In an enlightening move, a prominent Canadian country radio Music Director took to his personal blog last night in effort of calling a spade a spade. With all facets of the machine so closely interdependent, it was quite admirable for Mike McGuire of Big Dog 92.7 (Regina, SK) to educate his followers, specifically, independent artists on the realities and risks attached to hiring a tracker. Excuse me. The wrong tracker.
Upon releasing my second solo album in 2010, a handful of songs loosely lent themselves to country production (or my version of) and in an attempt to broaden the masses, I believed I had a fighting chance of getting on the radio. But how? It was an elitist group and I hadn’t the first clue of the process. I was soon directed to the concept of the tracker, a middleman/woman, one to be paid for not only what they know but who they know. My well crafted introductory email and submission was responded to modestly, not promising anything, directing payment, and game-plan put in place.
But be damned, it wasn’t weeks in and upon arriving at stations for a little PR and arranged interviews, I had MD’s (music directors) saying that they spoke to someone who I had no idea was representing my song. An outsourced minion. A hustling henchman. I paid for not only “what they know but who they know.” What they knew was one can’t be making all the calls when representing multiple artists at once and who they knew was in the spreadsheet tossed to a neighbouring desk.
The campaign ended with a disheartened Blake giving up on Canadian Country Radio dreams and ready for experiment number 2. Community, College and Campus radio.
At this point I was performing around 100 dates a year and thought it would be in my best interest…and I regret using the cliché in hindsight, but “go for broke.” Making contact with an industry advisor on the west coast I was directed to an independent company out of Toronto specializing in rock radio and led by one silver tongued son of a bitch. Quickly talking me out of my song decision, radio format and my $2000.00 max budget, we released to rock radio. Starting the campaign before the contract was signed I was on the hook for the initial payment of 2G and was continued to be fed the “successes” on his end such as having the most influential names in the industry considering my release for adds. “We’re almost there bud, it’s gonna break but we have the amp up the campaign…send more money.”
Coincidently, other business at the time happened to have me fly out to his home turf and in a personal gesture, I suggested we meet for lunch. At his request we met at a thirty-dollar-fucking-salad-bar not without making me feel that by meeting him in person I was taking away from his tracking time. These kinds of bastards are good – I was once again sold on continuing the campaign as it would be an absolute shame to have wasted the initial time put in to set the success up. Another $2000 deposit.
With weeks to follow and $4000.00 in, we had one add. One. I abruptly ended the campaign and was informed that I had a remaining balance of over $3000.00 – which included his thirty-dollar-fucking-salad-bar and parking that given afternoon. Seeking legal advice I quickly learned that regardless of a signed contract an email giving the go-ahead was as good as gold and that I best pay the remaining balance and wash my hands. One add. One. As a side note, I ran into the scum at Canadian Music Week the following year and he had no idea who I was.
I wish my tracker troubles ended here. You really would think a guy would learn.
Let’s get back into the Canadian country music radio market.
Because I’ve re-infuriated myself tonight digging up bones, we’ll make the story quick. The industry is small and it’s very easy to make good friends with people quickly – as I did with the then MD in the Swift Current, SK market. Upon receiving my “tracking report” for yet another single in 2013, I simply did not believe that this certain MD said what was reported; a phone call not only proved me correct but there was never contact in the first place. In questioning where the information came from my tracker responded with honesty – he never bothered contacting the station because he “already knew what he was going to say” and hence forwarded that assumption.
These were my experiences on three separate accounts and it’s too bad that missteps, assumptions, and a downright con can colour one of the most important roles in the radio world. With all this said I have heard nothing but accolades for the professionalism and approaches of groups such as With a Bullet , Dale Speaking, & Frontside Group – but as an indie artist one must understand the realities and truly what the goals are when releasing to radio. A great song and a great team will shoot you up the charts but if you are rockin’ and rollin’ as a lone wolf in the radio world here are a few tips and benefits of taking the bull by the horns.
1. BUILD AND REBUILD A SOLID DATABASE – It’s as difficult to track radio employees as it is a single. Changes and transfers are made on a regular basis so stay on-top of it. I generally like put in a couple hours a week into my database whether I’m pushing a single or not. I use google drive spreadsheets so I can team up with other artists and we all have access to the same info and each other’s updates.
2. LEARN YOUR DATABASE – You did it for Grade 9 Biology, do it for your radio career investment. Flashcards – know who is running what stations at the drop of a hat.
3. KNOW THE RECEPTIONIST’S NAME – They are your first line of contact. Any missing info in your database is accessible with a phone call. Greet the receptionist by name and you drastically better your chances at getting the info you need.
4. LISTEN LIVE – Almost every station has a listen live option on their website. Make it a habit to boot up their player and keep it on while you are going about your workday. Save the link in your database for easy accessibility.
5. DON’T ASK FOR AN ADD, ASK FOR A FEATURE – One spin goes a long long ways. You are representing yourself independently, you don’t have time to chart – you can only market. Features add up and if by the grace of God momentum starts rolling, that’s when you revisit the contact and inquire about light rotation.
6. PLAY THE MARKETS - Duh. Radio tours are great ways to personally connect but why wouldn’t you take advantage of being able to reach such a massive audience as an invite to the live performance. Whether it’s that night, the following week or plans to return in a year – if you wanna release to all of Canada, plan to tour all of Canada.
7. DROP IN - Your mom and dad did it to the neighbours all the time. Chances are they brought beer. Why would this be any different?
8. BUY SOME AIRTIME – If Jim Johnson Chev Olds can snag a 30 second slot to sell something, so can you. Remember when I spent over $10,000 on trackers? Think about the results if that was spent in advertisement.
9. LATE NIGHT AND WEEKEND DJs ARE THE SECRET WEAPON - Just like the morning show and afternoon drive hosts, they have a microphone in front of them and the ability to push play. Give some love to the one’s putting in the late shift…wouldn’t you rather be sleeping or hanging out with your family on the weekend?
10. ONE BY ONE – It’s only a matter of time until you build a personal relationship with everybody. You aren’t in this to chart, you are in this to market yourself – charting will be the bi-product. Write what you write and slowly garner relationships. Representing yourself for as long as need be gives you a huge advantage when the tipping point comes, all relationships will be personal and successes swift.
With swagger, patience, and drive you will get spins, lots, but approach with the long-term in mind. It’s about relationships not charting. The classic scene from Dennis Hopper’s 1988 film Colors, might just describe the approach best with Robert Duvall telling Sean Penn the story of two bulls. Take your time and walk down.
I seem to have forgotten a very important piece of info for those that have never released before. The means of distribution for a single and industry standard is via an online hub called DMDS. One can independently load their single and choose the market in which to deliver but I strongly suggest going through RDR Music Group. Joe or Trudy will pick up the phone when you call and walk you through the process. Good luck out there team.