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How Record Labels and Radio Stations Work Together
by Christopher Knab - Fourfront Media & Music - April 2001

Back to Music Business 101

Radio stations and record labels need each other. Record labels need exposure for the records they release, and music-formatted radio stations need programming to attract listeners. If you thought that a commercial radio station's priority was just to play music, you were wrong. They need to deliver an audience of listeners to their advertisers. The money they charge for on air advertising is their sole source of income.

College and non-commercial public radio stations have more of a commitment to new or esoteric music, but most of them continue to lose government grants and find themselves under pressure to focus more on pleasing the listener. They, like commercial stations, choose music they hope their listeners will enjoy.

The Label Side of Things:
Promo reps secure airplay for records released by a label. They work in conjunction with the label's sales division, coordinating any radio adds. with distribution and sales connections in various markets. They create weekly reports for label personnel on progress of getting airplay. They communicate regularly with A&R, Publicity, and Artist Development departments. to coordinate marketing plans and touring commitments of label artists.

What Makes an Artist's Record a Priority at a Label?
Wanting to pick up on a hot new trend (sound) that is coming up from the streets. Significant $$$$ investment by the label in signing an act. In-house political reasons (inflated egos, bidding wars, impressing industry peers). Star status of the artist. Being genuinely excited and supportive of the act they signed.

What a Good Promo Rep Should Know
What's going on in the constantly changing radio broadcast industry (buyouts, format changes) What radio personnel have been hired, fired, promoted, or moved on to other industry gigs. What music trends are the trade magazines reporting, talking about, and/or hyping. Any possible station/artist promotion ideas being coordinated nationally/regionally. Awareness of the volume of competing new product.

Label Reps and the Sales Pitch-Prep Issues
Strong, reliable work habits: on time, research data updated and accurate, positive attitude. Is the station exclusively contracted with any independent promoters. What the Arbitron trends are saying about the specific stations they work. What are the personal tastes and business style of the Music Director and Program Director. What are the Music Director and Program Director's hours for taking label rep calls. What type of songs/artists were their stations adding to their playlist in the last few weeks. How many songs do their stations have room for on their playlist. Know all the "up to the minute" facts about the artist being promoted. (Chart action, etc.) Aware of the station's competition, if any, regarding playing the songs being promoted. Check any notes taken from the last conversation with Music Director or Program Director. Set objectives for the call. Get a commitment of some kind. (Get song on station's playlist.) Check on any special promotional items available to give away. Check on any special station promotion tie-ins available. Check weekly music trade magazines to make sure that stations reported the song to them.

Follow-Up Issues
Reporting to relevant label departments (Sales, Publicity, A&R, Label/Dept. Executives). Working out any promised issues that came about during the call. Constantly monitoring and tracking, as well as analyzing any breaks that come their way, and being able to respond quickly and efficiently to developing situations.

What a Program Director and a Music Director Do
PD: Supervises and approves all MD music choices o checks with station consultants for music selection o hires, supervises, and fires on air staff o meets with station dept. heads regularly o approves all on air activity (news, commercials, announcements etc.) o meets regularly with station management and/ownership

MD: Auditions and selects appropriate music for their station in cooperation with PD or consultants o prepares music playlist o reports playlist to music industry trades o maintains library o deals with label promo reps and other music issues as delegated by PD

Now you know a bit about who does what, and as they say when you enter the ballpark, "You can't tell the players, without your program."


Christopher Knab is an independent music business consultant based in Seattle, Washington. He is available for private consultations on promoting and marketing independent music, and can be reached by email at: chris@chrisknab.net

Visit the
FourFront Media and Music website for more information on the business of music from Christopher Knab.

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