radio is a sound salvation.

College radio was, as always, a crapshoot.  I thought “Allnighter” would be as sure a sure thing as possible within the college radio crowd; it’s subject matter was sexual in nature, the lyrics were clever, the singer was female, all the elements were there for decent college radio airplay.  And while there were some stations that picked up the single, a far greater percentage were ignoring it.

I started to wonder whether it made sense to hire an independent radio promoter to work on improving our airplay.  I had a few contacts who worked for various radio promo companies, and Dromedary was failing miserably at radio.  I’d send out records and get great reviews, but had virtually no success with radio.  Part of the issue was because I couldn’t get enough promotional copies out there; part of the issue was because I had a full-time job and couldn’t spend the time necessary to cultivate those relationships with college radio music directors.

Indie radio promotions, I found, were expensive.  They required a minimum length of time commitment, and a weekly fee.  Adding the weekly fee into the costs to manufacture and market each record would make it impossible to be profitable with a seven-inch at any level; the only time it made sense to use an indie promoter to work on a 7″ was if it was in the context of a bigger agreement, for example, every record the label released.

The local radio stations were pretty good to us.  The commercial stations – WHTG down the shore, and WDHA in the northern part of the state – included us in their local music broadcasts.  Noncommercial stations like WNTI at Centenary College, WPRB at Princeton, and WTSR at Trenton State were playing our records in regular rotation.  I still had never actually heard any of our songs on the radio, but I’d certainly heard reports from various people who had, and I could read the CMJ playlists of various local stations in that magazine each week.

As Dromedary became more “official” by having a presence for nearly a year, and by having multiple releases under its belt, I began having more conversations with other people at other indie labels and distributors.  The overall vibe from, well, all of them was that college radio airplay had virtually no impact on sales whatsoever, unless the record was receiving significant airplay.  Their advice was also that record reviews had no impact on sales, either.

So how could you sell records?  Touring.

I wasn’t completely sold on the idea that radio and press were useless.  We certainly got a decent amount of press, and we hadn’t seen much of a bump in sales as a result.  But it seemed odd to me that record labels would essentially waste all the money they spent on their radio promo departments if radio play didn’t impact sales.

So, while I started dropping subtle hints with the bands that I’d like to see them play outside the New Jersey area (of our three bands, only Footstone expressed a willingness to take time away from their dayjobs and actually do it), I also started looking around for ways to increase our level of communication with college radio stations.

One day I got a phone call from a woman named Terri, who was the Music Director of a college station in Wisconsin.

“I just wanted to tell you that I got the cuppa joe seven-inch, and I love it,” she said. “Could you send me one of those autographed coffee packs?”

We started talking about cuppa joe, and about Dromedary in general.  One thing led to another, and I decided to offer her an internship.

“You’re in New Jersey, and I’m in Wisconsin,” she said.  “How would we do it?”

I assured her we could make it work.  When I interned at Turn of the Century while in college, I did plenty of work for the label from my own dorm room.  

After a few days, she got back to me and told me that she’d be able to do an internship and receive some college credit for it.  I cannot, for the life of me, recall what school she went to, but they were happy to allow her to intern, provided that I completed whatever paperwork was necessary for her to get her credit at the end of the term.

I printed out copies of our radio station lists and sent them to her, along with handfuls of promo copies and bios (for the inevitable stations that “didn’t get one”), along with some autographed cuppa joe stuff and instructions to call as many stations each week as possible, follow up on airplay, and build relationships with the music directors.

It was a big piece of the puzzle that I was able to offload; one that plenty of other label people told me was irrelevant but that left me unconvinced.  By offloading it to an intern, I was able to ensure that more attention was being paid to it than I could pay at that point in time, but not have to worry that it was me spending time doing it; I was able to spend more time doing things that other people told me mattered more.

One of the things I began doing was trying to increase the profile of the label in retail stores.  I had no illusions about my ability to do this myself; I had begun to realize that distributors that had their own, in-house labels were clearly going to spend more time marketing their own music than worrying about 7″s from every little New Jersey label out there.  When I looked at Grass Records, the in-house label owned by Dutch East, I could see this firsthand; their Frank Sinatra tribute record was a monster and their band, The Wrens, were a really popular indie band.

As such, I started using my extra time preparing fact sheets and press kits for Dromedary, and filtering them around to larger labels and distributors, looking for some sort of distribution arrangement that was more favorable than the handful of consignment deals we were relying upon.  I spent an afternoon at Ray’s studio working up a DAT of Melting Hopefuls, cuppa joe, Footstone, Ya-Ne-Zniyoo and Godspeed music that we had been involved with, and we began making Dromedary sampler tapes that we sent out with each package.

When I looked at some of the other labels out there that had exclusive distribution arrangements with larger companies, it didn’t seem too farfetched to work out such an arrangement for Dromedary.  So I added a lengthy list of bigger labels and retail distributors to the growing group of companies that would reject us regularly.

~ by Al on March 9, 2009.

One Response to “radio is a sound salvation.”

  1. radio is sweeping up the nation.

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