Double Your Chances 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.



  1. Really great and informative bit of righting. Will be getting some stuff to you guys in the new year. Hopefully you like us.

  2. mary cigarettes

    one of the very best things a recording artist can do is write a big long seven/fifteen minute epic..maybe even have a go at it a bunch of times over the years,because the end results are often a healthy new found love for brevity,and respect for other peoples time,as well as ones own.

  3. Tom

    @MaryCigarettes …and of course many of the finest genres and artists produce longform music that needs time to stretch out and take you on a journey. Explosions In The Sky, Frank Zappa, Miles Davis… I’ve made plenty of longish singles myself, over the years. But since none of them ever bothered the Radio 1 playlist, I rest my case.

  4. Al

    It’s a good question and I’d like to focus a little more on Tom’s Tip 1 – Strategy.

    You have just made an album and every bone in your body wants to share it with as many people as possible RIGHT NOW! I do know the feeling but I would advise just to sit back for a moment and have a think about how you can maximise what is a substantial piece of artistic output.

    Being a substantial piece of work there is so much more you can do with it and to just put it out will not do either you or your album justice. So make a plan. Use promotional singles to build expectation towards your release. (and it is these that you would need to send to a DJ such as Tom) I have written more on this on my FOTN post here:

    Singles, gigs, artwork, videos, syncs, radio play, blogs and many more possibilities all add together to make a single album into a much bigger beast that can build the foundations and pave the way to a solid and more secure artistic career. Get a fat marker pen and massive piece of paper and get planning…

    Good luck.


  5. Thanks for these tips, really interesting points of view on the radio edits. hm… but how 😀 Thanks again!

  6. I think the number 1 priority is to try and create something you feel good about and are proud of, irrespective of length…
    It’s really difficult to create a great 2 minute tune, let alone a great 6 minute tune (unless your are a genius like Herbie Hancock…. A jazz master with a team of soloists or a hip hop group like Jurassic 5 lots of contributors.) It has to be great to hold peoples’ attention and the longer the tune, the harder it becomes.
    If you’ve got the ideas and the power to do it, go for it, for yourself. For radio play, as Tom says, it would have to be pretty amazing to get played.

  7. The Velvet Hands

    Hi Tom,
    We’ve uploaded some of our tracks to the soundcloud dropbox recently but haven’t got any feedback or radio play. I fully understand that not everybody can be played and only the best tracks can be selected, so I was just looking for a few tips for the next time we go into record on how to make our track a little bit more suited for radio. Our track, The Pretty Rags, has just been uploaded to the dropbox so any feedback would be really appreciated!
    Toby (The Velvet Hands)

  8. Tom

    Hi Toby – actually the only music we’ve received from you recently in our soundcloud dropbox is “Pretty Rags” which we listened to last October, and you’ve sent it to us again this week – so I’m a bit puzzled by you saying you’ve uploaded “some of our tracks”. You didn’t at any point send multiple tracks in the same week or anything did you? They might have been automatically deleted if so.

    If you want to get some idea of what your band is up against you can hear the whole of last week’s inbox here. You’ll see we listened to 180-190 tunes, and my BBC Introducing Mixtape can only fit in about 17-18 tracks each week. The brutal arithmetic is that 175 artists a week send us music each week and don’t get any feedback or radio play. Have a listen to those 180 tracks yourself, then try to pick your favourite 18 and you’ll see what I mean. You’re bound to leave out some really good music by some really good artists. It won’t be because you didn’t like their music – but because you liked somebody else’s music even better. The competition is bloomin fierce out there.

    In case it’s any help to give you an idea what we’re looking for, here’s my own preferred method of listening to the inbox.

  9. Superb advice, thank you very much for writing this up, remarkably helpful and informative.

  10. Lips Manlis

    Sage advice. Plus longform doesn’t necessarily equal artistic. Perfume Genius a really good example of short, potent songs which say more in 2 minutes than a lot of things in 4 or 5. Thanks for this post Tom. Lips X

  11. On one side I completely agree that, if radio time is limited (obviously) as a music journalist you have to ponder very well what you put. And (said brutally) you can allow yourself a mistake programing a “suboptimal” 2 minute song, but not a 4 minute song. You would loose many listeners. (BTW I made music journalism for a living long ago, so I know exactly what if feels to count not the minutes but the seconds.)

    On the other side, as an artist, I don’t like too much the fact that frame conditions are influencing creativity very much, and not necessarily in a positive way. The equivalent in literature would be (or rather IS) the tendency to “twitter-long” tales, instead of longer stories. The consequence? You get used to not developing an idea (or musical idea).

    However, there are conspicuous examples of composers that had zero problem adapting their music to the lenght of vinyl, for instance Strawinsky. Why should I?

    Juan María

  12. I’ve been submitting tracks here for a couple of years and have been lucky to have been played a couple of times – thank you.
    All your advise is very useful especially in this new ‘normal’ where it is even more competitive and the music world seems obsessed with steaming. I have some new music coming and am looking forward to sharing it with you in the new year. Finances are running very low so I am needing to be as resourceful and tenacious as possible. I am not giving up – just need to keep finding more ways pf promoting my music. I have read all of your advice and hence have tweeted you a link to my recent release – which is a cover of Every Breath You Take – I was inspired to record this as my Dad is stuck out in China and we have not seen him since February. Our only way of connecting is through FaceTime which has been our family life line – hope you like it x

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