Today, Spotify is just one of the resources that has changed the music game. Yet an old medium can make a big difference to bands, if you know where to look.
As a radio professional, I am most often asked two things: 1.) is radio dead, and 2.) how do I get my music on radio? As you can guess, question 2 sort of answers question 1. So long as it draws the masses it does – and, yes, it still does – radio will be a thing. In fact, radio continues to be more relevant than we realize. It is a go-to for the new generation, and older listeners. Amazon Music, iTunes and the like get all the attention, but none have nearly the adoption of radio.
Nevertheless, radio is a hard nut to crack for metal, especially if your band performs a subgenre that is either looked at as extreme, like death metal or black metal, or your content does not, for an American radio station, meet language, obscenity and indecency standards set for broadcasting by the Federal Communications Commission. This is further complicated by the recent elimination of the main studio rule, which in effect means your local radio station may not even have a studio in its signal area.
Still, if you are in an independent metal band, your goal is to get heard, even if most of radio's concept of metal is old hits by legacy acts like Iron Maiden and Ozzy Osbourne. So, how does a band break through?
Knocking on doors (assuming there's still a local door to knock on soon) at your city's MegaRock commercial radio powerhouse is one avenue you can pursue. However, the likelihood of getting airplay, even when you're mainstream local metal, is not easy. These stations have playlists, commercials and other elements that make it hard to break format to do local music, even when they're sympathetic.
Independent bands' best bet may be to go after independent radio.
When it comes to independent radio, community radio offers metal, even edgier performers, a lot of opportunities. These are stations that tend to center creativity and artistic expression rather than advertising. They also embrace bold music. If you're a Slayer fan, you may remember the track "Payback/KPFT Interview" on 2003's Soundtrack to the Apocalypse. KPFT is, in fact, a Houston community radio station.
What's community radio? In the U.S., the FCC has two different radio categories, commercial and noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcasters. You can guess what commercial radio is, because you've probably heard it before. In contrast, NCEs are federal nonprofit organizations, which you may have heard of through the shorthand 501(c)(3). NCEs have various nomenclatures beyond this; the ones many people have heard before include religious broadcasters and public radio. Community radio is different from the two in that they're nonprofits that rely on local volunteer DJs and, in many instances, do freeform programming. Community radio is completely atypical from your usual radio station, because a local DJ may do a style of music for a full few hours, only to be followed by another volunteer DJ, who does something else.
It is not uncommon to hear a talk show followed by a jazz program followed by a punk show on community radio. And there is no shortage of metal on community radio either. These volunteer DJs are scouring for music. You get the picture.
Bands and labels should consider an organized approach with local metal radio. First, you need to find a local community radio station and check their schedules for metal programming. Most of the time, community radio metal shows are slotted in safe harbor, hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. local time when the FCC permits broadcast of content normally not allowed during the day, such as profanity.
Be aware, if you want to stay on good terms with a DJ, safe harbor is not blanket immunity. The FCC forbids some content regardless of the hour. According to the FCC, radio cannot broadcast material in which:
- "an average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest (i.e., material having a tendency to excite lustful thoughts)"
- "the material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law"
- "the material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value"
FCC fines on radio stations for obscenity are steep, and fighting a case is not cheap either, so be professional and flag potential issues for the DJ before you deliver your music.
Once you have identified some radio programs to contact, it is smart to do the DJ a favor and offer guidance. What songs do you suggest they listen to or air? Is there a story behind a track they can share? Stories matter in radio, because people tune in to be entertained by conversation and music discovery. The more you give, the more the DJ has to work with.
And finally, it's important to be patient and be punctual. Community radio relies on DJs who do shifts as add-ons to their regular jobs and lives. Email replies can come slow. If you have time, you might consider fast tracking this and instead call the DJ in the studio during a shift; most stations list the studio line number on their websites, and generally welcome interaction with the audience. You can also stream the show to see if the DJ's selections are a fit with your band. Sometimes that verbal connection may be the spark you need to create a relationship with a DJ.
Data indicates metal music continues to grow in popularity. Bands that exceed expectations fuel that growth. However, the search for audiences is never-ending. Community radio offers fresh territory. Bands just need to make the move.