found some fans asking for a myspace page too. (I didn't link before because I was wary of breaking a linking taboo, not because they don't have a site).
I'm hoping there will be enough novelty of getting a CD direct from an Australian band that at least a few DJs might give it a listen.
posted by bystander at 5:05 AM on July 4, 2006

Not all college stations are the same. Try to get access to a copy of the CMJ trade journal that goes out to college stations. Maybe you know someone at a college station who can send you a copy, or someone with access to the online version.

There you'll find a list of all of the reporting stations and their charts for that week. This will give you an idea of which stations might be more apt to play your friend's kind of music, and keep you from wasting CDs when you do your mailing.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:32 AM on July 4, 2006

As a former college-radio nerd, I'll say this - the best thing you can offer is a clean, nice-looking package. I'm not going to say that every good record has nice packaging, but there's a definite correlation. It has to do with the amount of care put into the recording overall.

Don't, for the love of god, include any of that extraneous crap - no headshots, no signed band pictures, no press releases, poorly-written or otherwise. This kind of detritus just gets your disc bad attention. 99% of it gets tossed in the trash, while the worst 1% gets hung on the station wall for all to see.

As was said above, a small sticker (or hell, a post-it note) with some accurate comparisons to known college-radio bands will go a long way. If you don't sound like Radiohead, don't claim that you do. Actually, just don't compare yourself to Radiohead. Every horrible band (that of course includes headshots) compares themselves to Radiohead. Just pick two or three indie-rawk bands that you actually sound like, and list them. Along with this list, add your best track. No Music director has the time to skip through 6 tracks - they're probably doing it between classes, or while they're eating lunch.

And of course, try to find the sub-genre directors if possible. They can certainly have a lot of influence over which discs get added. This is a fine line, though - too much pimping of a disc will get you in trouble. I was personally contacted a few too many times by one annoying promoter. I made sure that nobody got to hear that disc. (It was nobody's loss).
posted by god hates math at 7:46 AM on July 4, 2006

Best answer: well when you consider how much it's going to cost to send 100-200 cds from australia to the united states, getting some help from a college radio promo business isn't a bad idea. back when i was an md my favorites were aam, fanatic, team clermont, and triage...

aam has a package called "sunday service" where they put a sticker on the back and send it out as part of a big package... i'm guessing this will be cheaper than (or worst similar to) shipping from australia.

these companies are sending cds every week and i guarantee that college mds pay more attention to these cds than those that just show up in the mail from an unknown band/label.
posted by noloveforned at 9:38 AM on July 4, 2006

College radio MD here. Agree with pretty much everything else said, except for the tapes part, nobody uses tapes!

If the band can get picked up by a promotions company, that will definitely give you cred as the MD's generally look at that stuff first. My station did that with one of our compilation CDs and it got airplay across the country.

Otherwise, yes, just send 'em out. If you have a lot of money, send to every station possible. If not, definitely look through CMJ and pick out the stations that you think fit the best.

Your goal when sending the CD is to make it as easy as possible for the MD to add it to the station. At WTUL, each CD is personally listened to by an MD and either tossed or added. Any CD that's added gets a little review on it that includes what type of music it is, "recommended if you like x y or z band" (aka RIYL), and mention of if any tracks have profanity. So what you want to do is either send a 1-sheet (short bio, description, plus above information and contact info for band) and/or put the info on a sticker on the front of the CD.

Good luck!
posted by radioamy at 12:27 PM on July 4, 2006

As a former DJ and occasional music writer/editor/reviewer, I think they'd be wasting money sending out CDs to college radio. I listened to almost all of the tracks they are sampling on their site and don't think they'd have much chance on any college radio station I've ever listened to. Maybe XM radio's "Soft Alternative"

If they are dead-set on sending some promo copies out, do as schoolgirl report says above and pinpoint the most likely stations to play the CD based on what they report.

I'd say work the MySpace angle and send CDs to fans that help promote them or get them added to several other people's lists or whatever the kids are doing to promote things these days.

If they decide to send out promo copies to publications/blogs/review sites, tell them by no means should they "follow up" or ask if "the cd was received." Poor form. My personal favorites are the emails that apologize for following up! ugh.
posted by shoepal at 1:45 AM on July 5, 2006

Response by poster: Lots of good advice, best answer to noloveforned (so presumably a little affection) for the links to some industry radio promo folk.
Thanks Mefi.
posted by bystander at 6:58 PM on July 13, 2006

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