Doubling Your Chance Of Airplay?

Beck Goldsmith: Hollows For Sorrows

Q: I’ve recently finished an album which is about to be released and I’d love your advice

Tip Number One: whatever kind of release you’re envisaging I’d strongly recommend doing a simultaneous release on Bandcamp. This gives digital customers the option of buying it in lossless quality, and you’ll earn a higher percentage of the purchase price than you’ll get on iTunes etc. The other advantage is that you can also use Bandcamp to sell physical CDs, T-Shirts etc

Tip Number Two concerns promotion: I don’t know much about getting reviewed on music blogs, only that it matters enormously. But for radio promotion I’d advise a dual strategy of a) direct email with links to the streaming audio on Soundcloud or Bandcamp and b) also sending white label promo CDs in the post and following them up by phone and email.  Focus your efforts on just one lead track at a time, set a release or “focus” date for the track and make sure you sticker the CD sleeves properly.

See this article for detailed advice on how to send CDs to radio.

Tip Number Three concerns the fact that every track on your album is five or six minutes long. Have a think about whether any of your strongest songs could be shortened into a “single edit” without losing their  essence. Not only for radio purposes but also for grabbing people’s attention online.

Not everyone agrees – in fact my BBC Introducing colleague Jen Long violently disagrees with this advice. I fully understand all the arguments about art, longform music, and how one shouldn’t pander to present day ADHD attention spans. I like Pink Floyd, Mogwai and Radiohead as much as you do – and far be it from me to influence your artistic choices.

But you do need to be fully informed when making them. Jen thinks you should never compromise, but here’s my opinion:

A GREAT 2 MINUTE SONG IS TWICE AS LIKELY TO GET AIRPLAY AS A GREAT 4 MINUTE SONG. (*Important: both songs do have to be equally great.)

My reason for saying this is down to simple arithmetic. Music radio shows usually divide up into half-hour segments or “clocks”. Allowing for news bulletins, station idents and trails etc, the available airtime in each clock is around 27 minutes. Even without allowing for spoken links, the maximum amount of music that can be fitted into 27 minutes is:

* 5 x five minute songs
* 6 x four minute songs
* 9 x three minute songs
* 13 x two minute songs

And of course in the real world, DJs do talk between records and live radio programmes always overrun. So let’s say the drivetime show is overrunning, it’s coming up to 5.28pm and the news is due at half past. The show’s producer will have to drop that six minute Radiohead track and find something shorter in a hurry. If your new single is not only brilliant but 2:10 long, it’ll be you that gets the sudden bonus airplay. Your equally brilliant competitor with the four minute single won’t.

I agree with Jen that it would be great if this wasn’t the case. But here in the real world, the sad truth is that halving your song’s length could well double its chances of airplay.


Tom Robinson

London-based broadcaster & songwriter, born 1950. His best known songs are 2-4-6-8 Motorway, Glad To Be Gay and War Baby; he has also co-written songs with Peter Gabriel, Elton John, Dan Hartman and Manu Katché. Read More...


  1. As a relatively established new music blog, thought I’d link in with a piece on my blog about how to get your music featured on music blogs

    Cheers Robin

  2. I do actually have a folder of “Under 2:30 songs” so I can always grab something if time is running tight on my show. The Misfits, Napalm Death and Half-Man Half-Biscuit have greatly benefited from this.

  3. Tom

    @Andy Vale: Brilliant – living proof of the theory – thanks for posting.

  4. Tom

    @Robin: that is such a good piece. Really rang true when I first read it – everyone ought to read it – have been tweeting links to it for awhile now, but really ought to do a permalink… Thanks so much for letting me know about it

  5. ludochem

    so wise and so true.. artists generally never think about this practical details of timing.
    box tops “the letter”‘s classic runs 1mn 50 sec.

  6. Thanks Ludo – didn’t know that about The Letter – it feels like a full three minutes because it’s so complete. Really appreciated you music tips this year by the way… All the best for 2012

  7. Hey Tom, just wanted to say thanks so much for your advice. My album is finally up for release on 5th March and chatting with you has been invaluable. It’s a slog out there but a lift like this every so often really helps to refocus and re-energise. Have a great 2012. Beck x

  8. Tom

    Hurrah – if you have a nice concise radio single for us to play, bring it on! You know where to find us :-0

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