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CMJ Marathon 2010 Preview: Radio, and You

by Max Willens on October 14, 2010 · 3 comments

As you might have heard, the 2010 CMJ Music Marathon starts next week, and our coverage begins with new information on an old medium: radio.

On Thursday morning, the hosts of WRXP‘s morning show, Matt Pinfield and Leslie Fram, who is also WRXP’s Program Director, will lead a discussion entitled “The Truth and the Crossing Lines of A&R and Radio.”

Though it lacks the buzz and brand spanking newness of subscription services or cloud-based access, radio remains a vital medium for broadcast. It is the most common source of musical consumption and discoveries for a majority of Americans, and airplay is still a better driver of sales than television, mobile, or digital.

Fram and Pinfield were kind enough to grab me on the phone after their morning show to give me a sneak preview of the panel, some inside dirt on what program directors look for from unsigned artists, and what they think of the proposed Performance Rights Act.

What PDs Look For
Cynical wisdom states that you need to hire a radio promotions company to have any kind of shot at getting airplay. But Fram contends that these companies, which can charge tens of thousands of dollars for their services, often provide little more than a foot in the door. If you want to get some play on your local radio station, just build a buzz locally. If you have a local rep, program directors will have no choice but to take notice.

They have a vested interest, after all, in making their listeners excited about what’s going on nearby. When Pinfield was the program director at WHTG, he knew there would be great advantages to working local bands into his playlists. “There were certain bands that were creating a great groundswell,” he recalled. “The idea was to play a couple of them in regular rotation, even if it was in a light spin rotation, so that the perception was that they were on the same level as the major artists that we were playing, the national or international artists that we were playing.

“And therefore it would create a perception for people that were living in the Jersey shore area, that these bands were on that level. And it would perpetuate a proactive audience that would build for them.” Local stations love contributing to those positive feedback loops. And you can start one that’s much stronger on the ground than with radio promoters.

Physical Promos Are Still Useful; Attachments Are Not
Of course, you still need to send promotional materials to program directors, and it helps to send them the right way. Every program director listens to things differently, but there are certain golden rules. “[Attached] MP3s obviously will clog your e-mail,” Fram explained. “A lot of bands, if they wanna send something through e-mail, I recommend using Yousendit or something like that instead of the MP3s.

“I like getting physical products because if I’m here doing work on the weekend, I’ll just pop things in all day.”

Royalties a Double-Edged Sword?
There are plenty of organizations and musicians that are very excited about the Performance Rights Act. Some think it will result in radio giants like Clear Channel dumping a lot of their smaller stations, which will result in more diversified, locally responsive programming, and many others are sure that the musicians will benefit enormously from the royalties.

But in Pinfield’s opinion, the legislation could have the opposite effect. “My opinion is that it would be devastating to independent artists,” Pinfield said, “because first of all, the companies like Clear Channel, that own so many stations, they’re just going to put talk on, or sports on in simulcast, rather than pay the fees.”

Fram, for her part, worries about the royalties will impact stations’ abilities to promote artists off the air. “It’s tough because I’m a member of NARIP,” Fram begins, “and they’re supporting this. And as a radio person, and someone who’s done radio my whole life, I’m opposed to it. Not that I don’t want artists to get paid…but honestly, the promotion that we do for bands goes above and beyond as far as exposure. And not just playing the records, but the actual promotion that we do, for weeks and weeks and weeks, helps bands get CD sales, helps their shows, helps them sell tickets. If we cut all of that out, I know for a fact that it would hurt a lot of their shows in any community. And I think a radio station can help with the arts culture in any community.”

Don’t Get Discovered, Get Connected
Fram and Pinfield have been involved with CMJ for a long time, “over 20 years” in Pinfield’s case. They’ve seen it grow, and they’ve seen its outside perspective evolve, from an obscure insider showcase, to a scavenger hunt for bloggers, to whatever it is today. But to them, the Marathon’s core value is in its networking potential. “It’s a social process for bands,” Pinfield explained.

And to Fram, the best time to do some of that networking is during the day. “Don’t try to be the night owl,” she urged. “Try to get up early and go to as many information sessions and seminars as you can!”

“The Truth and the Crossing Lines of A&R and Radio” will be held in room 802 of NYU’s Kimmel Center. It starts at 11:00AM.

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