The Empowered Musician The Infinite Guitar

Original Publication Date - May 18th, 2006. © Chris Juergensen/ All Rights Reserved.

This article has been revised and published in THE EMPOWERED MUSICIAN. Info >>>

Traditional radio or FM is pretty much out of the question for the independent artist. There is way too much "Big Money" changing hands for you to get your music played, especially commercial radio. Non-commercial radio such as college radio offers a much better alternative because a they don't need to keep advertisers happy thus aren't concerned as much with how many people are tuned in at any given moment, meaning they have full reign over what they choose to play, so they play what they believe in.

Regardless, there might be too much footwork involved for it to be an effective way of marketing your new CD. As I will describe later, you can't just mail out your CD and expect the station to play it, you will need to talk to someone after the fact. As we speak there are approximately ten thousand commercial stations and maybe close to three thousand non-commercial stations in the United States alone (not including internet only radio and podcasts), that is a lot of people you would have to bug.

Internet radio and podcasting have become a major plus for the independent musician. There are thousands of people all over the world creating podcasts and they mostly cater to independent music. You see, most artists have their compositions registered with a performing rights organization like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC (in America). This means that whenever anyone plays one of their songs on the radio, internet or not, they are obliged to pay a royalty (called a performance royalty) that one of these organizations will collect and pay to him (while taking a cut for themselves). Unfortunately for podcasters, but fortunate for the independent artist this is a major restriction in regards to broadcasting. It is a plus for me because I have absolutely no interest in collecting a few pennies from airplay so I don't use one of these companies for representation. I simply want as many podcasters as possible to play my music. The only thing I ask in return is that they either include a link to mine on their site, which they usually do without you even asking, or mention my site's URL in the podcast.

All in all it is a good deal for everyone involved including the listener. I mean, if someone really wanted to hear platinum selling singles they could just turn on their FM radios. Podcasts are attracting an audience that wants to hear something they have never heard before and that is exactly why independent music is also a winner. The podcaster gets free music so he is also happy. Unlike traditional radio, sometimes they feature an artist or two for the forty of fifty-minute podcast playing several songs and describing the artist. I sometimes have the podcaster do a contest offering one of my signed CDs as the prize. When he or she gets a winner, they e-mail me the name and address of the person and I sign it and snail mail it out myself. I notice that I tend to get sales in large numbers from specific countries from time to time. I am pretty sure it is because a podcaster or DJ for a non-commercial station in one of those countries is featuring me.

Internet radio vs. podcasts vs. FM radio
I took a little time and asked my friend George Smyth about what he sees happening with radio. I became acquainted with George because he featured my newest CD on his superb podcast: "Eclectic Mix." Listen in if you get a chance: This is what George has to say on the state of:

FM Radio
FM radio, at this point in time, is certainly the most popular of these three (internet, podcasting and FM radio). I make my statement as such because I have seen the change over time. When I was just a little scrapper, AM radio was king, and I was able to put together a crystal radio that allowed me to listen to WABC in New York City, as we lived only about 25 miles away. In the 1950's and early 1960's the only type of music to be found on FM radio was easy listening - the sort of thing one heard in elevators. As the 60's progressed, however, more and more radio stations moved to FM because of the superior sound quality, and by the time I was in junior high school in the mid-60's, that's pretty much all we listened to (although I did sometimes move to the AM dial so that I could get WAMO in Pittsburgh, which played only soul music). The key here is that in a very short period of time, people saw an advantage to the FM band over the AM band, and since many radios already covered both bands, switched their listening habits.

Internet Radio
Internet radio is a relatively recent phenomenon that has gained popularity over the past several years. Although the disadvantage is that an Internet connection is required while listening, the big advantage is that any station in the world can be heard that offers streaming over the Internet. As bandwidth considerations have been dramatically expanded (my first modem was a 300 baud modem in the early 80's) through cable and DSL, the quality of the audio has increased to the point where it is quite listenable. The coverage an FM station is able to broadcast their signal is designed (depending upon power and the terrain) to be for local consumption, Internet radio has no problems crossing the barriers that limit FM radio. This offers listeners more choices in what they wish to listen to. The more ubiquitous broadband connections become, the more people will opt to expand their listening possibilities by switching to Internet radio.

Podcasts combine the flexibility of offering the listener a greater choice of listening possibilities, and the ability to listen without a constant Internet connection. When one combines this with the ability to listen to a podcast at the time of the listener's choosing, flexibility is extended as far as possible. Podcasts have only been in existence since the latter part of 2004, so the fact that millions of people have experienced this technology is quite amazing. The growth of podcasts is almost directly eclipsing the growth of websites on the Internet, which I have been watching for a dozen years (I created my first website in 1995). Just as websites offer a plethora of divergent content from which the user can choose to consume, such is also the case with podcasts, which offer the ultimate in diversity and empowerment. The future of podcasts will almost certainly see mp3 players with the ability to connect to the Internet on their own when a connection is available, and download subscriptions. When that becomes a reality, the FM radio model will have as much to offer as AM radio currently does - it will survive, but in a much diminished capacity.

How podcasting will help the independent artist
Podcasting is about empowerment and choice, and offers to the artist choices that have never before been available. In the past, the dream of the musician was to find a way to get noticed and sign a contract with a major label. Although this is still the case for some, others have realized that there are major disadvantages to selling perpetual distribution rights to these organizations. Choices are good, and whereas there was no choice in the past, podcasts offer the artist an additional choice that did not exist until late 2004. All artists know that they key to being successful lies in being heard - no artist was ever successful without a following. Music podcasts offer music to the public, and the artists that allow their music to be played on podcasts are given an audience that they may not have had before. After all, there is good reason for record labels to offer payola to have their music played, as this helps their cause. Similarly, an artist having their music played on a podcast can only help their cause. (It is true irony that the music industry will pay radio stations to play their music, but will sue a podcast for playing their music.) The key is that the public is willing to pay for music that is reasonably priced. On one hand, the sales of CDs by the major labels have declined due to the high cost of the CD in the store, as well as the inclusion of programs destructive to computers placed on those CDs, whereas on the other hand, the Apple iTunes Store has sold more than one billion songs through their website, where songs cost less than one dollar. Unfortunately, Apple does not offer a breakdown of these songs, but many have been sold by artists who have made their music available to them, as opposed to the major labels, and people heard these artists on podcasts.

Adding to the diversity is the new crop of Internet "record labels" that are friendly to podcasters. Companies, such as, offer music to podcasters without charge, as they realize that, as has been established, people are willing to pay for music that is reasonably priced. In turn, the podcaster oftentimes becomes an advocate of the artist and works on their behalf for their success. Of course, CD sales is just one avenue of revenue for the artist. Performing is a more lucrative means of funding one's art, and allowing for the recording of one's concerts gives the listener an opportunity to hear the artist's music. The Internet Live Music Archive has nearly 35,000 concerts available, and many of these have been played on podcasts (such as Eclectic Mix). In speaking with several bands about this, they all see this as an intelligent business decision, allowing their fans to follow them where they go, and get psyched to see them when they come to town. Podcasts disseminating these concerts offer a greater audience than the group (or artist) would otherwise have, and opens the possibility for more fans and a continuing ability to perform.

As George kindly described for us, podcasting is exploding, a true phenomenon and a great opportunity for you as an independent artist. But once again be warned, balance is the key here; If you randomly send off your CD to every podcaster and radio station in the universe (commercial or otherwise) you will be throwing your CDs away. If you plan on pressing a thousand CDs, figure on using a hundred for promotional purposes. You must be sure that the podcast and/or radio station you solicit for promotion will have a place for your music. If they don't play it, you will sell nothing. And you must follow up. If you choose to send a CD to someone, e-mail him or her and tell them that you are doing so, and ask them to please consider your music for airplay. Include a letter and press pack with the CD and open the shrink rap so they don't have to be bothered with doing it themselves. If they play your music, thank them from the bottom of your heart.

I think internet radio and podcasts offer a much better alternative simply because commercial radio won't amount to very much. Even if they play your CD several times over the course of a week or a day (which is very unlikely), you will need distribution for it to turn into sales (the podcaster will most likely post your link directly on his site). To get distribution you will need a nice marketing budget and need to have at least a few thousand CDs pressed to get distribution. One without the other equals zero.

Getting yourself on a podcast
Not really a big undertaking compared to getting yourself on commercial FM. Just do a search of your genre + podcast and you should come up with a bunch of podcasts that should work well with your music, Ex: blues+podcasts. If your music is good, podcasters will be more than happy to include your music in their podcast. Make sure to do a thorough examination of the podcaster's website and take a good listen to one of his podcasts before e-mailing him to introduce yourself. Although there is sometimes a link for music submissions on the podcast homepage, as I've stressed throughout most of my articles, the point with being successful as an independent artist means you have to keep things on a personal level with everyone you deal with. Therefore send your music with a nice letter and an e-mail and follow up with another e-mail after he plays your music. The podcaster may want a CD or might see fit with mp3s if you are lucky.

Some podcasts that I like and have had success with:

Podcast directories that may be of interest:

And some internet radio sites:

My experience tells me that there is no lack of places to send your music for airplay. The problem is in finding the right podcasts and internet radio stations, ones that will feature you and offer you proper exposure. Choose carefully or youfll end up going broke by sending CDs all over the world for promotion that you may or may not get. All said and done, podcasts and internet radio is great if you want to get some radio exposure all over the world without spending tons of money.


Have a question or a suggestion for a lesson, e-mail chris.
Click here to get an e-mail everytime a new lesson is posted.

Rather than a donation, help support these free lessons by buying one of Chris' CDs, you'll be happy you did!

Information on the newly published, 266 page "THE INFINITE GUITAR" based on these lessons.
Information on the newly published book, "THE EMPOWERED MUSICIAN" based on these articles.