The musical landscape is a rapidly evolving one. For decades, consistent commercial radio airplay was the top of the promotional totem pole that introduced new artists to the general public. With the advent of internet radio stations, podcasts and non-traditional ways of consuming media, the question becomes ‘Does radio airplay still matter?’ The answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’
Traditional radio remains the most likely way to be introduced to new music. Its reach far exceeds that of alternatives dependent on quality internet connections and rising data costs. It builds awareness for little known artists, and also provides a revenue stream in the form of royalties. So how do you get your music heard on radio? We chatted to Lesiba Marokana, the music compiler at 5fm, for a bit more insight.
The first step is to prepare your music for submission, which includes:
- The length of the track. “The duration that’s currently requested, and that is more viable on air, is 3 and a half minutes. It can be pushed in terms of the minutes however three and a half minutes is perfect.” says Lesiba.
- The song needs to be mixed and mastered. “We accept minimum 128kbps .”
- The song needs to be a radio edit. “The song needs to be a clean version, it shouldn’t contain any profanity whatsoever.”
- The song needs artwork. “It’s more of a presentation as well, you need to present your music well. That gives us an indication of how serious you take your music. This tells us how far you want to take your music as well because you respect your craft.”
- You need to include a mini bio on the submission.
- A link to the song, a web format.
- An ISRC code.
An ISRC code is an international identification code attached to sound recordings and music video recordings. Each code is a unique identifier for a specific recording and allows for easier management of recordings and the revenue associated with them. Wiseman Ngubo, Business Affairs Manager for CAPASSO (Composers Authors & Publishers Association) in SA advises “Do not ignore the admin and the paperwork. With limited income, every single income stream counts so exploit every one of them. Do not ignore the publishing side of things if you are a songwriter/composer who also happens to perform. Music SHOULDN’T be free. There is value in it, do not underestimate that.”
When asked how a newcomer to the industry should go about making sure that their work is correctly licensed for radio airplay and distribution he said “Well radio airplay is licensed collectively so technically one does not license it themselves. So the main thing to do is to join the organisations that license radio stations in order to be able to receive the collectively licensed royalties. Join the likes of SAMRO, POSA, SAMPRA, and IMPRA. Thereafter ensure that you provide all relevant documentation to these organisations. Ensure your splits and performer information is submitted to these organisations. In so far as distribution is concerned, ensure you understand or get legal opinion on the agreements you sign. This applies to the so-called self-distribution via aggregators as well. Ensure you fully understand the service offering so you can select the one that suits your business plan better. Some aggregators take payment upfront whilst others take a percentage of the on the revenue. Others even have marketing options etc. Understand which one suits your strategy better.”
On collective rights management he offers “CMOs are organisations who, either through statute or via member issued mandates, license, collect and distribute royalties stemming from usage. Collective Management is an idea borne out of pragmatism and the realisation that there is strength in numbers. It is not possible for music users such as Apple Music, SABC etc. to approach each and every rights-holder individually to license certain usage. It makes more sense to speak to a representative organisation such as CAPASSSO/ SAMRO etc. to obtain those rights. It also ensures that the value of certain rights is maintained due to the bargaining power the organisation have from being representative. With that said, there are certain rights that historically fall outside of the CMO ambit for the same reasons other fall within, simply creating and maintaining value.”
Once the song is prepared, you can start the actual process of submitting the music to radio stations. Understanding the format of the different stations is core to the process and a key factor in how your music is accepted. “The different stations have different strategies on how they go about it. You have stations that are top 40 stations, which means you need to have the latest stuff that’s trending all over the world, and you have new music hit stations. Stations like Yfm is a new music station, that’s where you basically get to discover new music. And then your top 40 hit stations, your 5fm or 94.7 stations, would play something that has been around and it’s now deemed a hit. It’s familiar to people’s ears.” says Lesiba.
“The most important thing is sticking to the format of that station. So, for instance, 5fm is known as a pop-rock station, although we do play hip hop and dancehall music, whereas if you go to Metro FM, it’s more of your urban stuff, where your hip hop dominates, your dancehall dominates. And when you look at Yfm, it’s predominantly hip hop as well. So it’s you sticking to a format that the station has indicated, knowing what the station requires. I mean, it’s pointless for you to send me a gospel song when we don’t play that. Understand format before submitting.”
Compiling music for, and being in charge of the playlist of, a radio station is a combination of looking at work submitted to the station, and having your ear to the ground with regards to music making waves in the industry. Compilers use various monitoring services like Billboard charts, Soundcloud, Shazam, and other internet tools to do this. “The internet is important” says Lesiba. “There’s quite a lot of these music platforms where people put up their music and it becomes somewhat of a discovery. So any platform on the internet, even Twitter, Facebook, where people do actually put up their stuff.”
Changes to the SABC’s policy on quotas of local music played on its stations have a provided a boost for new artists. “In the past 2 months, we’ve more or less playlisted close to 20 new acts on our playlist, and most of them are from independent labels. The majors have somewhat had to catch up; we’ve had to have meetings with them. And it’s a good industry spin off where they’re now looking to sign more local acts.” On how they’ve adjusted to it, he says “We’ve adjusted greatly. We’re in a business where you’ve got to adapt very quickly because music formats sometimes change, I mean it changes overnight. So we have to keep up with imminent change. Look, at the beginning, it was somewhat of a shock but we had to get over it and trust me we’re all for it. We want to promote local content as much as we can. As much as people will have their opinions about it, we are actually behind the 90%.”
As one of the biggest stations in the country, they receive an average of 400 emails a week with submissions. If rejected, you might be offered the opportunity to resubmit, but making great music should be your primary objective. Following these guidelines won’t guarantee you airplay but it will put you in good stead. The music, however, will always speak volumes.