Shell Zenner, a radio presenter, producer, and new-music obsessive talks us through how you can best use radio to your advantage during the coronavirus outbreak, generating income, reaching new audiences and building your presence." /> Shell Zenner, a radio presenter, producer, and new-music obsessive talks us through how you can best use radio to your advantage during the coronavirus outbreak, generating income, reaching new audiences and building your presence." />

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8 Tips on Using Radio to Boost Your Music Career from Isolation

Shell Zenner, a radio presenter, producer, and new-music obsessive talks us through how you can best use radio to your advantage during the coronavirus outbreak, generating income, reaching new audiences and building your presence.

Photo of the author, Shell Zenner
Don’t put a time limit on your music, even if it doesn’t get played by your local station in the next couple of months, that doesn’t mean it’s wasted. Photo credit: Shutterstock

I work for four radio stations; two commercial radio stations - XS Manchester and Amazing Radio, and two public radio stations - BBC Leeds and BBC Manchester, where I work as part of BBC Introducing.

Obviously, there is a lot of change in radio at the moment. Reacting to the COVID-19 outbreak, radio station schedules have adjusted and been streamlined to reduce the number of staff needed at each station. Many presenters are working and broadcasting from home and many shows such as BBC Introducing could be off air, but some stations like Amazing Radio are still able to play new music throughout their schedule, should you choose to upload your music to them.

So I really think the first thing to say is, don’t put a time limit on your music, even if it doesn’t get played by your local station in the next couple of months, that doesn’t mean it’s wasted, if you’re an emerging artist never put a time limit on a release.

Tailor your tracks for radio

Good tips for radio play? Quality songwriting and musicianship are essential, but don’t be afraid to be different. Songs that immediately grab the listener with a catchy hook or melody will appeal to radio stations more, as well as radio edits that are clean, radio ready songs with radio friendly lyrics and having good press shots and a decent biography certainly helps too.

It’s worth having a think about your audience – if you’re aiming for mainstream success, tailor your content to be acceptable to all ages of listener!

Get your music out through BBC Introducing

All BBC local stations at present have switched to a fixed schedule, which has meant that some stations are not airing their local BBC Introducing show. However, there may be BBC Introducing content elsewhere on the schedule, possibly in the daytime or during the evenings.

Ultimately, The Radio 1 BBC Introducing show and the BBC 6 Music Introducing Mixtape are still airing and regional BBC Introducing shows are still listening to all the uploads, forwarding tracks across to the national shows and are also trying to look at ways to support artists on their social media platforms.

Local teams are still in place and there for you to contact should you need to. Remember, to be considered for airplay you must upload your music online.

Do your homework and submit to other radio stations

In terms of Amazing Radio, we are still on air, airing brand new music. I curated two hours of new music on Thursday as usual and will continue to through the lockdown period. You can listen via the free app or the website amazingradio.co.uk. All the songs we play are uploaded to amazingtunes.com our sister website, and as music taste is subjective, the whole team listens and play their favourites. For instance, winning the audition poll on Charlie Ashcroft’s show could lead to a playlist spot on the station or you could end up in the Amazing Chart!

XS Manchester is also playing new music in the evening and a new music show on a Sunday evening despite many presenters and producers working from home.

I think the advice I would give at this stage, if you are looking to upload to commercial stations, is to do homework online and find out how to submit music to individual stations. There could be a page on the website and a place to upload or an email address to send to. If in doubt, ask!

Take advantage of your current music business networks

If you are an artist with established radio play and contacts, keep in touch with those contacts, return to those that have been responsive to you previously and remind them when you have something new coming. It’s very much a networking game and building relationships helps on this front. If you’ve not made many inroads into radio then this is a great opportunity! DJ’s, presenters and producers are poised with headphones at the ready, no doubt going slightly insane and looking for that next new discovery!

The best advice I can give personally is, again, do your homework! Listen to an array of radio shows, work out what the taste of DJs and radio stations are. Pitch your music to those most likely to play it, speak to artists you feel like you have an affinity with and see who they’re being supported by on the radio. Ultimately, listen to the music curation of the DJ’s, listen to the quality of the music being played and align yourself where you feel you fit best.

There is a lot you can do yourself, working out who you should be pitching to and asking DJ’s and producers how they prefer to receive their music – whether on email, a download link or uploaded somewhere. Don’t forget to look into local community radio stations, student radio stations and anywhere that you think could support your music, even podcasts.

Consider whether a radio plugger could help you

There are, of course, people you can pay to take your music to radio stations, they’re known as radio pluggers. Radio pluggers tend to have solid relationships with DJ’s and an understanding of their tastes so they will pitch your music at those DJ’s they feel will be most responsive to it. They have organised circulation lists and will construct a biography around you as an artist and your release to sell your music to the best effect.

This can work brilliantly, but it can also make no difference whatsoever, there is clearly a risk to any financial investment. In my experience whether or not you get airplay is down to a combination of factors, but ultimately the quality of the song and it being pitched to someone who appreciates that genre and sound are very important. It’s a subjective industry and it’s about getting the music to the right pair of ears or the right team.

At the early stage of your musical journey it may be better to invest your money in getting the best recording set up you can, or paying for some decent mixing, mastering or production rather than radio plugging if you’re on a tight budget. But if you can afford it, then why wouldn’t you invest in a plugger – it’s their job to sell you better than you’re able to and to ensure your music gets the best possible chance of airplay!

Use radio to reach new and wider audiences

Streaming has changed the playing field for sure, getting yourself on one of the hottest new playlists on Apple music, Spotify, Tidal or other streaming platforms can signpost a lot of new followers and listeners to your door and who wouldn’t want that?!

But this doesn’t lessen the importance and impact regular radio play can make to your journey. It’s at times like these that you realise how much people rely on radio, it’s a natural connector and somewhere people turn to for a comforting voice in tough times, and on specialist music radio – where escapism and entertainment is high priority – trusted curation is key.

Even now, there is still an appetite for new content and the introduction of new artists and therefore whilst many emerging artists appear to be re-evaluating their release plans and postponing them, more established artists are forging forward with theirs.

It’s also worth bearing In mind that streaming tends to be a more solitary pursuit, something people do in the car, the gym, at home and more likely wearing headphones, whereas radio isn’t just heard by your loyal fan base, radio is all over the place – in shops, in cafes, even in taxis! There is a good chance that wherever you are, someone nearby has left a radio on and someone else in the vicinity stumbles upon a new discovery as a result.

It is worth bearing in mind that radio listening figures are still incredibly healthy, despite current single sales and streams not necessarily being reflective of levels of radio airplay.

Use radio to generate income indirectly too

In terms of monetising your music, you may have heard of PRS for Music, any radio play will need to be logged with PRS and PPL, and royalties are paid to an artist for any radio play. The rate will vary depending on the size of the station and, of course, how many plays.

It’s also worth remembering that radio play does help artists sell gig tickets, albums and merchandise too. It can also help artists build their profile, which could enable them to release an album down the line. Of course, other avenues are really important too, but the impact of radio play shouldn’t be underestimated!

National airplay can also support your further development when it comes to applying for funding too, it demonstrates that you have gained traction and that you are continuing to build a fan base.

Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint

If you’re finding things tough going at the moment, if you’re struggling to motivate yourself, remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint! It is important to try to maintain your profile and grow your audience while you’re offstage and radio play can help you keep that momentum building.

Whilst you may not be able to secure a live session, you may be able to catch the ear of a tastemaker and begin to build a relationship. Put your best foot forward, look at your resources, look at your skills and see what you can create. I’m currently doing the same, working with my equipment at home, trialling new platforms and ideas, watching online tutorials, learning from others and using this time to work out a plan and push things forward.

For instance, could you create a lockdown video? Could you film a live stream? Could you piece fan footage together to make a new video? Could you work on creating content or branding as well as strengthening your social and marketing skills to keep your fan base engaged?

If you’re just starting out, think about how to build things locally, take small steps in the right direction, build your team, reach out to others who are in a similar position or who you look up to and learn from them, network to the max, support and be kind to others and work on skills that will complement your message!

You might even want to go back to basics and concentrate on writing and recording, no endeavours are a waste of time right now. And please remember to be kind to yourself, as mental health is of the utmost importance now more than ever.

But whilst you’re doing all this, LISTEN to radio. Listen to a variety of radio; local radio, commercial radio, public radio and international radio – quality music is not bound by geography! Seek out Amazing Radio, KEXP, KCRW, Triple J, BBC 6 Music, Radio X, Virgin Radio, Absolute Radio and other brilliant specialist music stations, DJ’s and podcasts.

Remember, knowledge is power. Use your time wisely.

Read more advice for live musicians dealing with disruption due COVID-19.


Published: 17/04/2020

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