Ever since I was a 12-year old, just tall enough to reach the radio on my grandmother’s shelf, I’ve always wondered how songs emerged from the dark abyss of obscurity into the bright lights of popularity.

As an adult who writes about music sometimes, I became fascinated with a slightly related question: why do we hear the same handful of songs over and over? Why do terrestrial radio stations play the same songs day in day out?

How Songs Get on the Radio

To understand why we hear the same songs on the radio, you must first understand how songs get on the radio in the first place.

I started by doing what any Gen Xer would do: I Googled it. Here’s the thing: If you Google “how to promote your music on the radio,” you’ll find a wealth of information on the process.

Some experts recommend that you:

  1. Build out your radio add four weeks in advance
  2. Press up single packages, press art, press releases, etc.
  3. Mail your CD package to radio program directors in target radio markets
  4. Pray to all the gods in the universe that the program director likes your song
  5. Enjoy a boatload of spins, and you’ll live happily ever after in fame and fortune

I’m guessing you know that’s not really how it works.

Independent artists who send in their songs for consideration on commercial radio will calcify while waiting for airplay. Depending on timing or the sheer mechanics of serendipity, it’s possible to earn airplay organically. But radio insiders say this is extremely rare.

It’s almost impossible to gain radio airplay without going through powerful gatekeepers. The route to radio involves private dinners, discreet meetings, briefcases and invoices.

Radio is Big Business

Once upon a time in radioland, disc jockeys (DJs) played whatever they liked. Once radio became big business, everything changed. The era of play-what-you like gave way to the era of radio “independent consultants.” Consultants introduced a six-letter concept familiar to every artist, label rep, A&R, and radio head: payola.

Read the entire mind opening article here