Like millions of other aspiring artists across the world this is a question we have asked ourselves many times over the years at Lights And Lines.
Over the years we've come across literally hundreds of independent radio stations, show hosts, and podcasts that take submissions from and play tracks by independent artists. More recently we've been thinking about how we can grow this network, and share these details with artists everywhere - more on that in a minute.
Firstly it’s worth noting that this isn’t about mainstream radio.
Generally speaking the value of mainstream radio airplay for an independent artist without major label backing and an army of PR agencies isn’t high. But that's another article.
Instead this is about incremental growth. Most of us will never be rich and famous so your own context is important here - whatever you want to achieve it’s likely it will involve having more music fans discover and listen to your music. So can your new release build on the previous one? How can you use it to gain a few more fans and achieve a little more?
Independent radio stations, shows, and podcasts are usually run by and listened to by people who are passionate about discovering and promoting new music. Many have amazing and supportive communities of niche music fans built around them who will interact with and follow the music they love. The challenge is finding them... and not being caught out by the ones who just want your money.
Watch out for bear traps
Most people searching for places and people to share their music with will have come across one or more of the following bear traps - among others.
The So-Called "Supporter" is the person who runs an online radio station / podcast etc and charges bands for airplay. These people claim to love your band and will offer you all sorts of things that they probably can't fulfill in exchange for money.
In some cases these people start out as genuine supporters who somewhere along the line realised that their hobby is expensive and that they didn't have enough listeners to make money in more traditional ways. Other times they're just rip-off artists.
I would include in this category anyone who makes you listen to their show and comment in a forum live on air in exchange for airplay. These people are usually ego-manics trying to create a community around them and their brand - not your music.
This is a tricky and contentious one for many because there are also genuine radio pluggers out there who do a good job. Arguably the way people listen to radio now renders them void as well and you need a label to make it worthwhile - but that's not what this is about. This category is specifically reserved for the people who do not have the clout that some of the genuine pluggers do and still offer the service - The Wannabe Plugger. They claim to offer a personal service but mostly send mailouts to large lists of community radio stations.
There's nothing wrong with contacting all of these stations, in fact read on and we'll tell you why we think its a great idea - but don't pay someone to do it and then write a Facebook post about it, you gain nothing from that, they do.
There are variations on this, some with paid and non-paid options etc. The principal is the same though really - their pitch is that people can't or won't listen to your music because there's too much music and they get too many submissions. There's also too many people to send music too - and you're already busy making music right?
However, its important apparently that they do listen to your music because otherwise Spotify won't hear it - because Spotify is always checking out small blogs and stations to find new music apparently (this is called a carrot).
NEVER FEAR - this is the Hassle Free Option. If you pay these guys, they'll pay a bit of that to the bloggers / stations / playlisters etc to listen to it for you. And they'll give you feedback.
This is a model that drives me insane. The others are bad of course. But the justification that a group of hobbiest bloggers and playlisters are too busy to do this for free, and therefore YOU the artist - without whom they would not exist - should pay them is LUDICROUS!
I get that its easy for the people playing / writing about your music. And I get that an individual transaction is usually only a small amount. But I can't get my head around why the artist should have to pay at all? And that small amount adds up to a lot when you do this on any sort of scale, which you need to get anywhere.
We've seen so much backlash (rightly so) about pay to play gigs in recent years and I don't get why we aren't seeing the same for this. Put simply - if there's no music, there is no blog / station / gig etc. Artists are trying to get paid in money for their art - independent artists in particular should not waste time or money paying for services like this.
Add to that the wider moral and societal issue of giving the already wealthy an extra leg up on the success ladder. Then add in the fact that independent artists regularly report getting generic "feedback" from people who clearly haven't listened to the track and are just getting paid to hit play for 20 seconds and respond. Quickly you'll start to see that this model doesn't work for you - it works for them.
Introducing Indie Radio List
We'd like to help independent artists everywhere avoid the need and/or the temptation to go down any of these routes. In our view they are a waste of time and money, and generally a demoralizing and unnecessary experience. In fact my general message is this:
If you have to pay to submit your music somewhere it's generally not worth it. And even if it was or turned out to be, the scales are tipped the wrong way here for artists and it becomes a moral issue.
Your finances are already being pulled in multiple directions and ROI is so low for independents that most of us celebrate when you break even on something. Don't waste money, or time, on things that won't generate meaningful results.
To help avoid some of the hassle, and make it easy for bands to share new music with genuine independent radio stations, shows, and podcasts we've started collecting information!
That sounds more sinister than it is, in fact what we're doing, using the power of our amazing network - and with some help from Google Sheets - is pulling a list of contacts together that don't charge for airplay and don't like the examples above. The list includes:
Community Radio stations across the UK
College Radio in America
Independent and online Radio Stations globally
Podcasts that play new music
...anything else we can think of like this that might be useful
In the future we intend it to include blogs, magazines, playlisters etc.
The list is a work in progress and we'll release version 1 when we feel it meets a minimum standard of usefulness.
A word on sharing data
Sharing data is a tricky thing to do in a world full of people who misuse data - even when you have great intentions. So to make sure we're compliant with GDPR in Europe and the general principals of best practice Data Protection elsewhere here are some steps we are taking as part of this process:
The data we intend to publish is already available in the public domain (e.g. website of radio station asking for submissions) and/or comes with permission from the owner to share in this forum.
If we are asked to take down data by the owner we will.
We will only share limited data to what is necessary, e.g. email address and website. For obvious reasons we aren't sharing passwords and things like that.
The data we collect and process will be for this specific purpose only.
We will monitor and update the data periodically to keep it up to date.
In addition we'll provide some guidelines for bands on how to make the most out of this data and stay compliant themselves e.g. don't just add people to your mailing list and mass email them - even though there's arguably legitimate interest you probably can't do that and the results will probably be terrible!
Our intention is to make this easy to use and helpful for independent artists and the outlets that support them.
Version 1 will probably have lots of relevant information but need refining to make it easier to use. We'll ask for feedback and information from the people using it and build on it from there.
There's also an element of maintenance - we'll need to keep the site up to date, and we'll need your help with that. Let us know if email addresses bounce or people come back to you asking to be removed so that we can keep things up to date.
Once this is up and running the aim is to add blogs, magazines, playlists etc as well.
So what now?
Right now you can get involved in the following ways:
First please share this post far and wide so we can start to build momentum!
If you are an independent radio station, host, podcaster etc who accepts submissions from independent bands please get in touch if you'd like to be included on the list.
If you're in a band and you know people who do this and would like to be involved, please put them in touch with us.
And if you want to help put the list together get in touch and let us know.