Radio Play Tips

Linda Dawe has over 80,000 hours of experience in promoting music to radio, with clients who have sold 100 million albums worldwide, so she knows a thing or two about what makes a great radio hit.

Here are a few radio play tips her clients find valuable when looking to get their song to radio.


What is a “radio ready” song for commercial radio?

A “radio ready” song is one that has high production values, able to compete with what is currently playing on radio, and is approximately 3 minutes in length.

Remember, what sounds great live at 10 pm in a bar or what your friends tell you is the “next greatest hit” is one thing. Here’s what music directors tell us:

“The attention span at radio is very short. In the first 4 bars, is it rock, country or pop? If I can’t tell in the first 15 seconds, you lost me already. Our listeners would be reaching for the dial.”

“I get the song or not in the first 30 seconds, so keep the intro short. The hook should be all-in by 60 seconds or less, otherwise, when I get 50-60 songs to listen to, I’m moving on. Let’s face it, after one minute, the rest of the song is just repetition – people remember the hook and not the second verse.”

“Our songs average 3:36. Sure, we play 4 minute songs by familiar artists but then we have to find one at 3 minutes in order to play 12 songs per hour. Truth is we need 20 minutes of commercials – do the math. Yeah, we have to voice over those long intros and outros but that’s extra work for us. And songs over 4 minutes don’t stay long on the charts. Tell your clients to save those over 4 minute slow ballads for their album or when they get famous. Give me a radio edit version just over 3 minutes. Radio is about advertising. We like short.”

“Sometimes it’s the artist, sometimes it’s the song but mostly it’s the production that fits our mix. Tell your clients to find a producer that is current with short radio hits. No, we don’t play stuff outside-the-box.”

“There is tons of crap out there, tons of good, we’re looking for great.”


What is a CanCon song?

The CRTC requires 30-35% Canadian Content (CanCon) for commercial radio stations based on meeting at least 2 of the 4 MAPL categories:

1. M – (Music) music is composed entirely by a Canadian
2. A – (Artist) music or lyrics performed principally by a Canadian or Canadian resident
3. P – (Performance) production consists of live performance wholly recorded in Canada
4. L – (Lyrics) lyrics are written entirely by a Canadian or co-written by Canadians

For example, if you are a Canadian artist singing a song written by Americans, music recorded (produced) in Nashville, then mixed or mastered in Canada, it is not considered a CanCon song. We only promote original CanCon songs.

Please note: under Canadian content criteria, a “Canadian” is a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident. For more on the Canadian content system, specifically the MAPL criteria, please see this article.


What makes a Radio Hit?

You don’t need a PhD in music to understand the formula for greatest hits. Most musicians and songwriters start out by covering hits, but fail to realize why. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. How long should the intro be?
4 bars with a signature lick – think of the old TV show “Name That Tune”.

2. How many verses should it be?
2 verses, 2 choruses, maybe a bridge or tag.

3. Can I start with the chorus?
1 in 3 hits do — at least a pre-chorus or the hook.

4. What about a 5 minute song?
Only if you’re already famous, 4 minute songs don’t stay on radio long.

5. Can I use a common title?
Use an original song title so music directors won’t think it’s a cover tune.

6. Why won’t radio play my song?
Does it sound professionally produced? Is it 3 minutes in length? Have you had your song evaluated by a professional tracker? Try those things first.

Remember, if you think you’ve invented a song that’s “outside-the-box”, that’s not a good thing. The greatest hits you’ve ever heard are “inside-the-box”.

(If you don’t know what the “hook” is, read Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting THE BOOK by Ralph Murphy.)


Want your song evaluated by Music Solutions?

Send us your best 3 songs in mp3 format that are “radio ready”. We’ll let you know what we think and what your next steps are.

To send your songs to Music Solutions, please visit our Song Evaluation page.

What makes a great artist?

It’s simple: a great song.

What makes a great song?

1. Unique lyrics, unique hook

2. Unique artist who sings on pitch

3. Memorable melody

4. Great production

What do I need to get started?

1. Register your songs with SOCAN & CMRRA

2. Develop a great website with good photos and bio (make sure it’s up to date!)

3. Get a video made — then get it on YouTube

4. Get your single on iTunes, SoundCloud, ReverbNation, Bandcamp and Beatport

5. Have your social media in place (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and Google+)

6. Be prepared to release 3 singles

7. Be a working artist playing live gigs (anywhere) to promote yourself