If you're planning to promote your music to radio - whether you're going to try to do promotion in-house or you plan to hire a radio promotion company - you're bound to hear lots of talk about radio markets. What are these markets, and what do they mean to you?
The term "radio market" simply refers to the broadcast area of a radio station. Radio stations broadcasting in Cleveland, Ohio, are in the Cleveland market, and so on and so forth.
In that sense, radio markets are pretty straight forward. However, they are more to your radio promotion campaign than simply geographical distinctions. Why? Because radio markets are also broken into sizes. There are major radio markets, medium markets, small markets, and non-rated stations.
These markets are broken up on the basis of the population of their broadcast area - the biggest 30 cities or so are major markets, the next 31 - 100 or so are medium radio markets, 101 to 300ish are small markets, and radio stations in all other smaller cities and towns are non-rated stations. These divisions are important for radio promoters to know because it helps them decide which stations to target - for both the biggest impact AND the realistic ability of the artist being promoted to get airplay in a certain market.
When it comes to major label releases, radio promoters may ONLY target major radio markets. The thinking is that those markets are so large that getting radio play in them will be most effective in breaking a new release. Further, succeeding in the major market will likely have a trickle down effect that leads to the medium, small and non-rated stations playing a particular song anyway - so, in a sense, promoting to major radio is kind of one stop shopping. If you make it there, you can make it anywhere.
Which, of course, is why even non-major label artists covet those stations. In fact, many artists - no matter how far along they are in their careers - want to approach those major markets by any and all means necessary, no matter what the cost. This plan is a bad one for up and coming artists. First of all, "no matter the cost" really isn't a realistic idea in this realm - major market radio campaigns can costs six - or even seven - figures. The real reason trying to target the major markets your first time out of the gate on a radio campaign is a bad play, however, is that it simply won't work. You won't get plays. Period. Doesn't matter how good your song is. It's just not an accessible world for an independent artist without a big budget behind them.
Instead, it is a far more realistic plan to tailor the markets you target based on the level you're at with your career. If you're new to radio, especially commercial radio, then non-rated stations are your best bet for getting plays. In these markets, you'll have less competition from better funded, better known musicians, so the stations are going to be more responsive to your calls and therefore, you're music. If you've conquered non-rated radio, it may be time to target small markets. You'll be able to come in to those station with a track record of plays and listener reactions to your music to help convince them that THEIR listeners will be interested in hearing your tracks. Being successful with small markets can mean it is time to transition to medium markets, provided you have the budget required to book the tour dates and pay for the advertising these stations will want to see to convince them you have a serious campaign. For some artists, major market radio never happens - and there is nothing wrong with that. For others, it comes when there is a solid promotional budget, a record of national press and large market tour dates on deck.
In a nutshell, radio markets describe both geography and size - which in term indicates accessibility to an artist. Before you embark on a radio promotion campaign, make sure you understand which market is the best fit for what you're trying to achieve.