Let's say you are grassroots artist, or a small indie, or even a small-medium label, and up until now you've done no radio (or, you've always had someone else take care of it for you.) Now, you've decided that since you understand payola, you are going to spend some money and try to handle the promotion yourself, legally. You tell yourself that you are going to contact the PD at three or four major-market stations near you, and set up your own "contract" to play your record. You have enough money, and so you are finally going to get your exposure. Here's what will happen...
First of all, most every beginner wants the major stations, so here is how it will go down in markets #1 to #20 (small markets would be different, of course). You make your phone call to the PD, but he/she is not available, so the secretary directs you to the MD. Since the MD has not heard of you, you will probably get the MD's voicemail. Or, you ask for someone who WILL talk with you... a jock, or even an assistant. You tell the person (or the MD if they answer) that you have some marketing money for airplay, and that you want to set up one of those "legal indie contracts."
Without further thought on their part, you will be transferred or directed to the sales department, where you will get the newest entry-level account executive. This account executive will be confused by your "indie contract" request, but will say that if you are looking to get exposure for your release, you should start out with an advertising campaign (i.e., a spot schedule) on the station, and he/she will also say "if it's good, the PD may indeed start playing it, because I've seen it happen before." You think about it, and realize you've been sidetracked. You want airplay, not commercials. You try again for the PD, to no avail, and now the original MD or jock you talked to doesn't want to hear from you, except for maybe saying "send me the record." You have now been taken completely out of the airplay loop, and you would not have even realized it had you not read this first.
You start rationalizing that you could indeed use some commercials anyway. Plus, the PD will certainly hear the spots, so this may actually be the way to go. But you want to make certain this will result in airplay, so you tell the AE (account executive) that you don't mind spending the $10,000 or $20,000 for a heavy three week spot schedule, but you want to get some kind of guarantee or promise from the PD that the record will go into rotation soon after you start; after all, the reason you called the station in the first place was to set up your "legal indie contract." You'll spend the money, if you get the spins.
The PD and sales staff now have you where they want you. They have done their job of making you think that your pseudo "indie contract" starts out with an ad (not "add") schedule, and that it will "maybe probably" evolve into airplay. It's the most attention you've ever gotten from a station.
But you keep prodding the AE for that "promise" that you seem to not be getting... that they WILL play your record if you buy the schedule. The AE says almost everything on the planet, except "yes, we promise." You do not feel so great about this. It must be easier than this... there is no way they'd treat Warner Brothers this way, you say. But you have no other choice... the major-market PD will not talk to you (again, small market would be different), and it looks as if there is nothing left to do but run the spots and hope for spins.
Congratulations... you have now completed your dead-end trip. The spots will run, and finish; the station will have your money (legally), and you will have NO regular rotation on this major-market station. The system has worked again.
Conclusion: Paying stations is not a tool for a small indie to get airplay.
Bryan Farrish is an independent radio airplay promoter. He can be reached at 818-905-8038 or www.radio-media.com