What are the radio prospects for a small band these days? Is there any hope for radio play for an unsigned band or a band on a small label in today's musical climate of prefab boy bands and midriff baring teen queens? You probably have heard stories like that of Godsmack's.
A few years back, Godsmack was just a small Boston club act with a self-financed, self-released, and self-titled debut CD. Somehow that Godsmack CD caught the attention of big rock station WAAF who gave Godsmack heavy airplay, which led to a major record deal and eventual platinum sales of essentially the same CD the band made with $2,500 borrowed from a friend.
Do these kinds of opportunities exist now for new bands? What radio formats are best for new bands? Musician.com recently spoke with a cross section of people in the radio world about opportunities for unsigned or independent label bands and how to increase the chances of getting your band on the radio.
"The biggest opportunities (for unsigned bands) are definitely at college radio," said Chris Davies, VP of Boston-based independent promotions company the Planetary Group.
"After college radio the more developmental radio—like non-commercial radio stations such as KCRW (in Los Angeles) that are affiliated with a college, but are more Public Radio funded—stations like that take a chance on stuff that's good no matter who's released it. Those areas in terms of unsigned bands are the best. The next tier (of opportunity) would be specialty shows at larger commercial stations that feature new stuff that may or may not be signed. Often these shows get flooded with 'baby bands' from major labels, so unsigned bands still have a lot of competition."
"Virtually every commercial alternative station makes some accommodation for local music or a new music show," Mike Morrison of Hits Magazine explained. "That's where you have to start. You have to go through that routine and very often that doesn't yield much because you get one spin and that's the end of it. The supply of bands far, far, far exceeds the number of slots at any station, but it is possible to get play."
Jim McGuinn, Program Director at WPLY, a large Modern Rock station in Philadelphia, said that, although it is difficult, it is possible for an unsigned band to get played on his station. McGuinn explained how the process could work:
"We put out a local music CD, which is called The Philly Files. Every night at 11:00 we play a local band. This is a CD of 20 of the best. This past weekend we played a track (from the CD) every hour," said McGuinn.
"The best example I have (of an unsigned band getting played) is, we do a thing called "Cage Match" which puts two songs against each other and listeners call in for their favorite. Every once in a while we play an unsigned band (in the "Cage Match"). Recently we had this band called the Good Charlottes that are from Annapolis. We put them in the "Cage Match" and they won 15 nights in a row. As this was going on we were telling A&R people from labels about it, and they ended up getting a deal with Epic. Now they've recorded the album and the first single is out as we speak. It was the textbook 'lightening in a bottle phenomenon.'"
"The Good Charlottes phenomenon is really rare," McGuinn continued. "We are under no obligation to play unsigned bands, but because in many cases the people who program modern rock stations are music fans, we try to listen to stuff. Every once in a while you hear a song that just blows your mind and you give it a shot."
Nic Harcourt is the host of the influential "Morning Becomes Eclectic" program on L.A.'s listener-supported public radio station KCRW. Harcourt's approach to unsigned or small label music at his station is more accommodating.
"I seek them out," said Harcourt. "The show plays a lot of different stuff. Part of my mission is to seek out good music wherever it comes from. In many cases there are little gems to be found on 'one-off' CDs. I' m far more interested in white label 'one-off' CDs than I am in the pile of 200 CDs a week I get from 'ABC' corporation."
According to Harcourt, the non-commercial public radio format is a great place for unsigned or independent bands.
"There are far more opportunities here for new bands than anywhere else. Commercial radio, forget it," Harcourt concluded.