Wonderful Radio Mike Hrano brings you a bulletin on how to get fair play on your airplay
All over the country, umpteen hours a day, the people are listening to, or at least within earshot of, a radio. That makes it a very important factor in getting your songs heard, liked, and then bought. So just how do you get your slice of the airplay?
Pick a radio, any radio — and touch that dial. Turn it on to any frequency and what do you hear? Short of some suave jock waffling on in hip-speak or tuning into news and interviews, what should be oozing from the circuitry is music.
How that music gets there in the first place can be both a sad and encouraging tale; the vast difference between silence for the many and lucrative air-play for the fortunate few.
At worst, radio exposure means an audience of several tens of thousands, at best — on wonderful Radio One — records ease their way out into the waiting ears of millions. Either way, every musician wants some of it. That's the power of radio...
In Britain, radio falls into a clearly defined pattern. There are the national networks — Radios One, Two, Three and Four — established in 1967 by the British Broadcasting Corporation and paid for by your TV licence. There are two types of regional stations; some operated by the BBC, some commercial, paid for by advertising revenue and franchised by the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Outside this system lies a healthy range of illegal pirate radio broadcasters.
So, there you have it, that's the set up — now how do you get your music into it? The obvious route is through having a record and a record company primed to push and promote it, which doesn't help the hopeful hordes stuck in demo land without a deal. Yet there are proven ways round this apparently futile situation, as newly-signed Funk band 7th Heaven has discovered to its delight.
"The record companies picked up on us after hearing our song on the radio"
"We weren't getting anywhere fast," keyboard player and singer Jeff Patterson recalls. "So we recorded a single ourselves, put it on white label and sent out 250 copies to different radio stations. Our manager also did a lot of hustling; taking people out to dinner and all that sort of thing. He just kept pushing people and getting them to play the record."
The initiative was rewarded with record company interest which peaked last summer (1985) in Phonogram signing 7th Heaven and re-releasing its self-produced single, Hot Fun. Suddenly their debut chart shot was a minor hit.
"It was all because of radio, no doubt," Jeff explains. "The record companies picked upon us after hearing our song on the radio. Previous to that, a lot of labels had told us they loved what we did, but they were just sitting on the fence — messing us about.
"Getting air-play made our career happen a lot faster; we were really surprised at the speed of it all. Radio makes everyone familiar with your songs, it does so much. It's more of a brain-washing thing; you can hear a record you hate so often that you end up humming it."
Jeff feels certain that 7th Heaven would still be hacking it out on the live circuit in search of a deal were it not for radio.
"But the thing is," he offers, "you mustn't rely on anyone else to make the moves — you've got to make them yourself. You've got to get in with different people and try to make certain connections in radio — you've got to let everyone know what you're about and get them to believe in you as well."
Radio One's Janice Long is convinced 7th Heaven got its plan of attack right — by sending a finished record instead of a tape.
"If bands have got an independent single, then there's more chance of it being played," she explains, "because we never play tapes on my programme for the obvious reason that, if they're done on a four-track portastudio, then the quality is not going to be as good.
"So if you've got money to spare, and if you really think that one or two of your tracks are particularly brilliant, then I think it's worth making a single, I really do."
Along with good old John Peel, Janice is renowned for her open ears and enthusiasm — as a consequence she's bombarded with unsolicited tapes from every direction.
"Between Peely and me, we must get 100 tapes a week — at least," she says. "The thing is, you can't possibly listen to them ail because you've got other work to do, a programme to build and so on. My producer and I tend to take batches of tapes home and listen to them. Or I'll play them in my car on my way to and from places. Also there's a couple of girls at Radio One who've got really good ears, so they take stuff home too.
"If bands have got an independent single, then there's more chance of it being played"
"From there, if we like material we book bands for sessions. Once they've got a session then it's up to them to perhaps alert record companies to listen. But if I feel strongly enough about a band then I will actually say on the air 'A&R men, for God's sake do something about this particular band!'"
Before now, that attitude has certainly been of help to the likes of The Cult and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, among numerous others. It was Janice who, while working for Radio Merseyside, was so blown away by the power of Frankie's debut gig that she invited the mob there and then to do a session. The rest you know...
So influential is radio that even not getting airplay can be a blessing, but only on rare occasions, as Frankie will testify. Sales of Relax were boosted so immensely by Mike Read's wimpish refusal to play the record — and the subsequent overall BBC radio ban — that curious punters were no doubt left with no alternative but to buy the offending item which they couldn't otherwise easily have got to hear.
You want good, solid advice — you've got it: "Bands so often fall into the trap of wasting money," says Janice. "So much is frittered away on biographies, photographs and elaborate art design on cassettes. That really is a waste of time for radio. It doesn't matter if you only send in a tatty piece of paper with scribbled information on it; we don't need to see the band because nobody else is going to see the band when it's in the studio.
"To me, looks are secondary because you can always sort out that kind of thing later. So we're not interested in glossy photographs! It might be worth it for the Press, or if you're going to hand something to a record company but, certainly, for radio there's no point whatsoever — and, I'll be honest, they just end up in the bin.
"If people actually hand tapes to me with photographs, then I always give them back. All we want to know is the line-up, who plays what, a telephone number and the names of the tracks."
The order of those tracks can be crucial, Janice believes.
"Bands should always put their best song on the demo first. Sometimes you get some really drudgy things first and that can be a bit off-putting — because there will be people who won't listen beyond the first track. People are always listening for a song that's immediate, that makes you sit up — so pack your biggest punch into the first 30 seconds or minute."
Though Janice clearly does her bit to champion new bands, she doesn't feel there are enough radio outlets for new music.
"I also think that a lot of talent is being lost," she laments. "I think that's to do with the fact that the music industry is based in London. I'd like to see a decentralisation of the whole thing.
"In many ways, that's already creeping in because you have got independent labels being set up in different parts of the country. Also, a lot of A&R men will wait for a buzz; they'll wait for me and Peely to play demos on night-time radio. It's a shame that they don't all go out to places like Northern Ireland, Manchester, Glasgow or wherever to see the talent themselves.
"Most bands can't afford to come down to London and plonk themselves in the Rock Garden or the Marquee — they can't do that. And even when they do, there's no guarantee that anybody is going to turn up. As a result, a lot of good stuff is being missed."
If nothing else, Janice can assure bands that material sent to her will at least get a sympathetic listen. So what's the best way of getting the goods across?
"I'll be honest. I always think that it's better to give the DJ a tape rather than to send it in.
"When tapes come in the mail, they go into our filing system. What we do is we log all the cassettes as they arrive, when we listen to them we make an entry in a book saying that and giving our opinion of the tape. It's a new system — we decided we had to do something because it was getting crazy.
"I know it's costly, but if you can actually make a point of coming down to London, if you're planning to come down and see A&R men or whatever — then call into Radio One and put your tape into my hand or in my producer Mike Hawke's hand. That way, we've actually got it and I'll tend to put it into my bag and listen to it later.
"The other thing is that if you know that either myself or John Peel are doing gigs anywhere, then come along and give us a tape wherever we might be."
"I think it's very important that disc jockeys should realise they are in a position to help"
Capital Radio DJ Gary Crowley has never made a record in his life — yet he's the proud owner of a gold disc. It was given to him by Culture Club for his stalwart support of that certain number one called Do You Really Want To Hurt Me. This is how he earned it: "I took the single to the guy who made the play-list at Capital," he remembers, "and said 'Look, this lot are from London, put 'em on the list — they're going to be massive.' Well, we all know what's happened since."
Boy George and Co weren't the only unknowns to receive their first ever radio exposure on Crowley's show on London-based Capital; Wham! got their debut single Wham!Rap broadcast by him long before anybody else was even interested.
These days, Crowley's thrice-weekly Red Hot Club is essential listening for anyone prepared to give new music a chance — as he certainly is.
"I have total freedom on my show," he explains. "I don't play a thing that I don't want to play. I think if I've got any kind of appeal at all then it's because people know that what I play I'm mad about anyway. I try to play a bit of everything but I suppose most of the music is to a certain extent dance orientated."
Long is the list of bands which have benefited through exposure gained from Thursday night sessions on Crowley's show... Lloyd Cole and The Commotions, Working Week and, most recently, Then Jericho who clinched a deal with London Records as a direct result. How does he get to hear about new bands?
"It's a combination of people sending tapes in, others making me aware of certain bands or me spotting them myself. I'm also very lucky in that a lot of my mates are A&R men in record companies, so I get to hear about a lot of things right from the very beginning.
"But what we've tried to do lately is that if we get sent a good tape then we'll not book the band automatically. You see, I think a lot of bands are signed too early nowadays. It's a bit sad.
"It's got to the point now where record companies have got 18-year-old A&R guys — which is good — but, on the other hand, they're finding out about bands so early that they're not being given time to flourish and learn. The Smiths I think were very lucky; they signed to Rough Trade and just did things very, very quietly. By the time they'd released their second or third single, everything was ready — the moment was ripe.
"Whatever, I'm just interested in things which are good. We've never booked anything that we haven't been 100 per cent about — there's just no point."
Crowley is only too aware that DJ's have within their grasp a lot of power; the ability to make or break a band merely by deciding to play this record or that.
"It is very distressing that there seems to be just a few people who decide what can be a hit record or not," he readily admits. "I don't really know what to say... I do my best and I play the music that I like. If I like something then I'll try and champion that cause, I'll try and get to the other guys at Capital and have them play it on their shows.
"My style is shouting all the time and drawing attention to things. I like being of help to bands — I think it's very important that disc jockeys should realise they are in a position to help."
Furthermore, Crowley is prepared to back up his enthusiasm with deeds as well as words.
"By all means, get people to send tapes into me," he says. "But for God's sake — tell them not to send in the only copy they've got. People tend to do that.
"Unfortunately, Capital is a big building and things do tend to get lost every now and then — that's being honest with you. I mean, I'd like to say that I listen to 130 new records a week, but I don't. I don't want to — I couldn't!
"But do send me a tape, write me a letter and describe what you're trying to do — and I'll do my best to hear it, and maybe even play it on the show."
"We always do our best to play local music"
In October 1984, Radio Broadland took to the air for the first time, a new addition to the rank of independent local radio. With a potential audience of 650,000 in a chunk of East Anglia taking in Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, the station has already cornered around 40 per cent of that figure.
Broadland's contribution to hopeful musicians with an eye on success might not have been shattering in the overall picture, but its recent Best Band Competition certainly helped and encouraged at least 75 aspiring local groups who eagerly entered the contest.
"We decided it would be a good idea to run a competition open to amateurs, semi-professionals and bands just starting out," explains Broadland's programme controller Mike Stewart.
"The aim was to stimulate interest in local music and provide some sort of impetus for the local groups. There's quite a big music scene in this area but as is the case in so many regions served by provincial radio, we haven't the venues here for bands to play before large crowds."
So Broadland, in common with many other independent stations, decided to do its bit and offer a £300 prize to the winning band in its contest. More importantly, it promised to set up an audition in London at which eager A&R men from several major record companies — among them Virgin and Polydor — would check out the triumphant talent.
"At Broadland, we are very geared up towards discovering new talent," Stewart continues." After all, there's only really been Nik Kershaw and The Farmers Boys — who've now split — who've come from this area.
"One of the nicest things about our competition was that the winning band got the chance to make the big time, or at least to get heard by a major label. We might be helping someone along the way to success, which is very pleasing.
"If we can do that, then it can only be of great encouragement to the local scene and, being a local radio station, obviously that's something that we want to encourage. We always do our best to play local music."
And now, ladies and gentlemen... the winners of the Best Band Competition were — Calloway, closely followed by The Tower, who were also due to make the date with destiny down in London.
So, now you know at least two new names to watch out for, two bands who might well join the line-up of others already familiar with the power of that crazy little thing called Radio.
Janice Long, Radio 1, (Contact Details)
Gary Crowley, Capital Radio, (Contact Details)
Feature by Mike Hrano
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