Working with the Media
In this series of articles, I’m going to walk you through the basic procedure for planning your own radio campaign. We’ll cover topics such as choosing your target radio stations, creating a radio-friendly press kit, how to find media contacts, how to write a press kit cover letter for your radio campaign, how to handle follow-up calls, and more! Let’s continue this week by learning how to approach and work with members of the media in a way that will set you apart from other artists, and increase your chances for having your album picked up by a radio station.
Members of the media don’t work for you. Generally, they work for advertisers. Radio (at least commercial radio) is an advertising medium. What that means is that DJs, Music Directors, Program Directors and other radio station staff members have two primary responsibilities when it comes to dealing with indie artists: 1. To bring in enough listeners to satisfy their advertisers, and 2. To sort through the hundreds, or even thousands, of press kits they receive to find that “next big thing.” Every station wants to be the first to break the next hit artist. So, how do you approach the media and convince them that you’re more than just another local band, and that you’re not wasting their time? Follow these suggestions, and you’ll be well on your way to making a positive impression:
Find out the specific press kit requirements and correct contact person at each radio station, BEFORE you prepare anything to send out. If your press kit isn’t 100% adaptable to the requirements of each station, you need to start over. You’re missing the most important point: what you like doesn’t matter. Just because you think something looks good, doesn’t mean anyone in the media is going to agree. If you just send your standard kit without abiding by their “rules,” you’re telling them you don’t care enough about their needs to follow some simple instructions. So, why should they care enough about you to put you on the air?
Understand that members of any media outlet, including radio stations, are busy. They don’t have time to take your phone calls every day when you want to follow up. They don’t have time to stop what they’re doing and listen to your music to decide if they like you. They don’t have time to answer the emails sent by all the indie bands who have submitted press kits. They don’t have time. Get it? Good. Now, respect that. Never keep a member of the media on the phone for more than a minute or two. Try to schedule your phone calls with them ahead of time if you need to do a follow-up, and definitely leave a message for them. They’ll get it. If they like your work, they’ll get back to you. If they don’t, there comes a point where you just need to back off a little bit. Send them a letter instead of calling them continuously. Better yet, have band post-cards printed up with a link to your EPK. If you can’t get in touch with someone at the station, mail it. Remind them they can check out your work there or get in touch with you to send them another kit if something happened to the first one.
Know that it’s not the media’s job to be your friend. Don’t ask them for favors or special consideration. Don’t give them sob stories. You’ll just piss them off.
Kiss ass a little bit. No one likes to do it, but in this business, get used to it. If you’re working directly with a DJ, compliment their style. If you’re working with an MD, compliment them on some of the past choices they’ve made regarding indie acts.
Know the station you’re sending your press kit to. Don’t just pull up a list of contacts and send things out. Focus locally first, with stations you’re familiar with. Know what kind of genres they tend to feature. Know past indie artists who have gotten airplay with them. Contact those artists. Ask what they did to get on the air. Don’t send your kit to a station that doesn’t work with bands like yours. No one likes their time to be wasted.
Always be respectful. Members of the media don’t always get the respect they deserve. They do a difficult job every day, are under an enormous amount of stress, and the last thing they need is to be hounded by every local band in their area. Being respectful in general will require you to follow a few of the steps I already mentioned: following their submission guidelines, not hounding them with constant calls, and knowing the station’s style. But it also includes making their life easier. If they make a request, do it. If they give you a compliment, thank them. If they give you a suggestion to improve your work, thank them again … then do something about it. Their work can be a pretty thankless job, and showing them you really appreciate their time will matter more than you know.
Be prepared to tell them what you can do for them. The radio station staff already knows what you want from them. You want exposure. But why should they care? What’s in it for them? The most important thing you can possibly do is tell them what your band can do for the station. Do you have a lot of press built up around you (magazine and newspaper articles for example)? Did you just sign a record deal, even with a small label? Does your music deal directly with something going on nationally or even locally? You have to be able to tell them what makes you timely. Why should they be playing you right this moment, instead of 6 months from now? If you’ve got nothing to make you attractive and newsworthy to them, you’re just another indie act. Do something to set yourself apart. Then, let them know about it!
Just remember that working with members of the media can be time-consuming, sometimes frustrating, but most importantly it’s about building relationships. Care about the station. Care about your fans. Care about your music. If you’re truly dedicated, and you’re willing to put in the time and work, you’ll find that members of the media aren’t so difficult to deal with after all.